Important European developments on race discrimination

11 July 2000

On June 29, 2000, the Council of Ministers of the European Union (EU) adopted the so-called "race directive", officially the directive "implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin". The race directive sets down guidelines for legislation in EU member states on combating racial discrimination, specifying characteristic of member states' law in areas including the scope of such laws, minimum requirements, burden of proof, remedies and enforcement, and the establishment of bodies for the promotion of equal treatment. The directive enters into force on the first day after publication in the EU's official journal, which was stated to take place in July 2000, following which member states will have three years to bring their legislation into compliance with the requirements of the directive. Applicants to the EU will also have to bring domestic legislation into harmony with the race directive.

In other important legal developments, on June 27, the Council of Europe announced that the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers had adopted Protocol No.12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for a general prohibition of discrimination. The current non-discrimination provision of the Convention (Article 14) is limited because it only prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of rights guaranteed by the Convention. The new Protocol removes this limitation and guarantees that the enjoyment of any right set forth by law shall be secured without discrimination on any ground. The Protocol will be opened for signature by member States on November 4, 2000, in Rome.

European bodies also issued a number of reports on racism and xenophobia in various European countries. In March 2000, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released detailed new reports examining racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance in five member States, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary. ECRI recognised positive developments in all of the countries examined, but detailed several areas as grounds for continuing concern. ECRI reports continuing discrimination against the Romani population in Bulgaria, "which has been the target of police ill-treatment and discrimination in many fields of life, including education and employment. Levels of tolerance in the general public are perhaps lower than is commonly portrayed and there is a need to raise public awareness concerning problems of discrimination in Bulgaria." The report expresses concern about the continuation of racist violence in the Czech Republic, "mainly - but not exclusively - directed towards members of the Roma/Gypsy community. The incidence of discrimination towards members of this community in many fields of life, including the administration of justice and access to equal opportunities in areas such as education and employment is also of concern. The widespread lack of communication between, on the one side, the authorities and the majority population, and, on the other, members of the Roma/Gypsy community is another important issue of concern." The investigation found that "Hungary's Roma/Gypsy community also suffers discrimination in many fields of life and police ill-treatment of members of this group continues to occur. Furthermore, although the membership of neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing parties is at present relatively limited, ECRI considers that care needs to be taken to counter any expressions of intolerance or anti-Semitism in political discourse and public debate."


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