Opening speech by Morten Kjaerum at Fundamental Rights Platform meeting 2013

Welcome speech at Fundamental Rights Platform meeting on 25 April, 2013 by FRA Director.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A warm welcome to you all! I am happy to see so many participants today. I would like to welcome in particular the 27 civil society organisations that recently joined the FRP who are here for the first time. And also welcome our guests from the European Parliament, National Human Rights Institutions and Equality Bodies, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Collectively, we embody the fundamental rights landscape in the EU today. The strength of this gathering is that it brings the fundamental rights family together in a way that, to my knowledge, no other meeting does.

Since its establishment 5 years ago, this Platform has increasingly become a unique forum. I cannot think of any other place where all these different parts of the structure, of the human rights architecture, meet – not only in greater numbers but also in greater depth in terms of quality – as we have seen over the years inthis platform. We are often asked about overlap of work within this human rights landscape. In fact, it is very easy to avoid overlap in human rights work. What the challenge is really is to find the coordination, how we can actually complement each other. And then jointly we can hopefully increase fundamental rights protection in the European Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Experience shows that when we work hand in hand, things get done. Let me give you 4 examples:

  1. One: Fundamental Rights Platform participants are our constant link to the reality of people “on the ground”. You bring an unfiltered voice from the edges of Europen society. What is it that FRA should really focus on?
  2. Two: We bring back then the data and analyses from our surveys and research. We know that many FRP organisations make use of FRA’s research for their advocacy work.
  3. Three: You also contribute to FRA’s data collection, not only by giving unfiltered information, but also inside FRA projects, for example in the area of people with disabilities. Last but certainly not least, FRA cooperates with civil society organisations in providing targeted training, for instance for police academies and Frontex staff. Your contribution has been and is very important when we address issues like hate crime, non-discrimination law, asylum, visa and border control.
  4. Finally, we have moved a lot from compartimentalised civil society to a more engaging and interacting civil society. Not only our particular concern is the most important – this is also about recognising what others are doing and benefitting from each other.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

FRA has from the beginning followed an inclusive approach with civil society. Opinions might differ, but they should be expressed respectfully. FRA is ready to act, when necessary, to safeguard these principles. For this very reason, we reject the participation of organisations that do not conform with the principle of fruitful and respectful dialogue contained in our Code of Conduct. But we can only have this inclusive approach if we also respect some minimum rules for how we interact – in a respectful manner. We do not and should not agree on everything, but dialogue must be respectful.

As a result of the excellent cooperation described above, I am proud to note that our Fundamental Rights Platform has become a role model for other agencies: Frontex, EASO and the EU Coordinator on anti-trafficking, all have used our FRP as a point of reference in establishing their mechanisms for cooperation with civil society.

This is not to say all is great, there is no time for compacency. I hope we can all think together on how we can take the collaboration further. One thing that was brought up last year we implemented yesterday – the open day We were delighted and grateful that so many of you came and met our experts and project managers face-to-face, and got a closer look at what we do. Our goal is to meet, speak and listen to each other, to forge  a lasting and constructive relationship. We are confident that the "Open Day" was a step in the right direction. And this increased cooperation is indeed needed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A lot of us feel that there is a link between the crisis and fundamental rights concerns – such as 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.

FRA recently completed three EU-wide surveys: on violence against women, on the experiences and perceptions of antisemitism, and on discrimination against and victimisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, to which some 93,000 LGBT people responded. We will present the results of the latter survey just 3 weeks from now. More than 25% of respondents experienced violence in the five years before the survey.

How can government do more, how can civil society contribute – this will be the theme of our conference. We see very high underreporting across all grounds. The FRA will take findings and discussions forward to the FRA symposium in early June on rule of law challenges in October with NHRBs and in November. This year’s FRC will be on hate crime, where we will try to bring all the discussions together, and raise awarenss in European and move practical steps at local level forward.

Our hate crime research has stressed shortcomings in legislation and implementation, and outlined the challenges ahead of us in this area. We are very interested in hearing your views on this, and will be discussing promising practices regarding the role of civil society in helping to bridge victims of hate crime with relevant institutions, building their trust in the police as well as providing essential medical, psychological as well as legal counselling.

On anti-discrimination, we will explore together how equality policies can be improved - in the absence of an anti-discrimination directive beyond employment. We will particularly focus on how civil society can contribute to fostering anti-discrimination policies at both the EU and the national levels.

In the coming months, the agency will organise more opportunities to further discuss these issues, such as FRA’s Symposium Day on the promotion of the rule of law in June, our meeting with National Human Rights Bodies in October, and the Fundamental Rights Conference in November, organised together with Lithuanian presidency of the EU, which will focus this year on hate crime.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will close now and pass the ball to you. I hope the personal relationships that we will continue to build will lead to concrete ideas and projects over the next two days.

I would like to end with some questions (on the screen) that I invite you to use as a backdrop to our discussions in the coming two days:

  • What are the key recent fundamental rights developments that we can be proud of? How can we build on them to improve the situation further?
  • How can we work together to bring concrete change on the ground? How can we best capitalise on civil society’s contribution to change  society?
  • How can we learn from each other – and what can we learn together?

I wish you an interesting and successful discussion. And I look forward to listening to many of your inspiring ideas.

Thank you.