A conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights has taken place in Strasbourg. Entitled “A ‘Living Instrument’ for Everyone: The Role of the European Convention on Human Rights in Advancing Equality for LGBTI persons”, it was organised by the Council of Europe’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Unit, in co-operation with the European Court of Human Rights.
In his welcome message Robert Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights, spoke about the evolution of the notion of equality for LGBTI persons in the Court’s case-law. “The Convention opens with a commitment not just to the ‘maintenance’ of human rights, but also their ‘further realisation’. The Court’s case-law in relation to the rights of LGBTI persons provides a clear example of this further realisation,” President Spano said. “We have also seen an evolution which shied initially away from dealing specifically with the issue of non-discrimination by focusing on the private life aspects of the case, to an acceptance not just of non-discrimination but of equality.”
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, also touched on the evolution of the understanding of the rights of LGBTI people in Europe. “LGBTI people are course not a new “idea”, but our understanding has changed. LGBTI people are more visible than ever, and so is their valuable contribution to society and to professional and family life. The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights have played a key role in that progress,“ she said in her welcome address.
The Deputy Secretary General added that the case law of the Court was enshrined in the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’ 2010 landmark Recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the most recent review of that Recommendation found plenty of evidence that national authorities are putting it to good use, through ensuring LGBTI people’s access to assisted reproductive treatment, to adoption, and to same-sex partnerships and marriages. Problems remain, she stressed, and “further change is needed” to address such issues as the protection of participants in peaceful demonstrations, restrictions on LGBTI events and on association and assembly, rising hostility to LGBTI people in some member states and the impact of COVID-19 which has left many individuals cut off from support networks.
Judges and lawyers of the European Court and the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the ECHR, prominent academics and civil society activists, representatives of equality bodies discussed the impact of the landmark judgments of the Court on the legislation and practices in the wider Europe, notably, in the cases of Christine Goodwin v. the UK on the legal gender recognition for transgender persons; Oliari and Others v. Italy on the recognition and protection of same-sex civil unions; as well as Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania and Lilliendahl v. Iceland on online hate speech directed at LGBTI persons.