In recently published country reports on Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, and Luxembourg, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) found several areas in which migrants, Roma communities, LGBTI persons, and other minorities are susceptible to discrimination and unequal treatment. [COE Press Release: ECRI] In each report, the ECRI – an independent human rights body of the Council of Europe that monitors racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance, and discrimination – acknowledged positive developments and areas in need of improvement, including improving laws on hate speech, establishing specialized national bodies that work to eliminate xenophobia and racism, providing equal access to education and employment, and eliminating xenophobic and racist language or images in the political discourse. For instance, the ECRI found a disparity in access to education for migrants or ethnic minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, and Luxembourg; found that hate speech was regularly used in the political discourse in Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina; and found that Andorra and Iceland both lack a national body with a mandate to combat discrimination and xenophobia. The reports, though, noted in some instances developments in criminalizing racism and discrimination; support for education and employment of minorities; and, in the case of Luxembourg, low levels of hate speech in the public discourse. The Commission published its findings in public reports and made recommendations to each country on legal and structural changes that could improve xenophobia, discrimination, and racism. [COE Press Release: Andorra; COE Press Release: Bosnia and Herzegovina; COE Press Release: Iceland; COE Press Release: Luxembourg]
Since the previous ECRI Report on Andorra in March 2012, the ECRI found that while Andorra made several positive developments in combatting discrimination, the country still lacks effective implementation of laws and policies combating discrimination, racism, and xenophobia. The State improved its criminal law provisions to combat racism and discrimination; developed education programs to prevent and combat racist and homophobic prejudices and stereotypes in schools; and provided training to judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and civil servants. See ECRI, Report on Andorra (fifth monitoring cycle) (2017), at 9.
The ECRI noted, however, that areas of concern remain. In particular, the ECRI expressed concern over the lack of a specialized body with the capacity to combat racism and intolerance at a national level. See id. at 9. Further, it indicated that the collection of data regarding the application of criminal law provisions against racial offences is lacking, and, therefore, the law’s impact is unclear. See id. Additionally, the ECRI expressed that no progress has been made towards providing comprehensive, anti-discrimination legislation and integration policies that would ease residence requirements for obtaining Andorran citizenship or retaining dual nationality. See id.
The ECRI made nine recommendations to Andorra but prioritized two. See id. at 17-21. The first requires Andorra to create a national body specialized to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism, and intolerance within the private and public spheres. See id. at 13. The second requires Andorra to introduce legislation that codifies the principle of sharing the burden of proof when discrimination complaints are brought before civil or administrative courts. See id. at 19. The ECRI will conduct an interim follow-up for these two recommendations within two years of the date of this report. See id. at 23.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Commission noted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s improved measures to combat racism and discrimination, such as trainings for State employees, but denounced the lack of political will to build an inclusive society. The ECRI noted, in particular, that the State started providing training to police officers, prosecutors, and judges to reduce levels of inter-ethnic discrimination and hate crimes; resolving discrimination issues in the area of pension entitlements; implementing measures to provide documentation for Roma community members and to support the enrollment of Roma children in schools; and implementing a strategy to advance the housing and infrastructure and employment rights of returnees. See ECRI, Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina (fifth monitoring cycle) (2017), at 9. Nevertheless, the ERCI denounced the State’s lack of implementation of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would eliminate the ties between high political offices to a person’s ethnicity. The ECRI also expressed concerns over inter-ethnic tensions and hate speech against LGBTI persons; an ethnically segregated education system and no willingness to introduce integrated schools; an environment that openly rejects refugees; and high levels of exclusion within the Roma community. See id.
The report made several recommendations to Bosnia and Herzegovina. See id. at 12-32. However, it prioritized recommendations related to segregation in schools, specifically the need to end “two schools under one roof” and monoethnic schools, to develop a common curriculum, and to remove all symbols representing ethnic or religious bias in schools. See id. at 33. Additionally, the report prioritized strengthening institutional capacity of the Ombudsman Institution to effectively carry out its anti-discrimination mandate. See id. The ECRI will conduct an interim follow-up for these two recommendations within two years of the date of this report. See id.
