By William Fisher
Representatives from 55 countries wrapped up a two-day conference on bigotry in Cordoba, Spain, after being warned of the “alarming increase in anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate crimes” and the “disturbing lack of response to hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender, and disability”, and many of the delegates agreed.
The warnings came from a new report – “Everyday Fears: A Survey of Violent Hate Crimes in Europe and North America” – prepared by Human Rights First (HRF) for the “Conference on Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance” sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The HRF report said, “Since September 11, 2001, an increasingly strident message of xenophobia has permeated both fringe and mainstream political movements. This new climate has made immigrants and those of immigrant origin particular targets. A result has been heightened anxiety and rising violence against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and a new climate of exclusion. In this climate, violence toward those who are deemed outsiders because of their sexual orientation, gender, or disability may be less visible, but it is no less threatening”.
The New York-based advocacy group charged that only 19 of the 55 OSCE member states have enacted legislation expressly to punish crimes motivated by racism.
Mike McClintock of HRW, author of the “Everyday Fears” report, said he was encouraged by the delegates’ reaction. “In the hate crimes area, the OECS has been hampered by “a lack of political will and a deficit in resources and expertise.” He added, “HRW and others are helping in the expertise area, and member states are showing positive signs of responding to the need to treat hate crimes as more serious than ordinary crimes because they affect whole communities.”
He said he was hopeful that by later this year, armed with new mandates, OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights would produce reports on anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate crimes.
While delegates adopted a declaration vowing to take concrete, legislative action to fight all forms of intolerance, many expressed frustration at rising rates of religious hate crimes across Europe.
"We need to do more to convert these sound words and goodwill to fight anti-Semitism and intolerance into action and it's clear that a number of states have just not taken that step," said New York Governor George Pataki, head of the US delegation. The New York Republican is close to the Bush Administration and is often talked of as a candidate for the presidency in 2008.
And Christian Strohal, who heads the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said that in order to take effective action, governments need to gather more information about religious intolerance in their own countries. He criticized countries for failing to act on this point.
Almost half of the OSCE's 55 members missed commitments to provide data to track hate crimes. Just three countries -- the US, Canada, and Britain -- gave thorough, reliable data, according to an OSCE report.
Of particular concern among the delegates was anti-Muslim discrimination. Delegates said that public outrage at attacks by Islamic militants was being directed against the whole Muslim community, and that the fight against terrorism headed by Western governments was adversely affecting Muslims.
The OSCE explored similar problems at a conference in Berlin last year.
Among the HRF report’s other findings:
Just five national governments within the OSCE — Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom — have legislation to punish crimes motivated by sexual orientation and disability bias.
In the United States, the laws of 29 states and the District of Columbia punish hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation or disability bias.
Only Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, and parts of the United States (26 states and the District of Columbia) have laws that punish hate crimes based on gender.
Only France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have effective specialized anti-discrimination bodies. “When governments create these bodies, data collection improves, criminal investigations are assisted, and minority communities gain confidence in public authorities,” the report concludes.
Ireland, Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands are among the countries that have no laws that provide tougher penalties for violent crimes motivated by racism or other bias.
In the United Kingdom, anti-Semitic violent personal assaults doubled in 2004 over the previous year; and in France, violent anti-Semitic offenses rose 63 percent in 2004, from 2003 levels.
In France violent hate crimes against gay men reportedly more than doubled from 41 in 2002 to 86 in 2003. Legislation was enacted to provide enhanced penalties for hate crimes based on anti-gay bias following the attempted murder of a gay man in January 2004. He nearly died when he was set alight with gasoline.
Even those states that produce accurate statistics fall far short of comprehensive coverage. The United States’ Uniform Crime Reporting system has model guidelines, but almost 90 percent of the 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies participating in its last survey either reported that no hate crimes occurred or opted out of reporting altogether.
Citizens and non-citizens alike who are identified as Muslims have been singled out for particularly virulent attacks. Assailants in many towns and cities in Western Europe attack minority schoolchildren with racist slurs, beatings, or a hail of stones. They force those wearing a Jewish yarmulke, a Sikh turban,
or a Muslim headscarf, or those who look different only because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, to run a gauntlet of menace just to get to school.
Among the report’s recommendations to OSCE member states:
Define hate crimes broadly to include those motivated by race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical disabilities, or other similar forms of discrimination. Only five national governments within the OSCE --.Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom -- provide for sexual orientation and disability bias to be considered an aggravating circumstance.
Enact legislation requiring national justice authorities to collect, analyze, and make public data from law enforcement agencies concerning bias crimes or hate crimes.
Strengthen enforcement by enacting legislation that punishes hate crimes by establishing that racist or other similar intent is an aggravating factor in criminal prosecutions.
Facilitate collaboration between law enforcement and community-based organizations concerned with issues of discrimination.
Ensure that law enforcement agents, including police, criminal investigators and prosecutors are properly trained to combat hate crimes most effectively.
The sorry performance of most of these 55 countries illustrates not only their own lack of interest in improving the lives of their citizens, but the world’s preoccupation with the threat of terrorism. But this is an unnecessary choice: Home-grown terrorism is every bit as lethal as foreign terrorism. The two should not be treated as mutually exclusive.