ECRI Annual Seminar with Equality Bodies: Joining Forces to Promote and Protect the Human Rights of LGBTI People

Strasbourg 18 October 2021
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe



Dear Chair,

Dear Friends,


It is a great pleasure to open this annual seminar.

This year’s subject is one on which there are numerous challenges, but at the same time some positive developments in Europe today.

In many country’s LGBTI people have never lived happier, more fulfilled lives than they do today –

Nor has change been so swift and determined.

But in other parts of our continent, progress is indeed patchy, slow, and even threatens to tip backwards.

So, I have no doubt that those taking part in this event will have a diverse range of experiences, from which we can all learn.

And I am very grateful to ECRI, together with Equinet, for organising today’s seminar.

Equally, I think that we can be clear about principles on which we all agree.

Let me mention three of them:

The European Convention on Human Rights belongs to every individual on our continent.

No-one has special rights, but everyone has equal rights.

And where individuals and minorities face particular obstacles to experiencing them, the Council of Europe’s job together with the member States is to ensure that these are removed.

On this, we have a positive story to tell.

Case law from the European Court of Human Rights – interpreting the Convention – has resulted in important steps forward.

From the legalisation of same-sex relationships to clarity that transgender people seeking legal recognition must not be subjected to sterilisation.

Drawing from that case law and the principles of the Convention, our member states adopted in 2010 a very important recommendation on measures to combat discrimination.

To help ensure that the human rights of LGBTI people are respected in public, in private and in the workplace.

For ten years now we have used this instrument to promote, monitor and measure progress towards equality across Europe.

And the work of our Parliamentary Assembly and our Commissioner for Human Rights have been important components of our collective push for progress.

But problems remain: big problems.

In some parts of our continent, national and local politicians are using hate speech and misinformation about LGBTI people, often portraying their rights as some kind of threat to the family and even to state sovereignty.

This approach causes long-term human harm in pursuit of short-term political gain.

We have even seen individuals’ rights being put on the ballot paper;

Laws used and misused to restrict prides and other events;

And a failure by the state to provide LGBTI people with equal access to public services, and the particular services on which they rely – sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through malice.

All of this has the impact of generating hostility – both online and also on our streets – where violence often goes unreported, unprosecuted and unpunished.

It is also right to point out that while the covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll across society, it has had a specific impact on some LGBTI people.

These include people who have been confined with family members or others who may be hostile to them on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

So, dear friends, what should be done?

The response must be proactive and multi-layered.

Here at the Council of Europe, we are working to improve the review procedures of our 2010 recommendation, which will provide a bigger role for equality body and civil society representatives to inform our monitoring, reports and conclusions.

We are also preparing new standards to help member states counter hate speech and hate crime more effectively.

And we are working on new, enhanced guidance on LGBTI rights in our member states:

One that will draw on lessons learned from ECRI’s country specific work and that will take account of the developments and better understanding about the reality of LGBTI issues over recent years, as also highlighted in ECRI’s most recent report.

At the national level, it will be for national governments to contribute positively to this work, and then to implement it –

Just as they should implement current instruments and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights –

Judgments that will keep coming and which are legally binding.

And of course, there is a vital role for national equality bodies.

From raising public awareness, to developing national equality strategies, to reviewing legislation and advocating and litigating on behalf of LGBTI people.

Your role in all of this is essential.

I am acutely aware that national equality bodies and NGOs in particular are at the forefront of this struggle.

More than anyone, you meet those who are struggling and who are suffering.

You are at the end of the helplines, hearing the testimonies and providing support.

And this too will remain vital.

So, looking forward, we must stand together and ensure that human rights standards are met – equally and for all.

Today provides an opportunity to exchange experience and good practice, and to lay the ground for further progress.

I am grateful to each of you for participating and look forward to hearing your ideas and views.


Thank you very much for your attention.