While the Commission noted Iceland’s efforts in combatting discrimination, the ECRI commented on areas in which the State could improve, including consistent implementation. The ECRI welcomed Iceland’s creation of a database to monitor online hate speech and development of an action plan to improve LGBTI persons’ situation in the education, healthcare, legal, and asylum contexts. See ECRI, Report on Iceland (fifth monitoring cycle) (2017), at 9. However, the report issued several recommendations related to the racist public discourse and hate speech that is not investigated or prosecuted under hate speech legislation; the lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation aimed at combatting racism and racial discrimination; and the failed integration efforts for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. See id. at 11-26. The report prioritized the recommendations to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and to undertake integration measures for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, in particular measures related to housing, employment, and language access. See id. at 27. The ECRI will conduct an interim follow-up for these two recommendations within two years of the date of this report. See id.
While the ECRI found Luxembourg has made many positive developments particularly in combatting hate speech, the Commission also noted several areas in which transgender persons and migrants still experience discrimination or are not fully protected by the law. The ECRI highlighted Luxembourg’s process of grouping together several institutions that combat racism and discrimination under one entity, the “House of Human Rights,” to increase cooperation among them. See ECRI, Report on Luxembourg (fifth monitoring cycle) (2017), at 9., 15. The Commission also highlighted the State’s efforts to extend criminal law protections against hate speech to transgender persons and to ensure LGBTI persons enjoy equal protections. Further, the report noted the prosecutor’s firm response to hate speech, the media’s coverage of relevant trials, a new campaign to raise awareness of hate speech, integration efforts welcoming refugees, and low rates of racist and homophobic or transphobic violence. See id. at 9.
Nevertheless, the ECRI found that Luxembourg’s constitution establishes a right to equality only for Luxembourgers and that the penal code does not make racist, homophobic, or transphobic motivation an aggravating offence. See id. at 9-10. It also found that sexual diversity is not addressed in schools and transgender persons still face difficulties in changing their name and gender in public records and official documents. See id. Additionally, the ECRI expressed concern over the use of the internet to spread hatred towards refugees, the lack of response from authorities to adopt integration policies for media and internet access providers, the high rates of unemployment and poverty for migrants, and migrant children’s underperformance in school. See id.
The ECRI’s recommendations addressed several of the issues found in the report but prioritized first, the adoption of a new national integration action plan, including an appropriate budget to ensure equality in education, employment, housing, and health standards for immigrants. See id. at 23-24. The ECRI also prioritized the adoption of a law that facilitates name changes and gender recognition for transgender persons. See id. at 31. The ECRI will conduct an interim follow-up for these two recommendations within two years of the date of this report. See id.
The ECRI’s mandate is to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism, and intolerance in Europe, with a view to supporting the protection of human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols. Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits discrimination “on any ground” when protecting and ensuring the rights and freedoms enumerated in the instrument.
The Commission’s three main areas of activity are country monitoring, work on general themes, and maintaining relationships with civil society and specialized bodies. The ECRI offers Member States expert insight on how to manage racism, discrimination, and intolerance in their country. It studies each country’s legal framework for fighting discrimination and intolerance, the existence of resources to assist victims, the experience of vulnerable groups within specific countries, and the public debate around relevant issues. The Commission also studies relevant international legal instruments and proposes action at the regional level. The ECRI’s findings are published in annual reports, which examine regional trends, and country reports.
The ECRI engages in country monitoring of racism and intolerance in each of the Council of Europe’s Member States. The most recent four reports were conducted as part of the ECRI’s country monitoring efforts. Country monitoring occurs in five-year cycles, with between nine and ten countries covered each year. The ECRI then formulates recommendations specific to each Member State.
The ECRI also issues general policy recommendations addressed to all Member States. They provide detailed advice to policymakers drafting national strategies and policies. General policy recommendation topics have included, among other things, combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, combating racism and racial discrimination in policing, combating hate speech, and safeguarding irregularly present migrants from discrimination.
Further the ECRI engages in awareness-raising about racism and intolerance among the general public, including organizing round tables and maintaining relations with civil society and specialized bodies.
The ECRI operates pursuant to Resolution Res(2002)8 on the statute of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and is comprised of independent experts appointed by each Member State of the Council of Europe.
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