LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Council of Europe

This section will provide information about the Council of Europe and its relevance to LGBTI people.

Origins and membership

The Council of Europe is the continent's oldest political organisation, founded in 1949. It:

  • groups together 47 countries, including 21 countries from Central and Eastern Europe,
  • has application from 1 more country (Belarus),
  • has granted observer status to 5 more countries (the Holy See, the United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico),
  • is distinct from the 28-nation European Union, but no country has ever joined the Union without first belonging to the Council of Europe,
  • has its headquarters in Strasbourg, in eastern France.


The Council was set up to:

  • defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law,
  • develop continent-wide agreements to standardise member countries' social and legal practices,
  • promote awareness of a European identity based on shared values and cutting across different cultures.

Since 1989, the main tasks have been:

  • acting as a political anchor and human rights watchdog for Europe's post-communist democracies,
  • assisting the countries of central and eastern Europe in carrying out and consolidating political, legal and constitutional reform in parallel with economic reform,
  • providing know-how in areas such as human rights, local democracy, education, culture and the environment.

The main component parts of the Council of Europe...

  • the Committee of Ministers, composed of the 47 Foreign ministers or their Strasbourg-based deputies (ambassadors/permanent representatives), which is the Organisation's decision-making body. Its Chair changes every six months according to the member countries’ alphabetical order. The Ministers’ Deputies meet at least once a month. They draw up the Council of Europe’s activities programme and adopt its budget. They also decide what follow-up should be given to proposals of the parliamentary Assembly and the specialist ministerial conference that the Council of Europe regularly organises.
  • the Parliamentary Assembly, grouping 636 members (318 representatives and 318 substitutes) from the 47 national parliaments. The Parliamentary Assembly is a deliberate body and hold four week-long plenary sessions a year. It debates on a wide range of human rights and social issues and its recommendations to the Committee of Ministers have been at the root of many of the Council of Europe’s achievements. The Assembly plays a key role in the accession process for new members and in monitoring compliance with undertakings entered into.
  • the European Court of Human Rights, which is made up of one judge from each of the 47 member states, makes judgments in respect of possible violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Where the Court finds that a particular government is in violation of the Convention, that government is obliged to take corrective action. Judgments of the Court, which establish a general principle in respect of one country, should, in theory, be acted on by other countries, which are similarly in violation of the Convention. However, in such cases, the government in question may fail to take the necessary action. Until recently a separate body, the European Commission on Human Rights, first reviewed cases under the European Convention. In late 1998 the functions of the Commission were taken over by the Court, as part of a reorganisation of the latter.

ILGA-Europe is moreover monitoring...

The European Committee of Social Rights which rules on the conformity of the situation in States with the European Social Charter, the 1988 Additional Protocol and the Revised European Social Charter. The European Social Charter is a Council of Europe treaty which guarantees social and economic human rights. It was adopted in 1961 and revised in 1996.

Some practical achievements...

  • 196 legally binding European treaties or conventions many of which are open to non-member states on topics ranging from human rights to the fight against organised crime and from the prevention of torture to data protection or cultural co-operation. The most significant is – the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
  • Recommendations to governments setting out policy guidelines on such issues as legal matters, health, education, culture and sport.

The Pan-European dimension...

Since November 1990, the accession of 21 countries of central and eastern Europe (the most recent being Montenegro in April 2007) has given the Council of Europe a genuine pan-European dimension, so that it is now the organisation that represents Greater Europe.