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LGBT Issues

About the Council of Europe   

Find out what the Council of Europe is, how it works and its main institutions, and what the Council of Europe has done for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

On this page:

The Council of Europe and how it works
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and the Council of Europe
European lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lobby

The Council of Europe and how it works

Following the devastation and unprecedented violations of human rights during World War II, the Council of Europe was established in 1949 by ten western European countries with the aim of preventing similar tragedies in the future and to provide a forum and mechanisms for the protection of human rights . The UK was one of the founding countries of the Council of Europe. Today almost all European countries, from Iceland in the north to Malta in the south and from Portugal in the west to Russia in the east, are members of the Council of Europe.

The main institutions of the Council of Europe are the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. The Committee of Ministers consists of Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the Council of Europe member states and is the Council of Europe's executive power. The Committee of Ministers decides on the Council of Europe's activities and programmes, and implements recommendations and suggestions of the Parliamentary Assembly. Decisions of the Committee of Ministers are binding for the member states of the Council of Europe. Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, is currently representing the UK in the Committee of Ministers.

The Parliamentary Assembly consists of parliamentarians from each member state of the Council of Europe. This is the first and largest assembly of this kind in Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly is free to decide on issues for discussion and the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights was discussed by them. Recommendations and resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly are not legally binding for the Council of Europe member states, but carry significant political weight and can be used by the member states of the Council of Europe to improve the situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Click here to see who is currently representing the UK at the Parliamentary Assembly.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and the Council of Europe

The first significant document for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly is its Recommendation 924 (1981) on discrimination against homosexuals. In this Recommendation the Assembly firmly called upon member states of the Council of Europe to abolish laws criminalising consensual homosexual acts and urged for the same age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual acts. Additionally, the Assembly wanted to stop the police practice of keeping records on homosexuals, to ensure equal treatment for homosexuals in employment, to stop any practices and research aiming to alter sexual orientation, and to provide equal access to child custody and visiting rights for parents who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

In Resolution 756 (1981) on discrimination against homosexuals, the Parliamentary Assembly called upon the World Health Organisation to delete homosexuality from its International Classification of Diseases. In 1993, the World Health Organisation adopted the 10th version of its International Classification of Diseases which no longer refers to homosexuality as a disorder.

In 1989 The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a Resolution on discrimination against transsexuals, and Recommendation 1117 on the condition of transsexuals. Since then, there have been many positive moves across Europe to recognise and protect the rights of transgender people. However, Resolutions (as the name suggests) are not binding and therefore many of the clauses have not been enacted by all member states.

In 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly returned to the discussion on lesbian, gay and bisexual rights and adopted two major documents. The first document is Recommendation 1474 (2000) "Situation of lesbians and gays in Council of Europe member states." In this Recommendation the Parliamentary Assembly requested member states of the Council of Europe to:

  • include sexual orientation among prohibited grounds for discrimination in their national legislation
  • abolish all laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults and release anyone imprisoned for such acts
  • apply an equal age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual acts
  • take positive measures to combat homophobic attitudes, particularly in schools, the medical profession, the armed forces, the police, the judiciary and the Bar, and in sport, by means of education and training
  • co-ordinate efforts with a view to launching a vast public information campaign
  • take disciplinary action against anyone discriminating against homosexuals
  • ensure equal treatment for homosexuals with regard to employment
  • adopt legislation which makes provision for registered partnerships
  • recognise persecution against homosexuals as grounds for granting asylum
  • include discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in existing fundamental rights protection and mediation structures, or establish an expert on these issues.

    The second document is Recommendation 1470 (2000) "Situation of gays and lesbians and their partners in respect of asylum and immigration in the member states of the Council of Europe." In this document the Assembly provides a number of recommendations that member states of the Council of Europe should adopt to ensure that persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation is recognised as a distinct ground for asylum and that right of residence is given to foreign same-sex partners in bi-national partnerships.

    The Council of Europe played a significant role in improving the situation for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in many former socialist countries of central and eastern Europe when these countries were joining the Council of Europe. As a result, laws criminalising sexual acts between consenting adult men were abolished in Romania, and some of the former Soviet and Yugoslav republics.

    Useful documents

  • Recommendation 924 (1981) on discrimination against homosexuals.

  • Resolution 756 (1981) on discrimination against homosexuals

  • 10th version of its International Classification of Diseases

  • Recommendation 1117 (1989) on the condition of transsexuals

  • Recommendation 1474 (2000) "Situation of lesbians and gays in Council of Europe member states."

  • Recommendation 1470 (2000) "Situation of gays and lesbians and their partners in respect of asylum and immigration in the member states of the Council of Europe."

    European lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lobby

    Further recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights by the Council of Europe has been through the granting of consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). There are various organisations representing the interests of different groups working with the Council of Europe to help it better understand the issues faced by these particular groups and provide expertise and advice to the Council of Europe on how to deal with these issues more effectively.

    ILGA is a federation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations from around the world. Being consultant and advisor for the Council of Europe provides ILGA a unique opportunity to raise the concerns of European lesbians, gay men and bisexuals at this European forum. According to the regionalisation programme of ILGA, the European Region of ILGA (ILGA-Europe) conducts lobbying work at the Council of Europe.

    ILGA Europe website - www.ilga-europe.org

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