Full text 
Procedure : 2011/2821(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : B7-0523/2011

Texts tabled :


Debates :

PV 27/09/2011 - 15
CRE 27/09/2011 - 15

Votes :

PV 28/09/2011 - 4.14
CRE 28/09/2011 - 4.14
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Tuesday, 27 September 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

15. Sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN Human Rights Council (debate)
Video of the speeches

  President. – The next item is the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN Human Rights Council.


  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Madam President, honourable Members, today I reaffirm my own commitment and the commitment of the European Union to the entitlement of all people, wherever and whoever they are, to enjoy the full range of human rights and to do so without discrimination or the fear of discrimination.

Around the world, the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation continue to be used as a pretext for serious human rights violations: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are still subject to persecution, discrimination and ill-treatment, and that ill-treatment often involves extreme forms of violence.

There are 80 countries which still criminalise same-sex relations between consenting adults, and seven which apply the death penalty. Let us be clear: this is incompatible with international human rights law. It is a cause for which I was proud to fight in my native country, and it is a cause which I take up now on behalf of the 27 Member States of the European Union. We continue to protest against these abuses and to offer practical support on how to end discrimination and to encourage inclusiveness.

Through the channel of the United Nations, the European Union takes this message to the world: 15 of our Member States were part of the group which prepared the statements on ending acts of violence and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which was agreed by 85 countries at the UN Human Rights Council in March this year. We also welcomed the resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity tabled by South Africa and adopted at the Council three months ago.

Elsewhere in the UN system, the EU has supported LGBT rights in the NGO Committee of the UN Economic and Social Council, and, in December 2008, we were instrumental in delivering a UN General Assembly statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity which had the support of nearly 70 countries on five continents. That statement reaffirmed the principle of non-discrimination and condemned all executions and arrests made on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It calls on all states to decriminalise homosexuality, especially including capital punishment.

The EU is an organisation of values, and it brings those values into the heart of its relationship with its partners beyond its borders. With its African, Caribbean and Pacific partners, for instance, we proposed the amendment of Article 8 in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. We wanted to adapt that non-discrimination clause to the language of the Lisbon Treaty by introducing a reference to sexual orientation. The ACP side could not accept the proposal, and a compromise was agreed which uses the language of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This says that the dialogue shall focus on discrimination of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We knew that a matter of principle had to be raised, and we will keep raising it.

Madam President, I want to set out briefly some of the practical examples of how we work. Over the last year, we have raised the same principles in Uganda and Malawi: in Uganda, against a proposed parliamentary bill further criminalising homosexuality and raising serious human rights issues, and in Malawi against the long prison sentences imposed on a gay couple. We spoke out and made public statements together with Members of this House and NGOs, and we worked behind the scenes with our delegations to argue the case for justice and human rights with these two governments. In this we succeeded.

The EU also uses our regular human rights dialogues with individual countries to promote tolerance and non-discrimination for LGBT people. In countries like Moldova, those dialogues have resulted in expert-level follow-up, and in countries like Russia, Croatia, Turkey, Montenegro and Brazil, the Union has used its instrument for democracy and human rights to support local and international NGOs in their campaigns against discrimination.

Our action has ranged from physical protection, which we offered to LGBT people who had received death threats in the wake of the assassination of David Kato in Uganda, to the practical promotion which saw 4 000 people attend a gay pride march in La Paz, Bolivia.

We can always do more to promote awareness throughout our delegations worldwide and guide them in their work. In June, we adopted a guide called ‘a toolkit to promote the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people’. I much appreciated the support of this House and joint working in order to produce this toolkit. It sets out ways to bring about decriminalisation, promote equality before the law and in society, and support and protect those who campaign for LGBT human rights. It also gives guidance on taking this issue onto the international stage in the UN.

So we stand by the principles of human rights and we articulate that view. So, too, do we give practical support to establishing those principles. We cannot allow discrimination over sexuality and gender anymore than we can allow it over colour and creed. Human rights are as indivisible as they are universal.


  Michèle Striffler, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, sadly, the adoption of the resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity did not receive much coverage in the press, yet the adoption of this resolution marks an historic moment. I am glad that the European Parliament now has an opportunity to comment on this question. Indeed, it is important that the European Union should vigorously defend its values in international bodies and in its relations with third countries, but it is also important for us to be vigilant in defending the values of the European Union within our borders.

