Hate crime in the European Union, Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Speech by Ioannis N. Dimitrakopoulos, Head of Department Equality and Citizens’ Rights at a meeting of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) on the issue of hate crime.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon, and thank you for your invitation to come and discuss the issue of hate crime in the European Union.

When FRA Director Morten Kjaerum presented the Agency’s last annual report to the European Parliament in June 2013, he warned that the evidence FRA has collected shows that “crimes motivated by racism, xenophobia and related intolerances, the mainstreaming of elements of extremist ideology in political and public discourse and ethnic discrimination in healthcare, education, employment and housing persist throughout the European Union”.

This conclusion is based on data that FRA has been collecting for a number of years on the phenomenon of bias-motivated crime against migrants and ethnic, religious, as well as sexual minorities. Our pool of data draws primarily from our own surveys. We also analyse official data, but I should stress that only four Member States collect comprehensive figures on hate crime: Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Another 12 publish some data[1], while the remaining Member States[2] still need to improve their mechanisms for recording and registering hate crime.

Given this regrettable paucity of official figures, and in order to provide EU institutions with the type of reliable and comparable data that can support the development of evidence-based policy and legal responses, FRA carries out its own EU-wide surveys. FRA’s EU-MIDIS survey interviewed 23,500 immigrants and ethnic minorities face to face in all EU Member States; our Roma survey interviewed more than 22,000 Roma and non-Roma living near-by, providing information on 84,000 household members in 11 Member States; and our online EU-LGBT survey was completed by more than 93,000 LGBT people across the EU.

In our surveys, respondents are not asked generally about their views or opinions on different issues, but about their own experiences. In this way, individuals belonging to minorities who are also those most likely to become victims of hate crime are given a voice, which our analysis then translates into comparable and reliable statistics. These in turn help policy makers to better understand the situation and to take targeted and more effective action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Anyone can be a victim of hate crime. In reality, though, this phenomenon predominantly affects the most vulnerable groups in our society. I’m not going to overwhelm you with figures today – don’t worry! – but I’d like to give you a few examples from our surveys that show the extent and consequences of hate crime.

  • The Agency’s EU-wide survey of more than 23,500 people with a minority background (EU-MIDIS) shows that nearly every fifth Roma and every fifth Sub‑Saharan African interviewed (around 18%) said that they had been a victim of racially motivated assault, threat or serious harassment over the past year. And one out of ten of all Muslim respondents considered that they were a victim of a racially motivated assault, threat or serious harassment in the last 12 months. Now we are in the process of conducting the second wave of this important survey to identify trends over time, which will help assess the impact of EU and national legal and policy responses over the past few years.
     
  • Our survey of Jewish communities published last November shows that on average, every fifth Jewish person surveyed (21%) had experienced physical attacks, serious harassment or verbal insults, simply because they were Jewish, over the past year.
     
  • Our LGBT survey showed that 26% of the LGB respondents had been attacked or threatened with violence at home or elsewhere at some point in the five years preceding the survey, with the figure rising to 35% for the transgender respondents.

These numbers give an indication of the extent of hate crime faced by people belonging to these groups. This is worrying and needs to be addressed.

We must also remember that hate crime affects not only victims, but also their family and friends. It breeds fear and insecurity. One of the most striking results of our survey work on bias-motivated crime shows that however much people differ in ethnic background, beliefs, lifestyle and nationality, they are clearly affected by the fear of such offences: Fear of being regarded as belonging to a certain group; fear that what has happened once will happen again; and fear that family members and friends may suffer as well.

In our recent survey of Jewish people, around half of the respondents worry about themselves, their family or their friends becoming a victim of hate crime. And they then take steps to avoid becoming a victim that should not be necessary in a free, democratic and inclusive society: of those who are worried of becoming hate crime victims, the majority (76 %) avoid wearing, carrying or displaying in public anything that might identify them as Jewish. Close to a quarter (23 %) of all respondents said that they avoided visiting Jewish events at least occasionally, because, as a Jew, they do not feel safe there, or on the way there. Just over a quarter of all respondents (27 %) avoid certain places because they do not feel safe there.

