Magazine article UN Chronicle

Combating Racism and Racial Discrimination in Europe

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Combating Racism and Racial Discrimination in Europe

Article excerpt

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. …

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