European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

Press Release – 17.06.1998

Racism reports highlight discrimination and tensions

STRASBOURG, 17.06.98 - An increase in intolerance towards foreigners, ill-treatment of members of minority groups by police and discrimination in the workplace are among the problems highlighted in six reports on racism, published today by the COUNCIL OF EUROPE'S European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

The third series of ECRI reports cover: Bulgaria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia1. Reports on all 40 of the Organisation's member states will be nearing completion by the end of 1998.

These spot-check reports identify problems and their causes and offer advice and solutions. They play a key role in the on-going dialogue between the Council and member states to curb racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance. The reports' findings include:

Bulgaria, which is undergoing major social and economic upheaval, lacks structures and policies to deal with racism and intolerance. There are particular problems with the treatment of Roma/Gypsies and the effects of a growth in trafficking in human beings. Solutions proposed include creating an ombudsman and setting up a commission to look at the situation of Roma/Gypsies.

France, which has well-developed laws to tackle racism (recently strengthened by the new Penal Code of 1994), still faces sporadic outbursts of racism and has one of the strongest and best-developed far right political groups in Europe. It needs to fine-tune its legislation, look again at treatment of refugees and illegal immigrants, and do more awareness-raising, education and training.

Italy, with a relatively low number of racist attacks in the past, has seen these increase, against a background of social and economic problems and increased clandestine immigration. Quicker and better use of existing laws, awareness-raising and a specialised commission or ombudsman to combat the problem, are set out as possible solutions.

The Netherlands has a structured and well-developed approach to racism and has taken many initiatives in this field; for example, its network of local anti-discrimination centres. Racial violence and support for extreme rightwing groups remains low, although the country is also affected by a recent Europe-wide increase in intolerance towards foreigners. Some refining of social policies, better implementation of existing laws and more monitoring and awareness-raising would improve the situation.

Portugal is a generally tolerant country with good, specific laws to combat racism and discrimination. More attention should be paid, however, to the situation of illegal immigrants and to tackling acts of violence by extremist groups. Roma/Gypsies and black people from Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa are often victimised. Proposals include: awareness-raising campaigns, training for police and creating a special task force to deal with Skinheads.

Slovakia, which is still in the process of democratisation and transition to a market economy, is facing problems with discrimination against both the Hungarian national minority, especially in terms of the official use of their language, and Roma/Gypsies, especially in terms of jobs, housing, health care and education. Recommendations include providing: awareness-raising and training for police and other officials; a Roma/Gypsy mediator; legal aid for victims of discrimination; and a consistent policy on refugees and asylum seekers.

ECRI has adopted a multidisciplinary approach to its work. In parallel with its country-by-country studies, it has so far issued four general policy recommendations to governments, which include basic guidelines for the development of comprehensive national policies to prevent racism and discrimination and to combat racism and intolerance against Roma/Gypsies. ECRI works in cooperation with other international organisations and with civil society, particularly non-governmental organisations active in this field.

1 The first series of reports were on Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta and Poland were published in September 1997; the second, on Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, Slovenia and Switzerland, in March this year. All reports are available on ECRI's Internet site.