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Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Conference on “Combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity across Europe:
Sharing knowledge and moving forward”

 
Strasbourg, 27 March 2012
 
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Dear Ministers, dear Ambassadors, Ladies and gentlemen,
 
The concept of human rights is a living and evolving one. Our societies are evolving – so are our attitudes and perspectives – and we must be ready to respond.
 
For this reason, I warmly welcome the initiative of the UK government to organise this High-Level Conference during its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
 
This is the first time that a member State holding the Chairmanship has decided to put the development of practical measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity among its priorities. It joins other “first-ever” events on the international scene:
 
Ø     the formal UN inter-governmental debate on human rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, during this month’s 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, opened with a committed message by the Secretary-General of the United Nations;
 
Ø     the high-level regional meeting which was hosted last week by the government of Montenegro - the outcome of which will be presented to us shortly;
 
Ø     last year’s Report of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity was an historic step too. The important steps Commissioner Hammarberg has taken on this question during his mandate have led the way.
 
Recommendation (2010) 5 of the Committee of Minister to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is the first ever international instrument dealing specifically with LGBT issues, and of which the approach is strictly human-rights based. Although it is not a
legally-binding instrument, it is based on binding principles, with the purpose not to create new special rights, but to ensure that every person enjoys equal rights and dignity. It identifies specific measures to be adopted and effectively enforced by member states in order to combat discrimination, to ensure respect for human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and to promote tolerance towards them. 
 
The implementation of Recommendation (2010) 5 – complemented by the recommendations of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights - is a core element of the Council of Europe LGBT-Project, which exists thanks to the commitment and generosity of some of our member States: Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and to the commitment and direct involvement of some other member States which are implementing the project, according to their priorities: Albania, Italy, Latvia, Montenegro, Poland and Serbia.
 
The presence of ministers and relevant representatives of these member States with us today is particularly welcome and significant.
 
In order to build upon this important trend, and to streamline work on LGBT issues within the Council of Europe, I decided last year to create within the Directorate of Human Rights and
Anti-discrimination a specific LGBT Issues Unit. The first-ever structure of its kind in an international intergovernmental institution.
 
Its work is developing fast, with the excellent co-operation of national authorities and the involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations. Developing national strategies to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is one example of its practical approach.
 
These recent positive developments should not overshadow the Council of Europe’s longstanding commitment to LGBT issues. The first Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation on the subject dates back to 1981. What we aim to do now is to look at how to further improve our work.
 
Respect for human rights and dignity concerns every human being, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The Council of Europe has developed several sectors in this field to ensure that standards are set and their implementation monitored so that these rights are fully respected. This process requires transversality and the strengthening of international co-operation.  
 
The case-law of the European Court of Human Rights is also essential in combating discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
 
Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
An informed approach – rather than emotional considerations, or distortions of reality – should represent the way forward in this field.
 
Prejudice, discrimination and discriminatory laws towards LGBT persons constitute a violation of basic human rights and have no place in today’s Europe. Progress is still needed throughout our continent for the promotion and protection of the human rights and dignity of LGBT persons. This is not a minor question: discrimination faced by LGBT persons is still widespread, often considered to be justified; and frequently involves physical as well as psychological harm for those targeted. There is no excuse and no room for complacency.
 
Thank you.