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Statements Special Procedures

ENAR-OSF Symposium on the varieties of European Racism(s) in Europe 27-28 September 2012 (Brussels, Belgium)

27 September 2012





Brussels, 27 September 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour to speak to you in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to engage in a dialogue with different actors on the current challenges that Europe faces with regard to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Since the creation of the mandate in 1993, eleven country visits have been undertaken by the different mandate holders in various European countries, including Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Romania, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and France . The reports of country visits carried out by my predecessors in Europe, and the recent thematic reports that I  presented to the Human Rights Council in June, show that racism is still a major challenge in Europe. I would like to highlight some of these challenges and put forward a number of recommendations that I hope would be considered while implementing strategies to combat racism and racial discrimination at the European level.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Roma and related persons including for instance Sinti, Kale, Irish Travelers, French gens du voyage, Ahskali, are among the most marginalized groups in Europe and are often victims of racism and racial discrimination. Since the establishment of the mandate on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, all three mandate holders have considered this issue. As highlighted by my predecessors the situation of Roma has spurred a number of European countries to develop valuable initiatives at the national level, including the adoption of national action plans and strategies on the Roma. Commendable policy measures have also been elaborated at the regional level, including by the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In this regard I would like to welcome in particular the EU Framework for National Strategies for Roma Integration, the adoption of the Common Basic principles for Roma Integration (2009), and the Framework for National Strategies (2011) which were presented by Member States early 2012.

While positive initiatives have been developed, deep rooted problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance against Roma populations in Europe persist. Indeed the Roma are particularly vulnerable to racism and racial discrimination in the areas of education, health, employment, housing, participation in public and political life, and access to justice and citizenship. As stated by my predecessor, the widespread discrimination that the Roma face feeds their marginalization and social exclusion in a vicious manner. For the most vulnerable, the situation can even be worse. This is the case, in particular, for Roma children, Roma women who suffer multiple forms of discrimination, and Roma migrants who face double discrimination as Roma and non-citizens. Moreover they are victims of violence both by private and public actors, and racist discourse against them by public officials persists. In this regard the harassment and attacks on the Roma by “vigilante” groups or “self-defence guards” with extremist ideologies, including sometimes neo-Nazi ideology, and marches by paramilitary groups in underdeveloped settlements inhabited by Roma are of great concern in Europe.

I would like to recall, like my predecessor, that racial discrimination and racism against Roma within societal structures and State institutions is a reality that States should not deny. The structural and institutionalized discrimination they encounter should be decisively tackled. In this regard it is essential that European countries ensure the effective implementation of the national strategies adopted to address the situation of the Roma. While some national strategies have proven effective in some countries, others are still lacking specific budgets for their implementation, and civil society actors are not always involved in such processes. I therefore urge European States to increase efforts in this respect.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I would now like to turn to another issue of concern which is the challenges posed in Europe by extremist political parties, movements and groups with regard to democracy and human rights. These challenges include the threat to the principle of non-discrimination, and the rights to life and security of certain groups of individuals especially in the context of the current economic crisis. Indeed in some European countries the fear and discontent occasioned by pauperisation, unemployment and budget cuts in social benefits have manifested themselves in votes in favour of extremist political parties. In some countries extremist political parties that have not previously enjoyed any representation in national parliaments managed to win seats, and became sometimes the third political party. In this context vulnerable groups including minorities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have been labelled by extremist political parties as a threat to the standard of living of the general population and blamed for the rise in unemployment and the public debt. Muslim populations have also been particularly singled out and stigmatized, especially during electoral campaigns carried out this year in some countries, including at the presidential level. It appears that traditional political parties and politicians, including high-level political leaders, do not always condemn the discourse and rhetoric promoted by extremist political parties. On the contrary, in some instances some of them have embraced the openly racist, xenophobic and nationalistic rhetoric of extremist political parties in order not to lose part of their electorate. It should be highlighted that in this context a number of racist and xenophobic acts have been perpetrated by individuals linked to extremist political parties or movements against vulnerable groups. In many European countries racist mob intimidation and violent racist attacks, mostly by neo-Nazi or other far-right wing groups, continue to be registered, and the Roma, asylum seekers and irregular migrants are among the most common targets of these attacks. While the prosecution of racist violence appears to have improved since the 1990’s it is crucial to ensure adequate prosecution and sanctions of those responsible for such acts. In this regard, I would like to reiterate concerns about anti-Semitic acts perpetrated by individuals or groups linked to extremist political parties, movements or groups, including neo-Nazi groups and extreme right-wing movements. Such acts include inter alia physical attacks targeting Jewish individuals; the paintings of Swastikas on monuments dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust; and the overtly anti-Semitic statements in ultra-nationalist or far right-wing publications posted on the Internet that are reportedly often made with impunity.

