UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned attacks and discrimination against homosexuals yesterday, touching on the gay rights issue in Russia that has overshadowed preparations for the Sochi Olympics.
In a speech to the International Olympic Committee a day before the opening of the Games, Ban also reiterated his call for warring parties around the world to lay down their arms during the Olympics.
Ban said many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice and discrimination.
"We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people," said Ban (pictured). "We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face."
Ban's remarks come at a time when activists and protesters have stepped up their campaign against Russia's law restricting gay rights activities.
Human Rights Watch posted a video this week on YouTube of gay people in Russia being bullied, chased and beaten, compiled from footage the group said was uploaded by perpetrators.
"Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century," Ban said.
The UN chief noted that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC's opposition to any discrimination. "The Olympics show the power of sport to bring together individuals regardless of age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity," Ban said.
Protesters in cities around the world targeted major Olympic sponsors on Wednesday, urging them to speak out against the Russian law.
The law, signed in July by President Vladimir Putin, outlaws pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to minors. Critics say it is so restrictive and vague that it deters almost any public expression of support for gay rights.
"I know that there has been some controversy over this issue," Ban said after his speech. "At the same time, I appreciate President Putin for his assurance that there will be no discrimination whatsoever and the people with different sexual orientation are welcome to compete and enjoy this Olympic Games."
"I hope that this Olympics will be the venue where all the people, regardless of sexual orientation, LGBT and all of these people will really be able to enjoy the harmony and friendship."