In our LGBT survey, again around half of the respondents (53%) avoid holding hands in public with a same-sex partner for fear of being assaulted, threatened of harassed; and 50% of the respondents said that they avoid certain locations for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed simply because they are LGBT.

Hate crime violates the fundamental rights to human dignity, to life and to an individual’s integrity. The fear of hate crime violates the fundamental right to liberty and security; it prevents us from living freely and openly. And this is unacceptable in the European Union described in the Treaties as “[…] a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” Hate crime should have no place in the EU.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The persistence of hate crime shows that the EU and its Member States need to develop more effective policy and legal measures. In regard to the different forms of hate crime, FRA particularly welcomes the LIBE Committee Draft Report on the situation of fundamental rights in the European Union, which explicitly condemns “racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic/transphobic and xenophobic violence and violence against migrants, religious minorities and ethnic groups, which have reached alarming levels”. We find that the report’s reference to different bias motivations, including race, ethnicity and religion, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity is an important indication that we are moving away from any artificial hierarchy that attached greater importance to some grounds than others. And in this regard, I would like to add that persons with disabilities can also be victims of hate crime and should be considered in the spirit of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that the EU itself has ratified.

Victims of hate crime suffer in the same way whether they are attacked because of their ethnic origin, religion, colour, gender, sexual orientation or disability. We have therefore stressed, for example in our Opinion on the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia that especially when protecting the rights of hate crime victims Member States should consider as bias motivation all characteristics protected under Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Although there is room for improvement, the EU possesses a strong legislative framework to combat hate crime. Our surveys show, however, that the majority of those belonging to minority groups are not aware of this legislation. We now need to ensure that those who are most likely to benefit from its protection, namely people belonging to minorities, are aware of these laws, and that these laws are effectively applied on the ground.

This will also help improve overall access to justice and, in particular, the reporting of hate crime to the police. As with the recording of these offences, our surveys have shown again and again that there is a significant deficit across the EU in the reporting of hate crime. The majority of individuals belonging to minority groups do not bring incidents to the attention of the police, mostly because they don’t think that anything would happen or change by reporting it. Such lack of confidence in the effectiveness of law enforcement to protect fundamental rights is particularly worrying.

We welcomed therefore the Council Conclusions of 5-6 December 2013 on hate crime, which invite FRA to assist Member States in their efforts to encourage reporting and ensure proper recording of hate crime facilitating also exchange of good practice. In this context, and following-up to our Fundamental Rights Conference in November 2013 on hate crime we will co-host at the end of April a seminar under the auspices of the Greek presidency of the Council of the EU on the same issues.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we come closer to this year’s European Parliamentary elections, we notice with increasing concern some polls in Member States that indicate an increase in the appeal of extremist political parties with an openly hostile agenda to ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.

Last month, FRA published a report that took two Member States – Greece and Hungary – as case studies to discuss the challenges that racism, intolerance and extremism currently pose for the EU. While the report focused on examining the effectiveness of responses to racism and extremism in these two countries, it concluded with a wide variety of suggestions about how hate crime and extremism can and should be countered more effectively throughout the EU. These range from proposals to develop specific national strategies against racism and related intolerances to practical issues concerning co-operation through multi-agency partnerships involving particularly civil society and local authorities, as well as hands-on training and capacity building to increase the operational skills of frontline police officers and the prosecutors’ ability to deal with complex hate crime cases.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will conclude by mentioning another important dimension to hate crime that is often forgotten. Hate crime does not only pose a very real challenge to the EU’s core values of democracy, justice, solidarity and equality. By breeding intolerance it puts at risk the inclusive and sustainable growth that is at the heart of Europe’s 2020 strategy. A society in which intolerance and hate crime persist does not allow its members to realise their full potential. And the loser is not just an individual, but the entire society.

Thank you for your attention.


[1] Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Croatia

[2] Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia