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Lithuanian Constitutional Court: Sexual Harassment Violates the Constitution

2017 / 12 / 22

The Constitutional Court concluded that Lithuanian Member of Parliament (MP) Kęstutis Pūkas, who had harassed young women working and wanting to work for him, seriously violated the Constitution and his oath of office.

The court found that Pūkas brought the girls to his residential premises for a chat, talked to them about intimate topics not directly related to his functions, made comments on their appearance and physical characteristics, and made ambiguous suggestions. He only behaved this way with women (girls), and as such his behavior was directed against the female sex.

Humiliation, stress and fear

Furthermore, when communicating with his assistants/secretaries and the girls who had applied for the role, Pūkas would underscore his exceptional social status, thus emphasising the stereotypical unequal treatment of the sexes. As a result, the girls were offended and felt humiliated, had to endure tension, stress and fear, suffered long-term consequences.

The Constitutional Court held that the MP’s conduct (that is, sexual harassment and harassment on the grounds of gender) violated the human rights to the protection of dignity, the inviolability of personal and private life, and non-discrimination, all of which are protected under the Constitution. At the same time, Pūkas violated his duty (stemming from the oath he took as a member of Parliament) to observe the Constitution and its values, violated the law and tarnished the reputation of Parliament as the body representing the nation.

Istanbul Convention

The Constitutional Court’s assessment of the MP’s actions also relied on international and EU laws prohibiting discrimination. Among other things, the Court considered the obligation found in the Istanbul Convention – which Lithuania hasn’t yet ratified – for states to ensure that sexual harassment is met with criminal or other legal sanctions.

This conclusion of the Court, showing as it does that sexual harassment and harassment on the grounds of gender can even lead to liability under the Constitution, has significant symbolic value for confirming that harassment seriously violates human rights and contravenes fundamental constitutional values, especially human dignity.

The Parliament will have the final say on whether Pūkas may continue to serve as an MP.