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Jackie Lewis at the UN Panel
ILGA Panel at 2nd UNCHR Session

in WORLD, 30/11/2006

ILGA-Europe at ECOSOC

I’m going to first say just a little bit about what ILGA-Europe itself is; then I’m going to say something about the kind of work that we do, and then share with you parts of our experience with our application for ECOSOC status.

Click here to listen to the speech or copy the link at the bottom of this page onto a new window.

ILGA itself is a global organization, but it has a regional structure, and ILGA-Europe is the European region of ILGA. So, it’s part of the global organization. ILGA-Europe was founded in 1996, so we are celebrating our tenth anniversary this year. And we have a membership of some two-hundred organizations across Europe. As a region of ILGA we share the overall objectives of ILGA, and ILGA’s members in Europe constitute the membership of ILGA-Europe. However, ILGA-Europe is a legal entity in its own right and is registered as an international not-for-profit organization under Belgian law. It’s governed by an Executive Board elected by the membership of ILGA-Europe at our annual conference.

ILGA-Europe’s vision, mission and values and its strategic objectives are set out in this document, Strategic Plan for ILGA-Europe for 2005-2008, which is available on the ILGA-Europe website. It also includes information about some of the types of work that we do and strategies that we are employing to achieve our objectives. What will be clear from that is that a crucial focus of our work is to affect policy at the three main European institutions: the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In 2001, ILGA-Europe’s potential contribution to the European Union’s antidiscrimination policies was recognized through core funding from the European Commission, through its program to combat discrimination in the same manner as the European Platforms on age discrimination, on race discrimination and on disability discrimination, for example. That enabled us to set up an office in Brussels and to start an extensive program of work related to the European Union. Since then we obtained funding from other sources, and we now have an office headed by an Executive Director with six staff in Brussels.

We have consultative status at the Council of Europe and have contributed to work leading to the adoption by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly of recommendations on a number of topics, for example, including immigration and asylum. We have also contributed to the development of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights through making friend-of-the-court submissions in some key cases.

In relation to the OSCE, we are involved in a number of ways. I’ll just give you two examples: the OSCE has invited ILGA-Europe to contribute to a training program for law enforcement officers on hate crimes and also invited ILGA-Europe to give a keynote speech on human rights defenders during the implementation meeting in April. And if you don’t know about the OSCE or are not familiar with it, the human dimension implementation meeting is the largest human rights conference and that happens annually.

So from our perspective, we think that we have good standing; and our expertise contribution as an NGO is recognized throughout all of the key European institutions. We applied to have status at ECOSOC in order to have a similar role and make a similar contribution. I’m only going to give some examples of some of the difficulties within this process.

We made an application; our application is complete and answered detailed questions; and we received some supplementary questions from members of the NGO Committee, and I’m going to just take you through some of the things that the committee that was considering the application actually were asking. We think they are quite illuminating. The first set of questions, remember this was after the completed application, which is pages and pages long, we were asked what kind of strategy we are using to influence political decision-making at international level. Okay, a fair question. But then they asked, and I quoting, “In terms about strategies, does it include countries where sexual orientation is forbidden?.” Now, if you think about that for a minute, that would appear to say that in some countries of the world it’s possible to say that no one is allowed to have a sexual orientation. Can anyone think of a country where that is the case? I’ll just leave that question with you, because we answered that question as best we could; and then we were asked a supplementary question in the next batch of questions which was: “What are your organization’s views on the human right to sexual orientation?” I’m not actually going to tell you how we tried to answer this, because it was clear that there was basically, how can I put it, a lack of knowledge of what the term “sexual orientation” actually means. So, we thought at this point we better try to explain it. So, I’m just going to read you part of the response that we gave. “Sexual orientation” refers to an individual’s sexual orientation towards people of the same sex, homosexual; people of the opposite sex; heterosexual; or people of both sexes, bisexual. And then we felt we had to say: sexual orientation does not refer to sexual behavior, that this is, if you like, the elephant in the room. The “elephant in the room” - I don’t know how well that concept translates - is the fact that the ILGA and all LGBT organizations are in effect being accused of promoting pedophilia, abuse of children. That is in effect what is happening; it is happening in direct or indirect ways.

And, so, the other questions we were asked illustrate this, and there are pages of this. You will be grateful to know that I am going to give you only a couple of highlights of it.

One of the questions we were asked was “What is your position on the age of consent for sexual relations?” I’m just going to summarize what we explained in our answer, and we thought it was clear from our original document that we initially submitted, but we tried it again, is that ILGA-Europe works for the ending of discrimination in all laws. And that includes the age of consent. But, of course, the age of consent by definition applies to consensual sexual activity. And ILGA-Europe’s position, like ILGA’s is based on the principle of nondiscrimination; and it does not take a view on what the actual age of consent itself should be in any individual country. And nor, of course, does the United Nations. So our position there is, we think, consistent with the position within the conventions of the United Nations.

And the other questions we were asked were what we are doing to protect children, and in our answer we tried to explain that our policies on children and young people are based firmly on principles which are actually written into the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. And in brief they are all actions concerning children should be in the best interests of the child. And the second one is that no child should suffer because of who their parents or families are. So, to discriminate against children because they have parents who are LGBT is contrary to the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. And that’s basically our position.

We have not had a reply, by the way.

Jackie Lewis
Board Member of Ilga-Europe
Member of UNISON

Audio Link:
/historic/UNHRC/JLewis_ILGA_Panel_ECOSOC_UNHRC_Oct06.mpg

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