Furthermore, due to the audience they reach and their moral authority, political parties and leaders should strongly condemn all political messages that disseminate hatred and incite racial discrimination and xenophobia. In this regard I emphasize in particular the importance of public denunciation of expressions of intolerance, racism and xenophobia by party leaders when such expressions come from their own ranks. I also encourage political parties to promote messages of tolerance and mutual understanding, and to use rational and objective arguments to counter the rather simplistic solutions often put forward by extremist political parties to solve the political, societal and economic problems resulting from the crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I would also like to raise an important issue regarding the trend in some countries to consider matters related to asylum in the context of the fight against irregular migration and prevention of abuse of the asylum system. As a result restrictive measures have been adopted. In this regard, there are concerns over the manner in which the detention policy applying to foreigners, including asylum-seekers apprehended for unlawful entry or stay is being implemented in some European countries. Cases of harsh conditions of detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, including ill-treatment in immigration detention facilities, prolonged periods of administrative detention without access to effective remedies to challenge the detention have been reported. I share the view that refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants should be guaranteed an effective access to legal remedies and obtain adequate reparations for any damage suffered as a result of racism and xenophobic behaviour. The victims should also be provided with rehabilitation and support programmes, including psychological support. This supposes inter alia measures by States to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are aware of their rights and the assistance they can benefit from in the host country. All racist incidents against refugees and asylum seekers should be reported, recorded and investigated adequately, without any discrimination.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me now to make few a recommendations in terms of strategies to be developed and implemented at the European level to address some of these major challenges. It is essential that European States develop a comprehensive approach for combating racism and racial discrimination based on a strong legal framework. In this respect I note with appreciation that the European Union has adopted key regional legal instruments including the so called Race Equality Directive adopted in 2000 (Directive 2000/43/EC), and the 2008 Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia (2008/913/JHA). It is important to ensure their effective implementation in Member States of the European Union.

I encourage States in cooperation with civil society to develop and implement policy measures that would duly take into account the structural dimension of racism and racial discrimination; consider the inter-relation between racial discrimination and socio-economic marginalization and political exclusion; and pay due attention to the situation of the vulnerable groups such as the Roma, asylum seekers and irregular migrants, including through affirmative action measures. In this regard I reiterate that any policy measures should ensure that all the victims of racism are treated equally and receive the same attention and protection. It is indeed essential to avoid establishing any hierarchy amongst the different manifestations of discrimination, even if they may vary in nature and degree depending on the historical, geographical and cultural context. All forms of racism and discrimination must be addressed with the same emphasis and the same determination.

Furthermore in such a comprehensive approach preventive measures should be central. Indeed combating racism requires that attitudes and ideas based on racial and cultural hierarchies be challenged and corrected. Therefore States have a primary responsibility in ensuring that their national action plans to combat racism and racial discrimination incorporate prevention strategies. In this regard meaningful and effective participation of discriminated and marginalized groups in political and public life is crucial to informing policy decisions on issues related to racism and consequently to the prevention strategy.

At the institutional level, States should also establish or strengthen their national human rights institutions, including those specifically dealing with racial discrimination. In this regard I welcome the Equinet network of EU Member States’ Equality Bodies, and underscore the need to provide such institutions with the necessary financial, human, and technical resources. It is also important that such institutions be mandated to receive individual complaints concerning racial discrimination.

Complementary measures should also be part of a comprehensive approach to fight racism and racial discrimination. In this regard, I recommend the collection of ethnically disaggregated data as a useful tool to assess the effectiveness of policy measures. In addition the capacity of States agents should be strengthened through mandatory and updated human rights trainings focusing on the prevention of racism and racial discrimination. I also recommend strengthening their capacity, through training, to address racist and xenophobic crimes and to actively engage with groups and individuals particularly vulnerable to racist acts.

Ensuring justice for the victims is also essential. Indeed impunity for acts motivated by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance encourage their recurrence. Thorough and impartial investigations should therefore be promptly carried out in every case, those responsible prosecuted and adequately sanctioned and the victims provided with  access to effective remedies. Moreover, the necessary measures should be adopted to raise awareness among the vulnerable groups, including the Roma, asylum seekers and irregular migrants about the existing remedies and legal European instruments that protect them against racial discrimination.

Furthermore civil society actors, including non-governmental organisations, academicians, practitioners, and the media, have a key role to play in eliminating racism. I therefore encourage European Governments to strengthen their cooperation with civil society.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to reiterate that education in general and human rights education, in particular, remains a key tool in countering racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination. I would like to emphasize in particular that promoting the realization of the right to education for all is also a key measure in combating and preventing racism. I therefore encourage European States to continue to invest in education in order to transform attitudes and correct ideas of racial hierarchies and superiority. In this regard I encourage inter alia the studying of minorities’ languages and the teaching of their history and cultures, including the historical injustices they suffered in the past.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to conclude with a reference to the recent events that occurred following the movie entitled the “Innocence of Muslims” that was posted on the Internet, to call upon all actors to promote more respect, tolerance and mutual understanding. I reiterate the view expressed by my predecessor in the four joint written submissions that he presented with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression to the series of expert workshops of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, held in 2011. The joint submissions stressed inter alia that “freedom of expression has to be understood in the positive sense and is one of the essential foundations of a democratic and pluralistic society. We also have to generate, with the exercise of this freedom, an atmosphere of respect and understanding between peoples, cultures and religions. We have to guarantee freedom of expression equally for all as a form to combat racism and discrimination”.
I thank you for your attention.

Hungary (May 2011 and September 1999); Germany (June 2009 and September 1995); Lithuania (September 2007); Latvia (September 2007); Estonia (September 2007); Italy (October 2006); Switzerland (January 2006); Czech Republic (September 1999); Romania (September 1999); United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (November 1995); France (October 1995).