Bezugnehmend auf die heutige Aussendung des SPÖ-Pressedienstes (OTS0007) übermitteln wir untenstehend den aus Anlaß des heutigen Internationalen Tags der Toleranz gemeinsam von Peter Schieder, Präsident der Parlamentarischen Versammlung des Europarats, und vom europäischen Regionalverband der International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europa) veröffentlichten Offenen Brief.
Der Brief wurde auch in der aktuellen Ausgabe des ILGA-Europe Newsletter in vollem Wortlaut veröffentlicht. Darin findet sich auch ein umfangreicher Bericht über die jüngste Jahreskonferenz der ILGA-Europa in Lissabon vom 23. bis 27. Oktober 2002, über die Peter Schieder nicht nur den Ehrenschutz übernommen hat, sondern auf der er auch eine vielbeachteten Rede hielt und dafür Standing Ovations erntete. Außerdem überreichte er Anerkennungsurkunden an vier Männer, die durch ihre Verfahren vor dem Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte in Straßburg für die Durchsetzung grundlegender Lesben- und Schwulenrechte gekämpft haben (vgl. auch Aussendung vom 28. Oktober 2002).
Europe’s neglected minority
Joint open letter by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Peter Schieder and the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association on the occasion of the International Day of Tolerance, 16 November
For a European, to condemn human rights violations in distant parts of the world is a noble, but relatively comfortable thing to do. The Taliban treatment of women was emblematic of the kind of behaviour which was alien to our culture, to our traditions, to our beliefs. To raise a voice in indignation was a sign of our solidarity, but it said little about our tolerance. The real test of tolerance is in how we deal with our own, not somebody else’s prejudice.
In Europe human rights are protected through an unparalleled international legal instrument, the European Convention on Human Rights – which not only sets human rights standards, but also provides a legal mechanism to enforce them. But in spite of that, at least some categories of European citizens continue to be discriminated against at the national level.
In fact, in several Council of Europe states – and even European Union states – lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people continue to be discriminated against, as a category, and sometimes on the basis of law! They are victims of segregation for the sole reason of their sexual orientation on the basis of a legal system that should, in principle, serve to protect them from such discrimination.
Even if being a homosexual should no longer get you in jail in (almost) any of forty-four Council of Europe states, in several of them lesbians and gays are still not entitled to equal treatment in their access to employment, service in the armed forces, and enjoyment of parental rights. Social protection and benefits recognised to non-married partners in heterosexual relationships are often denied to partners of the same sex. Several European countries continue to maintain a discriminatory age of consent for homosexual relationships.
It is therefore absolutely necessary that lesbians and gays receive greater support from institutions mandated to protect equality and human rights at national and international level. The Council of Europe, as the foremost body on the continent with the task of protecting these values, has a specific responsibility here. The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) enjoys consultative status with the organisation and is recognised as a valued partner in the effort to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and to recognise the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people as an integral part of human rights.
The Council of Europe was the first international body to speak up and act to protect the rights of lesbians and gays. The progress made has been considerable, largely thanks to the efforts of the European Court of Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly.
The Court handed down a series of ground-breaking judgments, recognising that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was a violation of fundamental rights, and gradually expanding this general principle to areas such as employment and child custody.
The decisions of the Court are of the greatest importance because they oblige changes in national legislation which is found to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Parliamentary Assembly‘s aim is not only to change laws, but also to try to change attitudes. It brings together parliamentarians from different backgrounds and of different political persuasions. Their views reflect the predominant opinions within their part of the electorate, be they progressive or conservative, tolerant or less so. In the debating chamber in Strasbourg they express themselves freely, but they do so against the background of the principles that the Council of Europe was set up to defend.
In June 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report on the situation of gays and lesbians in Council of Europe member states. It concluded that homosexuals were still all too often subject to discrimination or violence and that they were sometimes even perceived as a threat to the rest of society.
The Assembly blamed certain politicians and religious leaders as those primarily responsible for the propagation of homophobia, using this in turn to justify the continued existence of discriminatory laws and, above all, aggressive and contemptuous attitudes. It is regrettable that people belonging to institutions of considerable moral authority undermine – through their intolerant attitudes – the very values they claim to be protecting.
Europe‘s governments must do more than half-heartedly condemn such practices. Any lack of resolve in the fight against homophobia perpetuates intolerance in our societies – or even allows it to thrive. While long-standing democracies are far from being immune to bigotry, the situation is particularly serious in central and eastern Europe. Last year, the arrival of an openly gay United States ambassador to Romania triggered a wave of homophobic hysteria, while the first Gay Pride parade in Belgrade was violently broken up by a band of thugs, with bystanders cheering and laughing at the spectacle. This year, a significant group of Russian parliamentarians supported a motion to criminalise homosexual relationships.
The advocates of gay and lesbian rights in Europe believe that Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, banning all forms of discrimination, could considerably improve the situation of one of Europe‘s most neglected minorities. Yet today, almost two years since the opening for signature, only two countries – Cyprus and Georgia – have ratified the protocol. Eight more ratifications are necessary before it can enter into force. Fifteen Council of Europe member states – Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – have not yet even signed the text.
On the occasion of the International Day of Tolerance, we call on all the countries concerned to match their rhetoric with concrete acts and to sign and ratify Protocol No. 12 as soon as possible.
Peter Schieder, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Ailsa Spindler, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe