Håkon Haugli
January 27, 2010
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity

Mr. President,
It is very appropriate that we have this particular debate today, January 27, the International Holocaust Rememberance Day. The day is used to commemorate victims and fight prejudice in the present.

Along with millions of Jews, political prisoners, disabled people and others, a large number of homosexuals were persecuted by the Nazis and died in concentration camps. For many, persecution continued after World War II. Some remained in prisons, others were detained in mental hospitals.

The Council of Europe was born from the will to prevent history from repeating itself. We have a duty to protect human rights and actively promote respect and non-discrimination.

Sadly, discrimination of LGBT people is not a thing of the past. Even today, there is not a single country where LGBT-people are free from discrimination. There is reason to be concerned about suicide rates of teenagers across Europe and about discrimination in schools, by employers and in the housing market.

This is the backdrop of today’s discussion.

Mr. President,

The report is not about special rights. It’s about equal rights. About human rights. “Freedom of expression” and “freedom of assembly and association” are enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Unfortunately, many governments fail to protect these rights for LGBT-people and organizations. In fact, it appears that tolerance is losing ground in some member countries: Peaceful demonstrations are banned. Authorities fail to protect activists. And in many places there is no effective protection against violence.

Rather than confronting such serious human rights violations, many politicians look the other way. Others convey prejudice, ignorance and hatred - camouflaged in language referring to family values, tradition, conscience, morality or faith. Some political leaders operate with an unacceptable double standard, claiming that society is not ready to accept homosexuality, while they themselves promote intolerance.

While we – as parliamentarians and members of this council – may disagree on what legal rights same-sex couples should enjoy, we cannot disagree on the importance of freedom of expression or freedom of assembly and association.

Commissioner Hammarberg has pointed out that too few people stand up against hate speech, homophobia and transphobia. I want to thank Andreas Gross for his commitment.

I also take the opportunity to encourage members of this assembly to get personally involved in advancing the rights of LGBT-people. The participation of parliamentarians in pride marches, reaching out to LGBT-organizations and other public expressions of support, can and will make a difference.

Thank you.