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GOOD PRACTICES:
Specialised bodies to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at national level

INTRODUCTION
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) is a mechanism established by the first Summit of Heads of State and Government of the member States of the Council of Europe, held in Vienna on 9 October 1993.

The European Conference against Racism, held in Strasbourg in October 2000, called for the strengthening of ECRI’s action. On 13 June 2002, the Committee of Ministers adopted a new Statute for ECRI, consolidating its role as an independent human rights monitoring body on issues related to racism and racial discrimination. The third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the member States of the Council of Europe, held on 16 -17 May 2005 in Warsaw, decided to further intensify the fight against racism, discrimination and every form of intolerance, by giving ECRI the means to carry out its work, in close co-operation with national authorities and institutions as well as civil society.

ECRI’s task is to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at the level of greater Europe and from the perspective of the protection of human rights. ECRI’s action covers all necessary measures to combat violence, discrimination and prejudice faced by persons or groups of persons, notably on grounds of “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality and national or ethnic origin.

ECRI has long been convinced that specialised commissions, ombudsmen or other institutions, whose mandates cover racism and racial discrimination, play an extremely important role in combating racism and intolerance at national level. ECRI has therefore always promoted the creation of such bodies in countries where they do not exist or their strengthening in countries where they exist already, as reflected in its country-specific reports and in its General Policy Recommendation N 2 on specialised bodies to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at national level (see Appendix I).

In its General Policy Recommendation N 2, ECRI expresses its profound conviction that national specialised bodies can make a very concrete contribution to protecting individuals and groups against racism and racial discrimination, through, inter alia: helping to ensure the full implementation of national legislation and policies intended to combat racism and racial discrimination; raising public awareness of these issues; protecting and promoting the rights of individuals belonging to minority groups and providing advice and information to national authorities. This Recommendation sets out basic principles concerning what the statute, form, functions, responsibility, administration and functioning of such bodies could be, with an emphasis on independence and accessibility, to serve as guidelines and a source of inspiration to member States.

ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation N 2 takes into account and is in harmony with other Council of Europe work in this field. The Council of Europe attaches great importance to the establishment and promotion of effective independent national human rights institutions and Ombudsmen to promote and protect human rights, as reflected in the Recommendations and Resolutions adopted on this subject and the regular round tables organised to bring together representatives of such bodies.

General Policy Recommendation N 2 also takes into account the “Paris Principles” – internationally accepted minimum standards concerning the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights, drawn up at the first International Meeting of the National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in Paris in October 1991, and subsequently endorsed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly.

The European Conference against Racism, organised by the Council of Europe in 2000, underlined the essential contribution of independent specialised bodies at national level in promoting equal treatment irrespective of racial or ethnic origin or religious background and called upon participating States to establish such independent specialised bodies, or, in countries where these exist, review and reinforce their effectiveness, while providing them with the adequate financial resources, competence and capacity to ensure their effective functioning. The Declaration and Progamme of Action adopted by the United Nations World Conference against Racism, held in Durban in 2001, also recognised the important role that independent national human rights institutions can play in the fight against racism and intolerance, and urged States to establish or strengthen such institutions and to provide them with the necessary competence, capacity and resources to combat racism and racial discrimination.

At European Union level, efforts have also been undertaken to strengthen the role of national specialised bodies. The European Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin requests member States to designate bodies to promote equal treatment of all persons without discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, emphasising the need for national specialised bodies whose key role is to provide assistance to victims of discrimination.

ECRI’s most recent General Policy Recommendation, General Policy Recommendation N 7 on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination (adopted on 13 December 2002), reiterates in its Chapter V on “Common Provisions” the important role of national specialised bodies in ensuring the implementation of national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination. This Recommendation states that national laws should provide for the establishment of independent specialised bodies to combat racism and racial discrimination at national level and sets out what the competences of such a body should be. (See Appendix II).

More recently, ECRI has also started to organise regular seminars with national specialised bodies in order to strengthen its working relations with them and to provide them with a platform for the exchange of good practices on important issues such as mediation and other forms of dispute resolution, ethnic data collection and how best to implement legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination.

This publication contains short descriptions of some specialised bodies of this type which already exist at national level, including their role, functions and legal status. It may serve as a source of ideas and inspiration for those involved in promoting the creation or strengthening of such bodies in the various member States of the Council of Europe.

ECRI stresses that this publication covers only those bodies which are specialised, or have particular expertise, in dealing with the problems of racism and racial discrimination. Many more general human rights commissions or similar bodies exist in the various member States of the Council of Europe which also have competence in this field.