Good afternoon Minister, colleagues,
My sincere thanks to the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union for hosting this, the third, meeting of the Working Party on reporting and recording of hate crime in the European Union.
I had not intended to say more than a brief welcome and list the aims of this meeting, but in view of the events that took place earlier this month, I hope you will bear with me if I say a little more. I would like to express the shock and sorry that I and all my colleagues at the Fundamental Rights Agency felt at the events that took place. We all, I think, feel similarly.
Racism and xenophobia have made their way to the forefront of political debates in the European Union, and not only in those Member States that have been faced with the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers in the largest numbers, such as Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary or Sweden. These heated debates are now accompanied by a backlash against Muslims and Muslim communities across the EU, as a reaction to the events in Paris. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that similar backlashes are observed against Jewish communities as a reaction to events in the Middle East.
The agency closely follows policy responses and societal reactions to the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers from a fundamental rights perspective. Since the attacks on Paris on 13 November, I would just like to highlight two examples of xenophobic reactions we have observed:
- In one Member State, a major NGO received hate messages blaming refugees, NGOs and volunteers for the terrorist attacks.
- In another Member State, a rally was organised under the slogan ‘Illegal migrants out…’. The event was supported by a Facebook group called ‘Illegal Islamist migrants out…’, which currently includes about 3,000 Facebook users.
There also is concrete evidence of Islamophobic and antisemitic reactions in France since the attacks, including physical and verbal violence against Jews and Muslims. President Hollande’s response was short but very clear: “Not one single act of xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia shall be tolerated.”
Of course, Islamophobia and other forms of racism and intolerance did not appear from nowhere two weeks ago. Indeed, a report from the Islamic Human Rights Council (IHRC) shows a marked increase in hostile language from politicians and the media, more incidents of physical attacks and abuse on the street, and greater difficulties in the labour market and the education system. The report found that in 2010, 39.8% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse, while 13.9% had suffered physical assault. Both of these figures went up to 66% and 17.8% respectively in 2014. The intensity of Islamophobic incidents also escalated.
Overt Islamophobia and anti-migrant sentiment is harmful not only to its victims, but to entire communities and to society at large. Hate crime erodes the social fabric of society and constitutes a threat to social cohesion. Evidence collected by the Agency shows that daily experiences of discrimination and exclusion can increase the likelihood of victims engaging in violence, while feeling alienated within society can result in greater support for violent means of solving global problems.
Another example amplifying the need and urgency to combat hate crime is the most recent annual overview of antisemitism in the EU Member States, which FRA presented last month at the European Commission’s first Fundamental Rights Colloquium.
The report shows that antisemitism remains a problem for the European Union as a whole. Not only does antisemitism prevent many from living an openly Jewish life, but the lack of robust data on antisemtic incidents, and indeed on other expressions of hate crime to other groups, prevents policy actors to devise courses of action that can address the phenomenon effectively and lastingly. This is precicely why there is a need to enhance the reporting and recording of hate crime.
Ladies and gentlemen, in less than a month from now, the Agency will host a workshop with representatives of EU institutions, national governments, communication experts and civil society to develop a toolkit on how to promote and communicate respect and tolerance. This is a response to the call of the European Council following the first Paris terrorist attacks, to develop such communication strategies. The activities of the Working Party on Hate Crime are important in that respect as they will help giving victims a face and a voice.
The extraordinary session of the JHA Council that was convened on 20 November also spoke of the necessity of addressing “the underlying factors of radicalisation leading to terrorism and violent extremism through…education [and other measures] that promote fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy and encourage inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic societies.”
For all these reasons, the Hate Crime Working Party is more important than ever. Hate crime, as the most extreme form of discrimination, must be combated if we want to ensure our societies are based on respect for fundamental rights and are, quite simply, safe. And our countries and their institutions together with the EU institutions and bodies, can do more together than in isolation.
Which brings me, finally, to the main objective of this meeting. We will be discussing the development of a compendium of practices that can be used to combat hate crime across the EU, highlighting success factors and transferable elements.
The creation of this evidence-based tool will serve three purposes:
- It aims at assisting policy makers, practitioners and civil society organisations in planning their own measures to combat hate crime
- it will help create networks to exchange expertise and experiences between official bodies, frontline practitioners and civil society in order to improve methods of countering hate crime, and
- will feed into the work of the future EU High Level Group on Combating Racism and Xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.
To conclude, I would like to remind us all of the overarching aim of the working party: to encourage reporting and improve recording of hate crime, so as to enable victims to seek redress against perpetrators. Together, I trust we can work towards achieving this.