Back IDAHOT + Forum 2024

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Your Majesty,

Your presence here today is so important and an inspiration to all of us.

Ministers, Commissioners, Mayor, Deputy Ministers, Ambassadors,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure to be here –

And I begin by thanking the government of the Netherlands for hosting this 11th IDAHOT Conference and Forum.

The Netherlands has a long-standing history of championing the rights of LGBTI people –

So, it is indeed most appropriate that this year’s event should take place here in The Hague –

To discuss what must be done to secure “the future of freedom and equality in Europe” –

And help send a signal to Europe on our collective determination and commitment, at a time when LGBTI rights are being attacked –

And even rolled back –

On some parts of our continent.

Yesterday, FRA – the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency – published a new report documenting that violence and harassment against LGBTQ people in Europe have reached a “new high” in the past few years.

Having said that, I must say I very much look forward to receiving the Ministerial declaration that has been prepared for this important event.

The fact that some countries want to push forward further and ensure equal, diverse and accepting societies is something I warmly welcome –

And I know that this Ministerial statement will be read, acknowledged and respected by many.

Dear friends,

Over the years, all parts of the Council of Europe have made a meaningful contribution to our joint aim that all people should have full access to their rights.

I think of the European Court of Human Rights, of course.

Not only its famous Dudgeon case in 1981 which, in effect, prevented the criminalisation of homosexuality –

But also, of more recent, landmark cases.

On the recognition and protection of same-sex couples, recent judgments have confirmed that there should be no discrimination against same-sex registered partners –

And that governments must provide legal recognition for same-sex couples.

As has the fact that the rights of a minority group cannot be made conditional on their acceptance by a majority in our societies.

This is vital.

But I also think that our member states have been proactive in setting helpful aims and standards –

Again, we must go back to the historic 2010 recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It champions freedom from violence and discrimination –

Safety in the public and private sphere –

Equality for same sex couples and families –

Protection of the rights of transgender and intersex people –

Freedom of expression, and access to social rights –

And most importantly – it guides governments’ decisions.

On top of this, our Commissioners for Human Rights have a long-record of trailblazing work in this area –

And our Parliamentary Assembly has passed a number of important resolutions –

Including on discrimination against transgender people in Europe which, in turn, built on our Court’s caselaw –

Clarifying that there should be no forced sterilisation of transgender people –

Nor that they need undergo sex reassignment surgery for legal recognition.

All of this is indeed helpful.

So too are some of the developments that we have seen over the years in parts of Europe.

In many European countries, LGBTI people have never been so visible or accepted – and their rights as recognised as they are now.

21 countries have marriage equality – with more expected to join them.

Parental rights for LGBTI people are established on an unprecedented scale.

And more countries have adopted legal gender recognition on the basis of self-determination.

We should celebrate all this.

But I understand that it is hard to do when progress is far from linear –

The recognition of rights remains uneven across our continent –

And at the same time, those rights are also being targeted and undermined –

Fuelled by extreme populism, nationalism and anti-rights movements that also target other groups including women and migrants.

We have seen countries clamping down on PRIDEs, undermining human rights defenders, and we have seen a rise in violent attacks on LGBTI people both online and in public spaces.

We also have examples of same-sex couples’ parental rights being taken away –

And we have member states where transgender hate crimes have hit record highs.

All of this is further complicated by the rise of disinformation –

And a trend of scapegoating LGBTI people –

Especially around the time of election campaigns.

So, overall, what we see is a dangerous and complex picture –

And we should try to understand it more fully, and here I very much welcome the updated annual maps and indexes presented today by some of the participating organisations.

These indeed provide crucial input for our work –

But what is most important to recognise is that we must do even more.

Central to these efforts, I believe, will be our Committee of Experts on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics.

This new group of experts held its very first meeting yesterday, in the margins of this Forum.

It will no doubt harness the talent of its members to help us set new standards –

Including a new Recommendation to European governments on intersex persons –

And it will also shape the new Strategy for the Equality of Rights of LGBTI persons –

Which will be implemented from 2027-2032 –

And it will help us overcome some of the key obstacles that LGBTI people face today.

Dear friends,

The European Convention on Human Rights states clearly the many rights that belong to all of us.

Along with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights –

Our 2010 CM recommendation to member states –

The resolutions of our Parliamentary Assembly –

And so much more –

So there is absolutely no reason why Governments cannot just act to protect the rights of LGBTI people –

But to take the lead in shaping an open, inclusive and accepting environment in which every individual is treated with respect –

And allowed to live the life they were meant to live –

And be able to contribute to their community – to the benefit of all of us.

This is true for LGBTI people –

And it is also true for other groups.

Let us make crystal clear the extraordinary benefits that diversity brings to all of us and to all of our societies.

And let us not forget that all of us here today have unrivalled knowledge and expertise.

So, let’s listen to each other and work together.

To find the best solutions.

Finally, let me again thank you for your extremely valuable efforts and your commitment and dedication.

You truly make a difference where you live and in your communities.


Again, thank you!

The Hague 15 May 2024
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