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Why is May 17 important?

People have fought for human rights without discrimination of race, color, sex, language and religion throughout history. People of different race, color, religion, language or sex have often been discriminated against; their rights ignored or just considered second-class humans.

Every group has fought individually in order to gain their rights: African-Americans, women, minorities and homosexuals. But human rights are basic right for every single human being. And they shouldn’t be negated for having contradictory thoughts or lifestyles.

Public viewpoint

Apparently discrimination of sexual orientation is continuing full speed in Turkey. A football referee of 14 years lost his job after his sexuality was revealed.

On the other side, a well-known columnist says: "The majority of those who killed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan were homosexuals."

The public perception on this subject is: homosexual are against nature, they are unnatural. Homosexuals are not normal like we are. Therefore, it is OK for them to have fewer rights. It is OK to sack them, to beat them or to insult them.

The rights of homosexuals may be summarized as follows:

a) Homosexuals are equal in law; they have equal rights to fight against violence.

b) Homosexuals shouldn’t be discriminated for having a job, a house or education.

c) They should have the right to make their personal preferences in choosing their life partners. In many Western countries, homosexual marriages are allowed.

The European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, has adopted so many decisions regarding the rights of homosexuals. In the case of Smith and Grady vs.

Britain about the dismissal of two homosexuals from the British naval forces, the ECHR decided that sexual preference was part of one’s private life. Any interference violated the article about protection of private life cited in the European Human Rights Convention.

Besides, prejudice of heterosexual majority against homosexual minority may be considered in the frame of the article about torture and ill-treatment.

The Dudgeon vs. Britain, Norris vs. Ireland, Modinos vs. South Cyprus cases are all about banning homosexuals from having their national rights. In all, the court reached the verdict that national laws breach the private life section of the European Human Rights Convention.

The said countries paid compensation and amended relevant laws. The court’s definition of private life is to have an identity and to have rights to develop personality and to have personal ties.

In the Baczkowski and others vs. Poland (2007) case, a nongovernmental organization was not allowed to hold a demonstration in Warsaw, seeking for equal treatment of homosexuals.

The ECHR, in this case, ruled that the freedom of the organization and the Convention’s article banning discrimination were being violated.

Purposes and suggestions

International Anti-Homophobia Day has been observed since May 17, 1992. The World Health Organization excluded homosexuality from its "list of diseases." The purpose of May 17 is to organize activities in protest of sexual discrimination and to ask people to respect homosexuals.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammerberg points out that people in Europe are still being subject to discrimination due to their sexual preference.

However, homophobic attitudes won’t disappear automatically, says Hammerberg, legal and other measures, among which considering discourses against homosexuality as a crime, should be taken.

Turkey, as a member of the Council of Europe, should show sensitivity in the subject and take measures to stop hostility towards homosexuals and sexual discrimination.


Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and a columnist for the daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared yesterday.
It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff.
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