Rights commissioner reminds President on gay rights

Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, has criticized recent comments in a newspaper interview about homosexuality and society by Latvian President Andris Bērziņš, the LETA newswire reported Monday.

"Latvia, along with other Council of Europe Member States, is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity," Muižnieks said.

The President's words had reinforced a number of misconceptions about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their rights, LETA said in comments attributed to Muižnieks.

The criticism is particularly telling as Muižnieks is himself Latvian and the interview was printed in straight question-and-answer format, so any defense based on mistranslation or taking the President's words out of context will not stand up to scrutiny.

In a December interview with the Neatkariga national daily, Bērziņš spoke against the open display of homosexual lifestyles, though he did also state the right of individuals to choose their own way.

"By showing disapproval, we only encourage them," Bērziņš said.

"Every person has the right to choose his or her own way in life, and to be responsible for the choice they make. However, they do not have to force their choice on others, and, it definitely should not be made public. This is a road to nowhere," Bērziņš said.

Some of his comments were interpreted as "homophobic" by a Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld who tabled questions to the Council of the European Union as a result.

She asked Bērziņš to withdraw his statements, which he has not done, while his press secretary has affirmed that the interview gave a fair account of his views.

The controversy is particularly unfortunate given that in May Riga hosts the large-scale Europride festival which includes numerous public events advocating gay lifestyles. 

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