Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Speech given by Morten Kjaerum as Rapporteur of the European Regional LGBT Conference at the Oslo Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address you here as Rapporteur of the European Regional LGBT Conference which took place in Paris on 26 March. This was a unique event. Under one roof, there were almost 200 participants from over 40 different countries in Europe and Central Asia. There were Ministers and high-level representatives from governments, the EU, the Council of Europe and civil society. All committed to improving the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

I would like to thank the French government for hosting the fruitful and engaging Paris event. And of course, a special thanks goes to all participants for their valuable contributions in Paris which allowed me to draft this report.
I will first focus on five main challenges that were identified. Then I will report on concrete suggestions on how to move forward. For more details, you can read my report!

So, what are the main challenges?

  1. Across the region, homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools and violence, more generally, is a serious concern. An increasing number of States recognise homophobic and transphobic bias in their national hate crime legislation. However, many have not yet done so.
  2. Many participants were concerned at the introduction of national legislation prohibiting so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’. Such laws may violate international human rights standards on freedom of expression. They can restrict discussions of LGBTI issues in public, the raising of a Rainbow flag, impede the work of NGOs, and undermine effective education.
  3. The tone of public and political debate on LGBTI matters is an issue in some countries. This includes the lack of political leadership in speaking out against discrimination and stereotypes. However, on a more positive note, many European States have introduced legislative and non-legislative measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in the last years.
  4. Specific problems faced by intersex and transgender people were seriously debated. This particularly relates to medical interventions without informed consent for intersex people and sterilisation as a requirement for legal gender recognition for transgender people. Many transgender people face barriers to having their gender identity legally recognised, including changing gender markers in official documents. Many European countries are in the process of changing their legislation on gender recognition. However, a significant number of States have no effective legislation on gender recognition; others then have laws in conflict with human rights principles.
  5. Finally, a clear need for more reliable, comparable and consistent data sets on the human rights situation of LGBT people emerged from the discussions. Data collected by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe as well as OSCE/ODIHR were examples which other regions could take inspiration from. In parallel, weaknesses in the monitoring mechanisms on national, regional and international levels to address violations of LGBTI people’s human rights, should be addressed.

So, what can be done at the various levels?

To advance the human rights of LGBTI people, a number of suggestions were made.

  1. There is a need for clear political leadership. Here the presence of ministers, governmental and institutional representatives at the Paris event was an encouraging sign. More specifically, the LGBT governmental network as well as the Council of Europe’s Cooperation and Assistance project could be opportunities for European governments to work together in advancing the human rights of LGBTI people.
  2. Legal reform was also mentioned. Both sexual orientation and gender identity should be included as grounds in national non-discrimination legislation. In addition, laws facilitating the recognition of transgender identities and appropriate legislation to address the human rights of intersex people were identified as urgent needs. Legal reform should also focus on the repeal of laws banning “homosexual propaganda”. Such legislative measures should be taken in accordance with existing EU directives, Council of Europe standards, UN conventions and other guidelines.
  3. Promoting non-legislative measures and sharing of good practices was another suggestion. These included involving trade unions in combating employment discrimination; training for public officials and policy-makers; last but not least strengthening the role of NHRIs and equality bodies.
  4. At the European level, participants expressed the need for strategic political commitment and a policy framework. The positive contribution the EU has made to combat discrimination in employment was recognised. However, gaps in EU non-discrimination legislation in other areas were noted. Participants welcomed Recommendation 2010(5) of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, but acknowledged the need for indicators and benchmarks in order to monitor progress towards implementation of this Recommendation.
  5. At the global (UN) level, participants acknowledged the significant progress made in recent years, particularly under the leadership of the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Participants called upon European governments to continue constructive bilateral diplomacy, to strengthen engagement and leadership by States from diverse regions. Participants stressed that the UN Human Rights Council should systematically address human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This could happen, for example, through the creation of a mechanism to better document human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

I hope that this report, together with the other regional reports, will contribute to a constructive dialogue at this conference and at the Human Rights Council.

Thank you.