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There’s something deeply strange about the EU’s latest measure to support human rights for gay people

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 18.55.12By Simon Davies

Last month – and to disappointingly little acclaim – the EU Council adopted an important measure to help protect gay, lesbian and transgender people living outside Europe from homophobia and discrimination.

The initiative is timely. The EU Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning Russian MPs for passing a draconian homophobic censorship law.

The 27 Foreign Affairs ministers on the Council decided to adopt binding guidelines that will go some way to assuring that LGBT people living overseas can enjoy the same level of human rights protection afforded to everyone in Europe. The document provides a checklist of assessments and remedies that will now form part of the fabric of enforcement by the EU where human rights are violated.

The initiative is timely. Last month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Russian MPs for passing a draconian homophobic censorship law. President Vladimir Putin had also said he would back a ban on foreign same-sex couples from adopting Russian children – while hilariously denying that the measure amounted to homophobic discrimination.

But there is something quite odd about this document: it barely makes any reference to privacy, surveillance, intrusion or protection of information. In view of the recent controversy over spying – and Europe’s theoretical commitment to stronger privacy rights – this seems a rather strange omission.

The document does start out by identifying the key rights that it seeks to protect – life, privacy, liberty, security, health, freedom of association, assembly and expression – but then proceeds to conspicuously ignore any aspect of privacy.

Rights concerning sexuality and sexual identity are at the core of privacy, and intrusion and surveillance can lead in some countries to fatal consequences. So why did the document largely exclude privacy? And why did the explanatory annex fail to contain any text that might help people and governments overseas understand how to measure invasions of privacy?

There is something quite odd about this document: it barely makes any reference to privacy, surveillance, intrusion or protection of information.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-President of the LGBT Intergroup, defended the document and told Privacy Surgeon that “privacy is absolutely key.”

“While the EU’s new LGBTI Guidelines may be shy on privacy aspects, the primary aim remains to equip our diplomats with tools and knowledge on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. Very often, these guidelines will have to be used in dramatic moments such as mob violence against human rights defenders, a new law criminalising consensual activities between adults of the same sex, or intense police crackdowns on trans people.”

“Privacy is absolutely key, but I think these guidelines focus on saving lives and getting people out of harm’s way. Very positively though, the texts referred to in the guidelines, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, focus extensively on individuals’ right to a private life-so there is no doubt the document has the intention of protecting privacy”

Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t explain the glaring omission. What I’m focusing on here is the annex which provides a reference point for measuring violations of the key rights. Each of the other eleven rights had a specific section. Why not privacy?

I could offer all sorts of theories, mainly centring on the current political turbulence in the privacy arena. Perhaps ministers felt that they could hardly agree on privacy standards for the rest of the world when they were in conflict internally over how to apply them to Europe.

Or perhaps we could ask Michael Cashman MEP, the other Co-President of the LGBT Intergroup, whose track record on privacy issues has historically been rather patchy (he was runner up in 1994 for a Big Brother Award for “Worst Public Servant” because of his antagonistic voting record in the parliament).

Did Cashman use his procedural influence to eliminate privacy rights from the document? Or am I being too cynical?