Closing remarks at Fundamental Rights Platform meeting 26 April, 2013 by FRA Director.
After two very interesting and intensive days, it remains for me to do a wrap-up of our time together.
I have asked yesterday at the beginning of our meeting: what can we learn from each other, and what can we learn together? Of course I don’t know about you, but for me it has been two extremely enriching and dynamic days. We got many ideas and concrete tangible proposals that we can immediately start to work on when we get back to our offices on Monday.
Our discussions highlighted that there is quite a need for continuous discussion and debate on anti-discrimination and hate crime between civil society, with Member States, and with EU institutions. FRA sees its role in facilitating such an exchange.
Indeed, discrimination and even violence are a reality for many people in the EU. There is hard evidence and facts – not only from FRA research - that in Europe in the 21st century, there is - and not in just one or two Member States but everywhere. There is discrimination, there is harassment, and there is violence EXPERIENCED (not made up) by Jews, Roma, LGBT people, people with disabilities. And there are also still serious and disturbing patterns of violence against women.
So how can we tackle this? Where do we start?
1) As police officer Harald Kröger so rightly said today: crimes that are not reported to the police remain invisible to the authorities. And therefore it is important to make problems visible, and understand what is going on.
We got a lot of input from our discussion on how this can be done. To give just some examples:
As Lisbeth Garly Andersen said: this is about the police truly believing that they can contribute to the agenda, and to take ownership.
And above all - we must give victims a voice, we must hear directly from the victims. We need first hand information – because we know that the vast majority of victims, both of hate crime and of non-discrimination – do not report what has happened to them. Either because they don’t trust the police, or because they are embarrassed of what happened to them; or – in the particular case of undocumented migrants – out of fear of being deported, or for many other reasons. And victims often do not even report to NGOs.
And this is why the FRA does exactly that – speaking with victims; on a large scale, through our surveys and other research. We also ask who are the perpetrators? What we hear from victims is that perpetrators are not only the extremists – but perpetrators are often teenagers, people from the neighbourhood, and this is very important to note, especially because very often, hate crime is only officially recorded as such when it is committed by extremists, but we need to get the full picture. These are key conceptual issues that we need to address.
Of course, awareness raising is important in this, but it is not enough.
2) We also need targeted policies and legislation
As it was pointed out today from the plenary, legislation has several functions: It is important for pursuing crime or discrimination effectively, and it also sends a strong signal and a continuous reminder that hate crime – or non-discrimination - is unacceptable. In this context I was pleased to see so many participants from the European Parliament at our meeting, and I look forward to continuing the debate.
FRA is tasked to look at the situation of fundamental rights in areas covered by EU competence - independently whether an issue is already covered by legislation, or not. We are not an academic institution, so we don't stop by merely collecting the data. We then analyse them and then move on to next important step, which is to assist decision-makers in EU institutions and Member States in the area of fundamental rights.
We inform and contextualise the debate on the way how, and in how far, people are protected against discrimination on all the different grounds, on an equal basis. With which instrument this is done in the end, is left to the decision makers, and it is up to the EU legislator to phrase legislation in a way that it meets its aim and delivers on the ground without creating any adverse effects.
Deaglán O’Briain, from the Irish Presidency of the Council, gave an overall view on where the negotiations stand with regard to the horizontal directive. He agreed that this is a complex legislative endeavour, but reassured participants that care is being taken in the exact wording of the Directive to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Juan Gonzalez-Mellizo from the European Commission underlined that the Commission still hopes for the horizontal directive to be adopted. He invited civil society organisations to seek contact with the Commission and give input about their needs and concerns regarding non-discrimination issues. And I would strongly encourage you to do that, your input is needed in the institutions. Raül Romeva from the European Parliament underlined that anti-discrimination is at the core of EU principles. For him, the horizontal directive is an important tool to advance the principle of equality in the EU.
Speaking of the principle of equality, human dignity and profound respect are the starting point for fundamental rights. This is reflected in the very first article of the Charter. Everyone has the right to be themselves – so as to avoid, as we heard in today’s discussion on hate crime, that “people hide their identities and change their behaviour because of fear of hate crimes.”
So being serious about human dignity, we cannot accept that 40-50% of the Jews in 3 Member States, that we interviewed, are seriously considering emigrating. We cannot accept that 25% of LGBT people interviewed say they experienced violence in the past years. And that 65% of LGBT people interviewed do not dare to hold hands in public – imagine yourself, how would you feel if you would not be able to hold the hand of the one person you love most? Or, as Judith Sunderland from Human Rights Watch put it: “It is an outrage that people are targeted with violence for what they look like, who they love, or who they pray to.”
3) Finally,we need to ensure that rights in books become rights in practice.
We all know about this hurdle of implementation. And yes, civil society has an important role to play, throughout the entire process.
Yesterday we also heard of two important channels for you for this work: MEP Göncz drew attention to the opportunities for civil society under the new European Rights and Citizenship Programme. And Luis Quesada from the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe encouraged you strongly to use the instrument of collective complaints via his committee, to bring the realities from the ground to the system. I was also pleased to have the EEA Norway grants and the European Foundation Centre here with us throughout these days. And this is something we should expand on – I am seriously worried about the funding situation of civil society. We should not forget that civil society is a core pillar in any democratic society. This role needs to be strengthened in particular in difficult times.
And I agree with Joanna Perry that civil society energy has led to new legislation and better support for victims, and I would like to congratulate you for all the good work you are doing. But at the same time, I would like to second what my colleague Jo Goodey said today, namely, that while civil society is of course indispensable, we must insist that States must also do their duties.
So the question is: How do we move from a human rights “landscape” to a human rights “architecture”, with links between what different actors are doing and with increased knowledge and understanding of each other?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to close the loop now: yesterday at the beginning of the meeting, both our Chairperson Maija Sakslin and I underlined the important role that you have for the agency, in giving your unfiltered, first-hand input about the realities on the ground – and this is as true today as it was yesterday.
So it remains for me to thank you all for your contributions. I am very much looking forward to our continued cooperation.
Have a safe journey home!