This statement was delivered from the floor by Julia Ehrt, Director of Programmes at ILGA, at the event on the 20th anniversary of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights: The state of human rights in Europe: forward and back?

Commissioners, excellencies, dear ladies, gentlemen and diverse other people,

It is a pleasure, an honor, a privilege to speak here today to you. My Name is Julia Ehrt since January I am working as the Direcror of Programmes of ILGA World – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, but I have been a key figure in the European level trans organizing for more than a decade.

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that this document, this issue paper “Human Rights and Gender Identity” of the Council of Europe Commisisoner for Human Rights published in 2009 has been among most influential document for trans rights ever published. This issue paper has been a game changer in national, European and global debates in regard to gender identity. It has helped to phrase trans rights, rights pertaining to gender identity in a human rights context. It may sound awkward today but in 2005 trans rights have not been on the human rights agenda.

And it is with deep gratitude – the gratitude of a whole community – when I say thank you to the mandate and in particular to you, Thomas. You had an understanding of the severeness and graveness of human rights violations trans people face across Europe – across the world – only very few people had at the time. And you did not keep quite but spoke out!

Your 12 recommendations had a deep impact on legislation across Europe and have helped protect and recognize trans peoples’ rights.

However: progress triggers backlash. And while we have been seeing legal gender recognition based on self determination and protections of trans gender and non-binary persons mushrooming across Europe, we are as well experiencing backlash. We are seeing attempts to role back time, to challenge and devour achievements of gender equality, feminism, sexual rights and liberties. Opposition to human rights is fueled by anti rights, right wing, nationalist and religious actors – not only here at he CoE but as well in UN spaces in Geneva and New York.

And this is why I am ending with a call to the current mandate holder Dunja Mijatovic: you have to put your foot down to prevent role back of past achievements. Trans rights achievements are often misused to fuel anti gender resentment, to propel narratives that challenge gender equality. And we cannot let that happen: women, feminists, LBGT people, trans and intersex persons must not be divided but stand united to defend our gains. Trans rights are human rights – women’s rights are human rights – and they have to be defended every day again and again – this is why we need you more than ever as well after 20 years’ time.


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