Tackling discrimination and hatred against Roma, Jews and Muslims

Last week I attended two interesting events in the European Parliament about discrimination and hatred: one on anti-gypsism and another on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

In the morning I learned about Romanian Roma slavery, which was abolished 160 years ago. Romanian member of the European Parliament Damian Drăghici told participants about the need to raise awareness about the history of Romanian Roma people. Even today, Roma people themselves and the general public know little about their own history, and slavery of Roma people is still not featured in school books in Romania. Dr Petre Petcut spoke about how Roma families were offered as gifts to monasteries as far back as 1370; seen as belonging to the King, they were given away as slaves for domestic and agricultural work. Gabriela Hrabanova from the European Roma Grassroots Organisation Network (ERGO) called on EU decision-makers to recognise Roma people as agents of change and rights-holders to be involved in the design of a framework to monitor the discrimination Roma people face in Europe.

In the afternoon I was updated on the outcomes of the EU Annual Colloquium on fundamental rights on anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred and hate speech in Europe. The roundtable was organised by the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup. One outcome was the appointment of two people in the European Commission to work on this topic. Katharina Von-Schnuerbein coordinates the work on anti-Semitism. Ms Von-Schnuerbein spoke about the importance of identifying all stakeholders and their respective responsibility within their field, whether local or regional authorities, civil society or religious organisations. She also highlighted the need to enforce existing EU law and adopt the Equal Treatment Directive. David Friggieri coordinates the work on Islamophobia. Mr Friggieri painted a gloomy picture of terrorism, populism, walls against migrants and hatred. However, he outlined what action is being taken to address this, such as meetings with Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft about their responsibility to tackle hate speech online. Other actions by the EU includes making sure that Member States implement the EU Victims’ Rights Directive, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights supporting Member States to better collect data of hate crimes, and the European Commission is planning to hold roundtables with the Muslim community to discuss how to overcome their barriers to accessing services, education and employment, especially Muslim women who are disproportionately targeted.

‘The problem is between society and its radicalism and not between Jews and Muslims.’ – The European Jewish Congress

A priority for us this year is to call on the EU to put in place an EU Internal Strategy and Action Plan to promote human rights. A first action should be EU-wide legal protection against discrimination and against bias violence and hate crime. In our position paper we put forward recommendations and describe that bias violence, including violence that is not criminalised. It encompasses different forms of structural violence targeting specific communities and groups, such as women, LGBTI persons, Roma, older people, children, persons with disabilities, undocumented migrants, and persons living in poverty.

Last year the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee conducted a study on hate speech, blasphemy and freedom of expression; the study revealed that current EU law (‘The Framework Decision’) only covers the characteristics of race, colour, religion, descent, and national or ethnic origin. Many Member States already go beyond these characteristics by including other victims of hate. The study therefore proposes – as do we – a review of the Framework Decision or the adoption of a new legal instrument to ensure equal protection against hatred and violence in the EU. (Read my previous blog from the hearing when the report was presented).