By Piero Tozzi & Katharina Rothweiler

NEW YORK, NY, February 20, 2009 (C-FAM) – A special committee of the Council of Europe (CoE) is meeting this week in Strasbourg, France, to promote the implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity among the CoE’s 47 member states. 

One controversial item on the agenda for the Committee of Experts on Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity calls for a “hate speech” ban, focusing “special attention” on “politicians, opinion leaders, religious dignitaries and the media.” This is interpreted by some as an attempt to chill criticism of homosexual behavior and the “gay lifestyle.”

Critics note that Sweden has prosecuted Pastor Åke Green, a Pentecostal minister, for a sermon he gave on the sinfulness of homosexual conduct. In overturning his criminal conviction, the Swedish Supreme Court noted that his conduct was illegal under Swedish law, but in this case European Convention on Human Rights free speech protections overrode Swedish law.

The Yogyakarta Principles, if ever given binding effect, would weaken free speech as well as free exercise protections, as they call upon the State to ensure that the exercise of freedom of expression and religion do not violate “the rights of freedoms of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Another agenda item would address whether prohibitions on “Gay Pride” marches violate human rights. This would appear to target the Russian Federation, where a number of municipalities have banned such demonstrations.

Critics have pointed out that several of the Yogyakarta Principles would undermine the authority of parents to rear children in accordance with their values. The agenda for the CoE meeting adds to such worries, calling for “preventive measures and promotion of tolerance” among “pupils and school staff.”

Two experts scheduled to address the CoE committee are Michael O’Flaherty, a member of the Human Rights Committee and a special rapporteur tasked with promoting implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles, and Nicolas Beger, Amnesty International’s point man on “human rights issues relating to transgender persons.” O’Flaherty’s role in promoting the Yogyakarta agenda is particularly controversial, as he is reportedly still an active Catholic priest with a degree from the prestigious Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome. O’Flaherty was originally incardinated in the Diocese of Galway, Ireland, though his current status is indeterminate.

In the last several months, the Yogyakarta Principles have received considerable emphasis among certain European states. In December, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagan used the occasion of a French-led statement at the United Nations General Assembly signed onto by 66 nations to promote the Yogyakarta Principles.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Council, via a Swedish representative, questioned Malaysia on its anti-sodomy laws, prodding the government to bring its laws and policies “in line with the Yogyakarta Principles.”

The Council of Europe is distinct from the European Union (EU) and its affiliated organizations. Larger in membership and older than the EU, the CoE is considered the chief protector and promoter of human rights in Europe.

(This article reprinted with permission from


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