I am therefore calling on the Member States and on the High Representative to ensure that the Union is consistent in its internal and external actions in the field of human rights, as set out in Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union. In fact, I have observed that homosexuals are still the victims of extreme prejudice and the subject of discrimination in certain Member States of the Union. We also need to take action in response to the criminalisation of homosexuality around the world. We have already condemned this within Parliament on numerous occasions, but we must continue our efforts by engaging in regular, respectful and frank dialogue on questions pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Let me close by saying that we have a financial instrument for combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity in the form of the European instrument for democracy and human rights.


  Michael Cashman, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Madam President, may I thank the High Representative Catherine Ashton for her statement. Cathy, may I also thank you for your personal commitment to this issue of non-discrimination. It is always a pleasure to follow Michèle Striffler who equally has been outspoken in the defence of people who have been discriminated against because of their difference.

You rightly, Vice-President, mentioned David Kato, a man who, because he sought to end discrimination in Uganda against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, was ultimately murdered; the three Iranian men who, only days ago, were hanged by their neck until they were dead because they were gay; Jamie Rodemeyer in the United States of America who committed suicide because he was bullied to death. They are the real examples of what discrimination does. Those who speak out using either their belief or their religion or their politics on behalf of such discrimination support those who would murder and those who would discriminate and by so doing, they demean themselves.

The Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, yet that was what we had to settle for in the Cotonou Agreement. It was shameful that our Cotonou partners would not accept our definition, a wider definition, and it is a wonderful example that 63 years after the Universal Declaration in 1948, people still feel that we can find others to discriminate against in order to reinforce our position in society.

That is why we in the Socialist and Democratic Group welcome the resolution at the UN. It is a historic time; it is a turning point in the history of human rights. Sexual orientation and gender identity are at last increasingly understood to deserve equal protection.

The EU does not have a perfect track record on human rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Parliament is aware of this and has made it clear in the resolution which lists outstanding issues within the EU. This is vital because, if we are to be taken seriously in the defence and the promotion of human rights, we must hold the same mirror up to ourselves and examine our own record.

The work and the commitment of the High Representative and the External Action Service and Member States’ diplomats are outstanding. They have worked in partnership with countries from around the world, and I emphasise ‘in partnerships’. This is not cultural imperialism because human rights know no boundaries and no borders. They are universal and indivisible. Therefore, the Parliament is equally respectful of the ongoing progress at the UN and does not seek to dictate to it or influence its process. But, with this resolution, this House wishes to encourage positive developments for universal and indivisible human rights, both at home and in the world.

I am pleased with the lead that both South Africa and Brazil have given in their sponsoring and their promotion of the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. It is ground-breaking work, we need to do more to support them, but equally can I please give a plea on behalf of trans people. We need to depathologise their right to health, we need to end the fact that being trans is to be seen to be suffering from an illness or a sickness. To be yourself is no illness and no sickness. It is to demand that your unique place in the world is respected. That is why we must do all we can to support this resolution, and I so move.


  Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, Madam High Representative, we spoke about the Middle East today as well as the turnarounds in North Africa. We touched on the urgent need for the EU to be a partner in ensuring that reforms on human rights are inclusive, deep and meaningful. The exact same goes for LGBT rights.

My party, the Dutch liberal D66 party, was the initiator of same-sex marriage, which we established ten years ago. Unfortunately, the challenges, both within the EU and in the rest of the world, are often much more elementary. In our Union, and unfortunately also in this House, there are too many who discriminate, exclude and even attack sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, neighbours and colleagues simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and it is much worse elsewhere. Iran and Uganda were highlighted.

Let us work together towards solid and inclusive respect for human rights in the EU so that, along with our (hopefully) more effective and ambitious policies, we are a credible global player. In the EU, North Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere in the world, LGBT rights are human rights. We must use the toolkit that is available. Our Group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, wants to highlight the need to include asylum for those who were prosecuted for their sexual orientation or gender identity so that they can find a safe space in the EU.


  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, human rights are universal and indivisible and apply to all equally, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The UN Human Rights Council, despite its significant shortcomings, has done some useful work in this area. Holding an open and respectful dialogue on sexual orientation and gender identity amongst UN Member States is indispensable in achieving a world where equality and non-discrimination against LGBT people is the international norm.

The safeguarding and promoting of the universality of human rights is a fundamental part of the EU’s common values. Regrettably, on gay rights, these laudable principles are not yet fully upheld by the entire European Union. We still see unfortunately, although rarely, cases of discrimination against gay and transgender people in the European Union. Member States should also reaffirm their commitment to protect LGBT rights in the conduct of their foreign relations, both bilaterally with third countries – in particular, in the Arab world and in parts of Africa where criminal sanctions are still widely applied, including, disgracefully, the death penalty in some cases – and also multilaterally in all international fora, including the United Nations.


