Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe addresses rights of LGBTI persons in her Annual Report for 2019

On 21 April 2020, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe published her Annual Activity Report for 2019.

In 2019, the Commissioner covered a wide range of human rights themes. Particular attention was paid to the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees; media freedom and the safety of journalists; and women’s rights and gender equality. The Commissioner continued to highlight children’s rights; the human rights of people with disabilities, LGBTI persons and Roma; and transitional justice, notably in the Western Balkans. Artificial intelligence and human rights, counter-terrorism and human rights protection and racism and intolerance were also among the major concerns.

On rights of LGBTI persons in general

In 2019, the Commissioner continued her work to advance equal human rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) people. The focus this year on some of the most basic rights, such as the right not to be subjected to violence and hate speech, the right of human rights defenders to pursue their activities safely, and the rights to freedom of expression and association, was a reflection of a worrying backlash against LGBTI people and their rights in Europe.

The Commissioner welcomed the adoption by the World Health Organisation of a new International Classification of Diseases (ICD 11) in which variations of gender identity are no longer listed as a mental illness, noting that the pathologisation of trans people has long served to justify violations of their human rights. She nevertheless regretted that no progress had been made concerning the pathologisation of intersex people.

Supporting the work of LGBTI human rights defenders was an important priority for the Commissioner this year. She met with LGBTI activists in the course of several country visits, but also in Strasbourg. This year’s statement by the Commissioner on the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) was dedicated to the important contribution of LGBTI human rights defenders, calling on Council of Europe member states to facilitate their courageous work and ensure their protection. 

On 26-27 September 2019, the Commissioner and representatives of her Office participated in the high-level conference “On the Road to Effective Equality - New responses to racism and intolerance needed?” organised by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. In her speech, the Commissioner stressed that despite important advances promoted by ECRI and other human rights bodies, the struggle for a society free of racism, xenophobia, intolerance and inequality is not over, the most affected being Jews, Muslims, Roma, foreigners and LGBTI people.

In 2019, the Commissioner and her team continued to devote close attention to the situation of human rights defenders in the Council of Europe area, pursued her efforts to promote a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, civil society organisations and human rights NGOs, including LGBTI activists.

On rights of LGBTI persons in the Western Balkans and Turkey

She examined the situation of LGBTI human rights defenders in Turkey. The human rights of LGBTI people were also discussed in the course of the June roundtable held by the Commissioner with human rights defenders who work in conflict-affected settings.

The Commissioner defended the fundamental right of LGBTI people to freedom of expression, notably through the organisation of Pride marches. She issued statements in support of the first trans and intersex Balkan March in Zagreb. The Commissioner expressed concerns about hostility, threats and attempts to hinder Pride Marche in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. She welcomed the fact that first- ever Pride Marches took place safely in Sarajevo and in Skopje, North Macedonia. The Commissioner noted with regret that some Pride Marches continued to be banned, for example in Turkey.

Visit to Turkey

The Commissioner carried out a visit to Turkey from 1 to 5 July, focusing on the administration of justice and the protection of human rights in the justice system, as well as the situation of human rights defenders and civil society. The Commissioner found that the legitimate work of independent, rights-based civil society organisations was being subjected to undue pressure, including through the tightening of an already restrictive regulatory framework, the outright closure of NGOs without court decisions, toxic political discourse and smear campaigns, and numerous criminal proceedings against human rights defenders.