European Governments Must Do More to Tackle Hate Crimes

TEL AVIV – A majority of European governments get a poor grade in their efforts to tackle violent hate crimes, according to Human Rights First’s 2007 Hate Crime Report Card released today at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Tel Aviv. This new study examines monitoring and reporting systems as well as the enforcement of hate crime laws in the 56 states that comprise the OSCE – from the Russian Federation and the Central Asian states across Western Europe and also including the United States and Canada.

The report is a follow-up to Human Rights First’s 2007 Hate Crime Survey, which documented the disturbing rise in hate crimes across the OSCE region. The report released today examines government efforts to combat these violent hate crimes.

Human Rights First concludes that only 15 of the 56 participating states of the OSCE are fulfilling their basic commitments to monitor hate crimes, with countries in the European Union and North America leading the way. While more than 30 countries have legislation that allows for penalty enhancements when crimes are motivated by bias, there is little evidence that these provisions are applied in a systematic fashion in most countries.

“Europe has seen a worrying rise in hate crimes in recent years,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights first. “What’s deeply troubling is that many states still fail to use the tools necessary to investigate and punish the perpetrators of such violence as a matter of priority – suggesting an underlying indifference,” added Byrnes.

This past October, a Jewish school was torched in an antisemitic attack in Kiev, Ukraine. A year before five men attacked and murdered a Nigerian man living in the Ukraine in what was thought to be a racist attack. NGO monitors have reported a rise in such bias-motivated crimes throughout the Ukraine in recent years. Yet the Ukrainian government still does not publicly monitor or record the number of hate crimes committed in the Ukraine each year.

Ukraine is among nearly 40 countries where governments provide only limited or no public reporting on violent hate crimes. “How can governments combat the problem of hate violence if they lack a system to monitor and document such crimes?” asked Byrnes.

In Italy, where three Romanians were recently hospitalized after being attacked by a masked, club-wielding, anti-immigrant gang in an apparent hate crime, important new institutions have been established to combat discrimination, although violent hate crimes are yet to be included in their programs. The Italian authorities do not currently produce reliable data on such crimes.

Some changes have been pledged. In Norway, where no hate crime statistics are available, the Minister of Justice said in September that a study had shown that hate violence against gay men and others was rising and that police had begun to register hate crimes. In the Netherlands, where statistics are available only from NGO sources, authorities have announced new measures to begin in 2008 to track the implementation of prosecutorial guidelines by which bias motivations are to result in enhanced penalties.

While nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have filled the gap in some cases, there is ultimately no substitute for official monitoring. In the Russian Federation, for example, NGO monitors have documented a rising tide of hate crimes of alarming proportions, while the limited official data largely ignores the problem.

The new Human Rights First report includes individual country “report cards” on each of the 56 OSCE participating states. Each country report details the monitoring and reporting mechanisms present and describes the legal framework applicable to crimes of violence motivated by prejudice and hatred. Comparative charts cover the compliance of all 56 countries with OSCE, Council of Europe, European Union, and other international standards.

This report card is a companion to Human Rights First’s 2007 Hate Crime Survey, issued in June, which found that antisemitic incidents have continued to proliferate throughout Europe, reaching record high levels in some countries. Likewise, bias-motivated violence has threatened many Muslim communities, with such crimes occurring amidst a backdrop of highly polarized debates concerning immigration and Muslim integration. The problem of anti-gay prejudice and violence has also in many countries become more visible, with some of the reported acts of violence in 2006 taking place at gay pride demonstrations.

The Survey found a particularly troubling climate of hatred and intolerance in the Russian Federation, where racist murders have proliferated throughout many Russian cities. This new report concludes that while hate crime cases have increasingly been brought before Russian courts in recent years, hate crime charges have not been brought in the vast majority of cases involving a clear racist dimension. In Russia today, there is little accountability for extreme acts of racist violence, such as the September 2006 murder of a Nitish Kumar Singh, a 27-year-old medical student from India, in St. Petersburg.


Among Human Rights First’s recommendations in the report are these:

Monitor hate crimes: Governments should establish or strengthen official systems of monitoring and public reporting to provide accurate data for informed policy decisions to combat hate crimes.

Adopt laws addressing violent hate crime: Governments should adopt legislative provisions that recognize bias expressly as an aggravating circumstance in the commission of violent crime.

Strengthen enforcement: Governments should ensure that those responsible for violent hate crimes are held accountable under the law and that the record of enforcement of hate crime provisions is well documented and publicized.

Click here to read the report.


Published on December 17, 2007


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