  Ulrike Lunacek, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Madam President, I should like to thank Vice-President Ashton for her support for LGBT issues. We already knew from other cases that you are very strong on that and support us on that. I also agree with those who have already said that the resolution at the Human Rights Council really was a turning point for LGBT rights worldwide, with countries like Brazil and South Africa and others in southern countries supporting it. This is something that we have not had that many times before, and it was the first time at the Human Rights Council.

It is a fact that this Parliament has been very outspoken on LGBT rights, not only on the very tragic assassination of David Kato just recently, but also on the cases of so many others who are not so prominent in their struggle: human rights defenders who are assassinated, who are beaten up and tortured, who are ousted from their families, from their schools, just because they fall in love with a person of the same sex. Love is like a human right: every one of us is happy when we have it, and when we have it in our lives. As a lesbian woman myself who has been fighting for these issues for almost 30 years and met so many people who have been active in very difficult situations, I am happy that we have this resolution today in order to support and push the External Action Service, the foreign minister of the European Union, Member States in terms of internal matters, and all other EU institutions to press ahead with doing away with violations of human rights against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

I would like to ask Lady Ashton two specific questions. Do you support what we have in this resolution by six groups (which I very strongly appreciate) a comprehensive road map against homo- and transphobia by the European Union? And do you support the Commission helping to withdraw gender identity from the WHO catalogue of mental disorders? Because that is what is at stake at the WHO.


  Cornelis de Jong, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (NL) Madam President, homophobia is continuing to prey on our minds here in the European Parliament, and for good reason. Despite the debates here in Strasbourg, homophobia is not really in decline in the European Union. As long as we fail to put our own House in order, we will continue to lack a certain amount of credibility with third countries.

The best remedy against homophobia is to ensure full equality of rights. My group has made a number of proposals that would make the resolution even more specific in this respect. The fact remains that, in practice, we still do not have full equality of movement for same-sex couples in the EU. Obviously, they are allowed to seek and get jobs in other Member States, but that does not mean that their partnerships or marriages are recognised. That is why they are missing out on all kinds of rights which married couples take for granted. The best action against homophobia is ensuring equal rights and that can only be achieved through mutual recognition of partnerships and marriages.

Outside the European Union, the situation is even more serious, of course. I am thinking of the developments in Africa, where many LGBT people fear for their lives. What support is the European Union giving to the movement founded by David Kato, the murdered Ugandan activist, and to similar movements in other countries? What is the European Union doing to support gay rights movements in neighbouring countries? What initiatives is the European Union taking within the framework of support for the Arab Spring? Do they include an element for combating homophobia in these countries? This is a long list and I hope that, with this resolution, the European Parliament will ensure that these issues are given maximum priority.


  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Madam President I can be brief and only because I want to make one remark which is that, in answer to Ms Lunacek’s questions and to the comments that have been made, I will support anything anywhere that helps to remove discrimination against people whose human rights are being violated because of who they are. I think, as Mr Cashman put it, to be yourself is core and fundamental to the values that I hold and upon which I stand. One of the greatest privileges of my life was when I was awarded the Stonewall Politician of the Year award for the work that I have done on equality. It sits in my home as a reminder of sometimes being able to achieve something on behalf of people. I stand fairly and squarely in support of everything that we can do to prevent people’s rights being violated in all circumstances and, in this case particularly, those people that we have been discussing this evening.


  President. – I have received one motion for a resolution(1)tabled in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)


  Bruno Gollnisch (NI), in writing. (FR) It is truly shameful that so-called gender identity is at the heart of the discussions on human rights within both the European Union and United Nations. Seeking to impose the nebulous gender theory across the globe and in all cultures – a theory devised in extreme left-wing feminist circles in America in the 1960s, which is based on nothing more than sociological and pseudo-philosophical fantasies – is not acceptable. It is monstrous that the European Union is taking part in this charade. What do you think that this will convey to the rest of the world, other than decadence and amorality?

We are not all born the same. We are men and women, with different skills and sensitivities. Whether you like it or not, this is a fact which is not dependent on either our personal choices or our socio-cultural environment. If you want to talk about gender discrimination, you should focus on the fate of women in some countries, and even in some European neighbourhoods, where they are seen as second-class citizens who can be exploited, coerced and sometimes killed merely because they are women. However, you would see that as ‘stigmatising’ certain communities and therefore remain remarkably quiet on this subject.


(1) See Minutes

Last updated: 5 January 2012Legal notice