MINELRES: Fwd: The UN Chronicle: Combating Racism and Racial Discrimination in Europe

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Fri Jan 4 15:47:49 2008


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COMBATING RACISM AND RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN EUROPE
 
Comment

By Isil Gachet, Executive Secretary to the European Commission against
Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

In today's world, contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination
are complex and disturbing. In Europe, these issues increasingly lie at
the heart of political and social concerns. Faced with persistent
expressions of racism and xenophobia, the Council of Europe Member
States (1) have, for several years now, been taking firm and sustained
action to combat these trends. Without making an exhaustive inventory of
the situation and listing all the problems observed, we can outline a
few broad categories in which racism and racial discrimination occur:
day to day life in major areas, such as employment, education, housing
and access to social services; human rights violations against members
of Roma communities; hostile attitudes to and stigmatization of
migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers; increasingly widespread
anti-Semitic incidents; intensification of expressions of Islamophobia;
use of racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic arguments in political
discourse; and a negative climate in public opinion, which plays a
crucial part in the emergence of expressions of racism and intolerance
in society. These trends, of course, vary in scale from one country to
another, but are significant enough to be of concern.

To cope with this situation, European countries have devised responses
at both national and European levels. The salient feature of the Council
of Europe Member States' action over the past few years is the fact that
they address the issues surrounding the fight against racism and racial
discrimination from the perspective of protecting and promoting human
rights. In other words, the right to be protected from racism and racial
discrimination is first and foremost a fundamental right of all human
beings. When it comes to working out practical and viable long-term
solutions to combat racism and racial discrimination, choices may differ
from one country to another. All strategies in this respect should at
least comprise measures in the areas of legislation, awareness-raising,
education, positive action and participation. While legislation alone is
not enough to combat racism and racial discrimination, the law is
obviously a cornerstone. In Europe, the greatest advances in recent
years have been made in the legal sphere. Many Member States have
embarked on reforms to supplement their anti-discrimination legislation
at a national level. This is a welcome development from the victims'
point of view, given that appropriate legal measures to combat racial
discrimination effectively, dissuasively and as satisfactorily as
possible are of paramount importance. But enacting anti-discrimination
legislation does not necessarily mean successfully ensuring equal rights
for everyone in society. It is not enough to outlaw discrimination; we
must also combat it by ensuring that anti-discrimination provisions are
actually applied and put into practice. The same can be said for
criminal law provisions prohibiting racist acts.

If all these provisions are to be effective, it is imperative that they
be implemented by the authorities, including the police and the
judiciary. They should not exist only on paper, but should comprise
large-scale awareness campaigns directed at the general public and
potential victims, as well as training for the appropriate officials.
For this reason, it is important to set up an independent national body
with the unique responsibility of fighting racism and racial
discrimination (2); many Council of Europe Member States have taken
steps to set up such bodies. At the broader European level, the most
significant advance in recent years has been the adoption of Protocol
No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force
on 1 April 2005. The Protocol contains a general independent clause
prohibiting discrimination. The fact that the European Court of Human
Rights will be able to deal with individual applications in this area
makes the 
Protocol a particularly useful instrument for combating racial
discrimination. For the time being, however, only 35 of the 47 Council
of Europe Member States have signed Protocol No. 12, and only 15 of them
have ratified it (3).

Lastly, Member States have taken a further step to combat racism and
racial discrimination by setting up and bringing into operation the
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in 1994. ECRI,
whose work is based on respect for human rights, aims to protect all
persons on the territory of the Council of Europe Member States from
racism and all forms of racial discrimination. It is made up of
independent, impartial members, whose statutory activities include
country by country monitoring of racism and racial discrimination,
drawing up general policy recommendations and building awareness and
disseminating information through its relations with civil society (4). 
One of the main achievements of ECRI is bringing about changes in law
and its practice at national and European levels to counteract racism
and intolerance more effectively (5). One of its major contributions is
undoubtedly the fact that it has made people understand 
that "racism" and "racial discrimination" are changing concepts and now
encompass acts targeting persons or groups, not only because of their
colour or ethnic origin, but also because of their language, religion or
nationality. The main prerequisite for effectively combating racism and
racial discrimination is recognizing that these problems exist. ECRI has
shed light on daily and widespread racism and racial discrimination at
the pan-European level, which creates substantial and sometimes even
insurmountable obstacles for many individuals.

In the immediate future, European Governments are faced with several
challenges, two of which are very significant: enforcing action against
racism and racial discrimination in an environment increasingly affected
by the fight against terrorism; and addressing the issue of integration,
which is widely debated in most European countries. Attention should be
drawn to the ECRI General Policy Recommendation No. 8 on combating
racism while fighting terrorism and to General Policy Recommendation No.
11, adopted on 29 June 2007, on combating racism and racial
discrimination in policing. The latter contains a legal definition of
racial profiling and asks Member States to clearly define and prohibit
racial profiling by law. As racial profiling has increased and assumed
new dimensions as part of the fight against terrorism, Recommendation
No. 11 is a useful means of countering this specific form of racial
discrimination. Regarding integration, it is essential to firmly
underscore that the success of any integration strategy will essentially
hinge on the importance it attaches to combating discrimination in
general, particularly racial discrimination. The principle of
non-discrimination and policies on the pursuit of equality are the
necessary basis for achieving integration. In the final analysis,
encouraging signs at the national and European levels demonstrate that
Governments and civil society are genuinely involved in fighting racism
and racial discrimination in Europe. But the fight is far from won and
advances are needed now more than ever to guide our countries and give
practical effect and full meaning to the universal principle: "All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights".

Notes

1. The 47 Member States of the Council of Europe are Albania, Andorra,
Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria,
Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France,
Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia,
Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco,
Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian
Federation, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine,
United Kingdom.
2. See ECRI General Policy Recommendation No. 2 on specialized bodies to
combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance at the national
level.
3. For more information on Protocol No. 12, see www.conventions.coe.int
4. For more information on ECRI and its work, see www.coe.int/ecri
5. See General Policy Recommendation No. 7 on national legislation to
combat racism and racial discrimination.

 The UN Chronicle http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/


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