The Commissioner's Human Rights Comments

Back Europe must combat racist extremism and uphold human rights

Human Rights Comment
Europe must combat racist extremism and uphold human rights

Europe has been experiencing a worrying intensification of activities of racist extremist organisations, including political parties. According to some commentators, the upsurge has even reached the point of “an early form of far right terror”.

It worries me deeply that the European community and national political leaders appear not to be fully aware of the serious threat that these organisations pose to the rule of law and human rights.

The philosophy of racist extremist organisations is centred on denying the entitlement of “others” – mainly migrants and members of national, ethnic and religious minorities – to human rights and fundamental freedoms. They invent “enemies” who have to be fought and eliminated.

In Greece, for example, between October 2011 and December 2012 around 220 racist attacks were reported to the Racist Violence Recording Network headed by UNHCR and the National Commission for Human Rights. That is about one attack every other day. In my recent report concerning Greece I underlined the need to curb hate crime and combat impunity for hate crimes.

Influencing national parliaments

The phenomenon is all the more serious as it is paired with an increased influence of racist extremist political parties in national parliaments and governments, and endeavours by these parties to strengthen their position at European level through alliances.

For example in Hungary, Jobbik, self-described as “radically patriotic”, entered the parliament in 2010 as the third largest party. In Sweden polls show a rise in popularity for the Sweden Democrats (SD), a party with neo-Nazi roots, and the same goes for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece.

This political presence lends legitimacy and credibility to political extremism that is often linked to racist and other hate crimes. The main targets are migrants and Muslims, as well as particularly vulnerable social groups such as Roma and other minorities. Many such cases are recorded, for example in Hungary, Italy and Serbia.

Low awareness among politicians and law-enforcement

European political parties and national parliaments should be more aware of this trend. Instead, on many occasions political leaders, through their statements and policies, add force to racist extremism expressed by xenophobic and intolerant far-right political organisations.

Some serious cases also point to failures on the part of the police and intelligence services to adequately address racist extremism. For example in Germany members of the National Socialist Underground murdered 10 persons between 2000 and 2007 without the police connecting the dots. The same thing happened in Sweden where a man shot seven persons, two of them fatally, in 2009-10. For a long time the murders were described as “gang-related” by the police.

What should be done

  • European states must fully abide by and give effect to the standards contained in the 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, especially its core provision of Article 4 concerning the sanctioning of racist organisations.
  • In this context, states should revise their legislation to effectively penalise participation in racist extremist groups.
  • Existing national legislation concerning racist extremism needs to be updated and strengthened along the lines of Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of the Council of the European Union concerning the combating of racism and xenophobia.
  • The use of hate speech and participation in racist activities should be a basis for serious, dissuasive disciplinary measures to be imposed on MPs by parliaments and political parties.
  • Countries should take measures to provide systematic, continuous anti-racism training of all law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges involved in the investigation and prosecution of racist crimes.
  • States should ensure that victims of extremism have unimpeded access to national justice and effective protection. Particular attention should be paid to migrant victims without residence status.
  • National authorities should be particularly vigilant concerning racist extremism within law enforcement authorities and eradicate impunity notably through independent and effective complaint mechanisms.
  • Human rights education should be systematically included and emphasised in schools.

A human rights based approach necessary

Racist violence, as opposed to other forms of violence, has a broader destructive impact on human dignity and social cohesion. This is why it should be treated more seriously than other forms of violence and extremism.

Individuals and organisations involved in such acts are a threat to the pillars of democracy. They erode human rights to which democratic countries adhere, and undermine the rule of law. States have to ensure the protection of human rights through the eradication of impunity, effective protection of victims, and systematic, on-going awareness work notably through education.

National authorities need to be vigilant and combat racism and extremism at all levels of society.

Nils Muižnieks

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Strasbourg 13/05/2013
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