Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
My thanks to Minister Van der Steur for his remarks, and a warm welcome on behalf of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
Hate crime is a fundamental challenge to the values of the EU and its Member States. Although we have made great strides in combating it, both legally and institutionally, we are living in a time of increasing intolerance. We are seeing hatred thrown – or rather spewed – every day at the most vulnerable in our society.
And hate crime transcends the experiences of the individuals directly involved. Homophobic, racist and other crimes motivated by prejudice create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that does great damage on a far larger scale.
Such crimes speak to people who sympathise with perpetrators and whose biased attitudes the offender confirms and reinforces. They say “don’t think you’re wanted here, because you’re not. And don’t think you’re safe, because we’ve already shown you’re not – and it could happen again. Be scared.”
And people are scared. They are afraid of being regarded as belonging to a certain group, afraid that what has happened once will happen again, and afraid that family members and friends will suffer the same victimisation.
However, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are not defenceless. With the Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia, as well as the Victims’ Directive, the EU has a solid legal framework to combat hate crime. Making bias motivations an aggravating circumstance or introducing enhanced penalties to sanction such crimes as the Framework Decision stipulates increases accountability.
Of course, legislation forms the framework for preventing and combating hate crime. But it is not enough. Well-considered and well-resourced action is required at the political level and at the level of practitioners, from school teachers through police officers to judges.
The key output of the Working Party is a compendium of practices from across the EU. This online collection contains measures used by EU countries to combat hate crime. It is aimed at policy makers and law enforcement officers, who are encouraged to review and adapt practices from other countries for their own national context. Some 30 practices are being launched today, but these are just a beginning, as the compendium is a living document that will be revised and added to in the coming months.
I will mention just two practices contained in the compendium here.
- In Spain, which has done amazing work on combating hate crime, a practice was developed to increase awareness among education professionals on incidents motivated by intolerance and to equip them with the tools to combat it.
- In Belgium, a local police department trains its frontline officers to recognise hate crime incidents, and equips them with a ‘hate crime checklist’ for use when recording bias-related crimes.
I would also like here to express my gratitude to the members of the Working Party for their contributions, without which there would be no compendium. And I would also urge you all, in whatever capacity you are here today, to publicise it within your own networks to ensure that it is as used as broadly as possible.
The compendium emphasises the Fundamental Rights Agency’s growing focus on practitioners as a vital element in countering hate crime. In this context, FRA is also publishing a new report today based on interviews with 263 experts from law enforcement, criminal justice, and civil society organisations.
The report emphasises the fact that the target of prejudice, of violence, of hate crime often seems to get lost. As one judge we interviewed for the report told us:
“Comparing suspected and accused people on the one hand, and victims on the other hand, the main focus in my country is on the rights of the accused. Nobody emphasises the rights of the victims. We look at prisons in order to ensure appropriate conditions there. But we are not looking at the victims…”
That is why we must put victims squarely at the centre of our efforts to combat hate crime.
Ladies and gentlemen,
After today’s meeting, the Working Party will be integrated into the European Commission’s newly forming High Level Group on Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance and focus specifically on assisting Member States in developing a common methodology for data collection and recording of hate crimes.
This is highly technical work, but it is absolutely necessary. With hate crime, we are talking of a phenomenon that remains largely invisible. In order to tackle it effectively, we have to have data. And that is why it is so important to continue the activities the Working Party has started.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To conclude: It is essential that politicians, journalists, prosecutors, and police across Europe send a clear message that there cannot be impunity for hate speech or hate crime. To achieve the open and tolerant societies we aspire to in the EU, we have to create an atmosphere of zero tolerance.
For this to happen, police officers and any other authorities who come into direct contact with hate crime victims must know both how to identify crimes with a bias motivation and to be sensitive to the specific needs of victims of such crimes. And this is where the compendium, which FRA is proud to be hosting on its website, can be of help.