ERRC/International Helsinki Federation Joint Statement: Governments in Europe Are Failing to Uphold Their Commitments to Fight Racism and Discrimination

04 September 2003

Vienna/Budapest, 4 September 2003. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) express their concern at the fact that as of September 2003, the deadline for the transposition of the EU Race Equality Directive (Council of the European Union directive 2000/43/EC) by the EU Member States had already passed by two months. However, not a single Member State has yet succeeded in transposing all provisions of the Directive into their national law.

The ERRC and the IHF are deeply concerned that in many countries such as Austria, Greece, Portugal and Spain, where protection against racial discrimination has been traditionally weak and ineffective, national authorities failed to proceed with amending legislation as required by the terms of the Race Equality Directive.

In Central and Eastern Europe, only a few countries have so far indicated a serious intention to meet the Directive's requirements. Bulgaria and Hungary, for example, have produced draft laws, which are pending before their parliaments. In Slovakia, legislative efforts are seriously impeded by a lack of political will among members of the Slovak cabinet. The Slovak anti-discrimination bill has already been rejected by parliament once, and the new bill is still not scheduled for review. A number of other countries have given no indication whatsoever that they intend to comply with the Race Equality Directive.

Effective remedy for racially motivated crime and racially-based discrimination remains an unfulfilled promise in many European countries. In addition to the inadequate civil and administrative procedures for fighting racial discrimination, the criminal prosecution of racially motivated violence also poses serious problems in the way of combating hate crimes. To name just one recent example from the country in which this meeting is being held, Austrian courts to date failed to entirely provide legal remedy to a Romani woman named V.J., who in April 1996 was arbitrarily detained by Vienna riot police, physically abused and insulted on racial grounds.

Although there is indisputable evidence of crimes committed with racial animus, few countries have made racial motivation an aggravating circumstance and introduced enhanced sentencing for racially motivated crime. The ERRC and the IHF are particularly concerned that the criminal legislation in countries such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania and Turkey, where incidence of racially motivated crime is high, does not stipulate enhanced sentencing.

In countries throughout the OSCE region, criteria according to which crimes are investigated to determine if racial animus has played a role are often not clearly elaborated and/or not made public. Fragmentary statements by police officers in some countries such as Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia give rise to the concern that authorities apply overly strict guidelines when assessing a crime to determine whether it was racially motivated. For example, in some cases, officials have decided that a case is not racially motivated unless witnesses have heard the alleged perpetrator making explicitly racist remarks, even where other evidence points clearly to racist motive. In other cases, such as in the killing in Hungary of a Romani youth named Kristian Mohacsi in 1999, officials appear to have taken a "deny first and investigate later" approach to the issue of racial animus.

Considering the inadequate safeguards against racism and discrimination in a number of OSCE Member States, as well as the commitments made by the OSCE Member States under international and European law, the ERRC and the IHF call on the governments
to:

  • Take actions to transpose the Race Equality Directive and the other EU anti-discrimination directives without delay;
     
  • Involve relevant beneficiaries - racial and other minorities in the drafting of the anti-discrimination legislation;
     
  • Review criminal legislation and introduce the racial motive as an aggravating circumstance punished by stiffer sentences;
     
  • Elaborate and make public the criteria according to which crimes are investigated to determine if they have been perpetrated on grounds of racial animus;
     
  • Ensure that law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges and lawyers be provided with training necessary to enable the successful application of legal provisions aimed at combating racist crimes and other racially-based discrimination.

For further information:

Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-1-408 88 22 or +43-676-635 66 12
Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Officer, +43-1-408 88 22-41
Claude Cahn, ERRC Programmes Director, +36-1-413 22 40
Savelina Davona, ERRC Research and Policy Coordinator, +36-1-413 22 15

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