MINELRES: Op-ed: Ethnic Profiling Fails Europe

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Tue Jul 11 20:19:43 2006

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The following op-ed, written by Open Society Justice Initiative
Executive Director James A. Goldston and Senior Advisor Rachel Neild,
was published June 29 in the International Herald Tribune.


James A. Goldston and Rachel Neild

Brussels, June 29, 2006 - Six months after the deaths of two Muslim
youths fleeing police sparked riots across France, many European leaders
continue to equate security with tough policing of minority communities.
Simply cracking down in Muslim neighborhoods won't work, however,
whether the aim is to combat ordinary street crime or to halt terrorist
violence. Indeed, the implicit premise that race or religion is an
accurate predictor of criminality is a recipe for disaster.

For decades, the growing heterogeneity of Europe's population has met
with popular unease and official silence. And yet, on the streets of
European capitals, young Muslims and virtually anyone who looks
"different" have been subjected to extra scrutiny, disproportionate
stops and searches and, at times, harassment. Their situation, always
precarious, has worsened over the past few years because of the
terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States.

Now that the stakes have been raised, authorities face a dilemma. How
should they respond to a genuine threat widely perceived to emanate from
one religious community without intensifying the very alienation that
can breed violence?

Though it has no consistent name, ethnic profiling has become a major
component of the fight against terrorism in several European countries.

The proportion of "Asians" stopped by police under British antiterrorism
powers tripled in the 18 months after 9/11. To date, none of these has
resulted in conviction for a terrorism offense. Massive data-mining
operations in Germany from the end of 2001 until early 2003 collected
sensitive personal information about 8.3 million people but did not
identify a single terrorist suspect. Other manifestations of ethnic
profiling in Europe yet to prove effective include raids on mosques and
mass identity checks of Muslims.

To be sure, European governments have tracked down and prosecuted
terrorists. But this has usually been the product of intelligence-based
investigation over extended periods focused on time-bound and
event-specific matters, not broad stereotypes.

By branding whole communities as suspect, ethnic profiling not only
legitimizes prejudice among the general public, it also engenders
feelings of humiliation and resentment among targeted groups. Since
2001, many Muslims in Europe fear that they are stopped and searched on
the basis of "looking Muslim" rather than reasonable suspicion.

Moreover, profiling may divert attention from actual threats that fall
outside the prescribed criteria. Before the July 2005 attacks in London,
British intelligence had come across the leader of the bombers in
connection with another plot, but had not pursued him because he did not
fit their profile.

Finally, the more predictable law enforcement profiling becomes, the
easier it is for terrorists to adapt. No less an authority than the
British government itself concluded last month - in its official report
on the 2005 London bombings - that "there is not a consistent profile to
help identify who may be vulnerable to radicalization."

If targeting Muslims and other ethnic minorities makes no sense, what is
to be done?

First, work with, rather than against, communities of interest. As a
senior counterterrorism official in the Netherlands underscores,
"community relations are crucial to gathering information ... It is far
more important to maintain community relations than any results that
stop and search can achieve."

Second, monitor and measure the performance of law enforcement agencies.
For too long, Europe's conscious avoidance of racism has been
facilitated by the absence of data - or any systematic assessment that
takes into account ethnic differences. Monitoring of law enforcement is
essential to foster accountability and provide a foundation of knowledge
on which to build policy.

Third, change the law. To date, Britain is the only European Union
member that has expressly banned racial discrimination by law
enforcement officers. Governments should adopt specific provisions that
ban discriminatory practices by law enforcement officers, including
ethnic profiling. Although principal responsibility lies at national
level, the transnational character of much terrorism gives the EU a role
to play.

The threat of terrorist violence, like the everyday reality of ordinary
crime, is genuine and must be addressed. The challenge is to do so in
ways that enhance, rather than undermine, human security and individual
rights. Ethnic profiling strikes at the heart of the social contract
linking law enforcement to the communities they serve.

James A. Goldston is executive director and Rachel Neild is a senior
adviser on criminal justice at the Open Society Justice Initiative,
which pursues rights-based law reform worldwide.

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The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open
Society Institute , pursues law reform activities grounded in the
protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal
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