Current Affairs

Commissioner’s horror at extent of homophobia in Europe

Tony Grew April 17, 2008
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The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has called for more protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people.

Thomas Hammarberg was elected to the post in 2005 by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

He was speaking today at a conference on LGBT rights.

Commissioner 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.

The 47-member Council of Europe predates the European Union.

It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Hammarberg, who is Swedish, said that gay Pride marches should not be banned or obstructed by national or local authorities, a reference to Lithuania.

Vilnius city council has effectively banned any Pride events on the grounds of “security.”

In November amendments to the public order and cleanliness regulations were passed, meaning the police or a special commission will be able to ban any event where they think a riot might occur.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe expressed concern about the situation in Lithuania earlier this month.

“Regulations and laws should list all grounds for discrimination including sexual orientation which is not always the case,” Mr Hammarberg said.

He stressed the importance of the Yogyakarta Principles.

Launched in March 2007, they are a set of principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

There have been strong indications from EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso and employment, social affairs and equal opportunities commissioner Vladimir Spidla that a new directive on discrimination to be introduced this year may focus on disability only.

Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, covering race and employment directives, requires EU member states to introduce legislation to outlaw unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability and age in the fields of employment and training.

A directive to combat discrimination on the remaining grounds of Article 13 was announced in the Commission’s work programme for 2008.

EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take.

Last week the European Parliament’s all-party social affairs committee voted for a framework directive against all forms of discrimination, despite firm opposition by right-wing MEPs.

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