Address at informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council

Speech given by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at working lunch on hate crime during informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 18 January in Dublin.

Address by Morten Kjaerum given at informal JHA Council

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Mr President, Ministers,

Hate crime will be an important element of the EU debate this year, so I would like first of all to extend my thanks to the Irish Presidency for inviting me to open this discussion. At the forefront of this year’s discussions will be the review of the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia, which will receive the close attention of the Council, the Commission and also of the Parliament.

The focus is important because, it is a sad fact that threats, violence and crimes motivated by racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance or bias against people’s disabilities, sexual orientation or gender identity, are a daily reality throughout the EU. The extensive research of the Fundamental Rights Agency on hate crime demonstrates this repeatedly and in detail.

1. For example, the preliminary findings of the agency’s survey on hate crime and discrimination of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender people show that 26% of respondents experienced violence in the five years preceding the survey. This figure rises to 34% for transgender people. FRA will be launching its report based on the survey results at a conference sponsored by the Netherlands government in May.

2. Another example is antisemitism. Research shows that antisemitism remains at disturbingly high levels throughout the EU. Against this backdrop, FRA conducted a survey on antisemitism among Jewish people last year, and will publish detailed findings this autumn. From the results we already have, we see that in three of the nine states surveyed, between 40 and 50% of respondents said they had considered emigrating from their country of residence because they did not feel safe there.

3. Similar trends in hate crime are seeen in our previous surveys on the Roma population and on migrants and ethnic minorities in Europe.

There are three particular issues related to hate crime, which illustrate why we have to pay specific attention to this form of crime. Firstly, evidence shows that hate crimes strongly impact victims, in part because they cannot attribute their victimisation to bad luck. Instead they are forced to accept that their social identity was targeted and that they remain at risk of repeated victimisation. Secondly, the offender sends a signal to other people who are identified as belonging to the same social group as the victim that they are also at risk. Thereby it instills fear in a much larger group. Finally, the paradox of hate crime is that victims need not even belong to the group they are associated with: it is enough for offenders to perceive their targets as possessing the characteristics they dislike. One example is a man who was attacked as he walked by a gay club, even though he was neither gay himself nor had he been inside the club.

So hate crimes create an ‘us and them’ mentality that does tremendous damage, undermining the basic democratic principles of equality and non-discrimination. To counter this, we need to ensure that such crimes are made visible, and that offenders are called to account for the harm they have done.

Despite action taken at Member State level to counter hate crime, there remains a lack of confidence among victims that the authorities are able to afford them the protection they need. This often makes them reluctant to report hate crimes to any institution or organisation. The result? The majority of hate crimes remain unrecognised, unprosecuted, and therefore invisible.

National equality bodies and human rights institutions have an essential role to play here. They are required by law not only to raise awareness about hate crime, but also to offer support to victims. Here we see a number of good practices in Member States, where national human rights institutions cooperate with law enforcement agencies and municipalities to ensure that appropriate action is taken and services are offered.

I would also like to point out that regarding the perpetrators of hate crime our surveys show, that the frequently held opinion which associates expressions of prejudice with groups who hold politically extremist views does not paint the whole picture. On the contrary, there is ample evidence to suggest that the offenders are drawn from a broad spectrum of society. And this makes it still more necessary to form policies that:
- firstly, sensitise majority populations and make clear that such offences are unacceptable;
- and secondly, inform victims and witnesses whom they can turn to for support and assistance.

In preparation for today’s meeting, the presidency posed the question: is antisemitism growing in Europe?

Unfortunately, there is a major difficulty that prevents us from establishing the true extent of antisemitic or any other form of hate crime, namely that much of the official data fails to accurately reflect the reality on the ground. At present, only four EU Member States collect comprehensive data on hate crime. 

And in addition, as the European Commission has underlined, “national crime statistics differ on so many factors that comparisons between countries, even with extensive efforts to make them comparable, are almost impossible.” Consequently, in the current state of affairs, we cannot reliably assess the extent to which hate crime is rising or falling.

So, as I have outlined, there are many challenges. FRA’s analysis, much of which was published in the report that has been made available to you today, shows that action needs to be taken at three levels: legislation, policy and practice.

1. At the level of legislation, this means recognising hate crime, the bias motivations underlying it and the effect it has on victims. The Framework Decision stipulates that Member States take the necessary measures to ensure that offences motivated by racism or xenophobia are punished more severely than other crimes. This is vital as a sign to past and potential offenders that prejudice, particularly when it tips over into violence, has no place in Europe today.

2. At the policy level, it means taking action to collect detailed and reliable data on hate crime. Where possible, therefore, Member States should break down such data according to the bias behind the crime committed, as well as by variables such as gender and age. This would enable a better understanding of patterns of victimisation and offending.

3. And at the practical level, it means establishing mechanisms that encourage victims to report incidents of hate crime; training police and other law enforcement agencies to be sensitive to bias-motivated crimes; and ensuring the public is made aware that the authorities take hate crime and its consequences seriously.

The subject of hate crime is not just important for its victims but for European society as a whole, and thus for all of us here today.

Thank you for your attention.