European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

ECRI/ EUMC Joint Round Table
LOCAL SOLUTIONS TO COMBAT RACISM

Strasbourg, Friday 21 March 2003

BACKGROUND PAPER

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March 2003, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) are organising their first Joint Round Table in Strasbourg.

This one-day event entitled “Local Solutions to Combat Racism”, aims to contribute in a positive way to the debates on problems related to racism, racial discrimination and intolerance at the local, national and European level and at the same time to further strengthen the fruitful co-operation between ECRI and the EUMC.

The objective of this Round Table will be to examine the conditions for minimising points of potential conflict between different groups in a given community - with an emphasis on practical initiatives. The chosen title “Local Solutions to Combat Racism” acknowledges the fact that problems related to racism and xenophobia are best dealt with at the local level – as close to potential victims of discrimination as possible – where members of minority groups face discrimination on a daily basis.

This main theme will be examined more closely under the following three sub-themes: (1) The application at the local level of effective national legislation against racial discrimination, incitement to racial discrimination and violence; (2) Youth and the fight against racism and intolerance; and (3) The mechanisms for dialogue, co-operation and conflict resolution and the necessary conditions for their success.

In the past ECRI has repeatedly underlined that even though legislation alone cannot eliminate racism in its many forms vis--vis various groups, efforts to promote racial justice cannot succeed without legislation. Also the EUMC has acknowledged the importance of legislation in combating racism and intolerance by the publication of a comparative study on the anti-discrimination legislation in the EU Member States. Taking therefore the international and national legal framework as a starting point, this Round Table will try to shed light on its practical implementation at the local level. For this purpose, the Round Table will not only examine existing anti-discrimination legislation, but also the necessary legal background for initiatives to promote equality of opportunity and initiatives, such as advisory councils or inter-religious dialogue, to promote good relations between people from different ethnic or religious groups.

There is no doubt that attitudes and value systems are significantly shaped in youth and childhood. Young people are key members of any community. However, there is evidence of widespread disengagement among young people. How therefore can young people be more actively involved in fighting racism and intolerance and building cohesive communities? Youth NGOs can play a crucial role in this respect and can help to build trust and respect across local communities.

Finally, the Round Table will seek solutions for dealing with local situations of conflict, which are often manifested along ethnic, cultural and religious lines, and compounded by wide-spread inequalities, which contribute significantly to prejudice and fragmentation. A vicious circle of disadvantage, manifested in sub-standard housing, poor education and a lack of job opportunities, generates communities of people who are underprivileged and excluded, and who are thus likely to be a target of racism. Under these circumstances, successful mechanisms for dialogue, co-operation and conflict resolution are urgently needed, as once people enter into a dialogue about their common concerns, stereotypical perceptions will be challenged and diversity will become acceptable.

ECRI and the EUMC hope that this first Joint Round Table will encourage reflection in the relevant governmental and non-governmental circles on the local perspective of intercultural, interethnic or inter-religious conflict, and will raise awareness among the general public about this extremely important aspect of antiracist work.