Campaigners have hailed as a “very important development” a decision by the Council of Europe to step up efforts to protect the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people.

At the 1,031st meeting of the Committee of Ministers last week, action against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity was ordered.

The CoE, founded in 1949, promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

The Committee of Ministers is made up for foreign ministers from the 47 member states.

“The Ministers’ Deputies gave instructions for the elaboration of a recommendation to member states concerning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the CoE said in a statement.

“They also initiated work on the topic of various forms of marital and non-marital partnerships and cohabitation with a view to identifying possible measures to avoid discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The decision was also taken to address a message to all committees involved in intergovernmental co-operation at the Council of Europe inviting them to give due attention in their activities to the need for member states to avoid and remedy any discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“These committees were also asked to make proposals for activities to strengthen the equal rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and to combat discriminatory attitudes against them in society.”

The International Gay and Lesbian Association said the Council had “strongly reaffirmed” its commitment to the equal rights and dignity of LGBT people.

ILGA-Europe Executive Director, Patricia Prendiville commented: “This is a historic development.

“For the first time since the foundation of the Council of Europe nearly 60 years ago, its executive committee, the Foreign Ministers of the 47 member states, is to issue a formal declaration in support of LGBT rights, and to engage the whole organisation in combating discrimination against LGBT people.”

ILGA-Europe’s Council of Europe adviser, Nigel Warner added: “Much of the credit for this great step forward goes to LGBT human rights defenders in central and eastern Europe.

“Their courageous work in advocating for LGBT rights has revealed the appalling extent of homophobia and transphobia in many countries, and shocked the Council of Europe into taking action.”

In April the CoE’s Commissioner for Human Rights called for more protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people.

Thomas Hammarberg called for more protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the European Parliament in Brussels.

“Since I took up the office, I have been quite horrified by the extent of homophobia in a number of countries in Europe,” he said.