Welcome speech by Chairperson of the Management Board at a seminar co-organised together with the Hellenic Presidency of the Council of the EU on combating hate crime.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon, and a warm welcome to this seminar. On behalf of FRA, thanks first of all to the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union for co-hosting the event, and to the Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior, Ioannis Ioannidis, for agreeing to hold the keynote speech here today. I welcome the distinguished representatives of the Greek Presidency, as well as the incoming Italian Presidency, who have come here today. My thanks also to the Centre of International and European Economic Law for making these excellent premises available to us. Finally, we are grateful to Norway Grants for their continuing support and in particular for making this event possible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Hate crimes harm not only those targeted, but also strike at the heart of the EU’s founding values. To contribute to a better understanding of the prevalence of hate crime, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has been working on the topic since its establishment in 2007, and in the process has amassed a large pool of data. Over the last two years in particular, a number of our surveys have shown in detail the devastating consequences of bias-motivated discrimination, harassment and crime. I will give you just a few examples:
So now we have the evidence that proves the pervasiveness of hate crime. Or do we? The answer to this question is not simple. Because our surveys also show that only a fraction of hate crime victims report them to the police or any other organisation. In fact:
Some of the reasons given by many of the respondents to our surveys for not reporting their experiences were 1)that doing so would do nothing to change the situation; 2)that such offences were everyday occurrences; and 3)that they did not trust the police. Building trust is therefore clearly an issue we obviously need to address.
However, the gaps we currently observe between the number of officially recorded hate crimes published in various annual national reports and the reality on the ground are by no means only due to victims’ unwillingness to speak out.
One of the major difficulties preventing us from establishing the true extent of any form of hate crime is that at present, only a very limited number of EU Member States collect comprehensive data on hate crime. The majority simply do not have mechanisms in place that would allow hate crimes to be registered exhaustively. In addition, differences of classification in national crime statistics mean that it is often impossible to make comparisons between different countries, making it hard to reliably assess the scale of hate crime in Member States and thus develop targeted policy measures to counter it.
So what is to be done? Many of you present today have already been doing a great deal within your own organisations and countries to combat hate crime. For example, the OSCE has done much to train police, prosecutors and others responsible for hate crime data collection, while the Council of Europe helps to keep tabs on the situation in individual countries through its monitoring cycle. I look forward to listening to our panellists from these organisations, as well as from the European Commission and Member States, this afternoon.
At this seminar, we want to make use of your experience and knowledge to identify, share and develop transferable practices that will improve recording and increase reporting of hate crime. Among the points on the table for discussion are how we can:
For the EU, I think a milestone was reached when the Council last December issued its Conclusions on combating hate crime in the European Union. These asked Member States to collect and publish comprehensive and comparable data on hate crimes and take appropriate measures to facilitate the reporting of hate crimes by victims. Finally, it called on FRA to work together with Member States to facilitate exchange of good practices, and assist the Member States at their request in their effort to develop effective methods to encourage reporting and ensure proper recording of hate crimes.
It is in direct response to this invitation that FRA is convening today’s seminar. Tomorrow, we will bring Member States together to form a working group on hate crime that will enable a more in-depth discussion and exchange of best practices that can usefully be transferred to other countries.
Of course, once we have improved recording mechanisms and increased reporting levels, the real work will only be beginning. To combat hate crime and its associated fundamental rights violations, it is crucial for all the public figures involved – from policymakers, through judges, to police officers – to state unambiguously that prejudice and bias-motivated crimes are unacceptable and that offenders will be brought to justice. It is also crucial for courts to hand down enhanced penalties for hate crime, sending a message to both victims and perpetrators that the bias motivation behind the offence has been recognised and acted on. Only through such measures will the suffering caused to victims be acknowledged and their rights be upheld.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We all agree that hate crime is a serious issue. That is why it is so important to the Fundamental Rights Agency to discuss this topic, and why I am so glad to be able to welcome you today. It is vital that we work together towards a European Union in which mutual respect is par for the course and hate crime is not tolerated. I wish us all a productive time here in Thessaloniki.