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Press Release – 26.01.1999

European Governments urged to do more to tackle racism

STRASBOURG, 26.01.99 – Discrimination against members of minority groups, police malpractice, the spread of racism via the Internet and a growth in right-wing extremist networks are among the key problems tackled in anti-racism reports, published today, on Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

This is the fourth series of country-by-country spot-check reports from the COUNCIL OF EUROPE’S European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which is to publish reports on all 40 of the Council’s member countries by the end of this year1. Follow-up reports are planned over the next four years, with the aim being to publish reports on 10 countries a year2.

The reports identify problems and their causes and offer advice and solutions. They play a key role in the on-going dialogue between the Organisation and its member states, on curbing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance.

These latest reports can be accessed in full on ECRI’s Internet site, in English and in French, and are available in hard copy in the national language of the country concerned. Specific proposals include:

Denmark, which has an advanced Scandinavian-style welfare state, has recently seen a growth in hostility towards refugees and immigrants. It needs to: implement a structured action plan to combat racism; develop a specialised anti-racism body with powers to investigate individual complaints; counter the spread of racist, particularly Nazi, propaganda through existing laws; and, tackle discrimination in the housing and employment sectors.

Estonia, a young democracy undergoing transition, is not currently subject to severe or violent manifestations of racism, xenophobia or intolerance, although there are problems faced by the Russian-speaking populations, particularly concerning their access to citizenship. Some anti-Semitic incidents have also occurred in recent years. Vigilance is needed to ensure racism and discrimination do not develop and awareness-raising on human rights is needed among the general public and target groups.

Russia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural country, struggling to cope with sudden and radical changes in its political, social and economic fabric. Inter-ethnic tensions are rife, as well as direct and indirect discrimination, and even violence against certain minority ethnic groups. The current economic crisis and inadequate and inconsistent laws and law enforcement have exacerbated the situation. The country needs to develop: an effective body of anti-discrimination law; effective specialised anti-racism bodies; and, an effective judicial and law enforcement system. It must tackle alleged malpractice and brutality by the police against visible minorities (including Caucasians, Central Asians and third-world refugees) and do more to promote religious tolerance and equality. The discriminatory effects of the propiska-type3 system, anti-Semitism and overt discrimination against particular ethnic groups – in particular, Meskhetian Turks - should be combated.

Spain, which has recently changed from a country of emigration to one of immigration, is experiencing day-to-day manifestations of racism and intolerance, particularly towards the Roma/Gypsy community, black people, North Africans and Arabs. Anti-Semitic attitudes also exist and there has been a resurgence of aggressive and violent nationalism and of some violent racist groups. Overall, however, violent racism is not widespread. Non-citizen workers are perceived as representing unfair competition in the job’s market, at a time when Spain has the highest unemployment rate in Western Europe (more than 20%). Spain needs to: swiftly and fully implement the new anti-racist provisions of its penal code; provide better statistics on racist attacks and vulnerable groups; deal with the marginalisation of the Roma/Gypsy people and of immigrants, especially those from Africa; and, combat the activities of right-wing extremist networks.

The United Kingdom, despite having one of Europe’s most highly-advanced institutional frameworks for combating racism and discrimination, does not have significantly lower recorded incidents of racial discrimination than other European states. While there is a decline in overt discrimination, indirect discrimination and intolerance persists, including in Northern Ireland. Police malpractice and a disproportionate number of deaths in custody of members of minority groups have been reported. The UK needs to: fine-tune its legislation4; collect better data according to racial groups; raise awareness of racism and measures to combat it; ensure the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act does not increase discrimination or hostility towards asylum-seekers or leave them without social support; deal with police malpractice; and establish racial incidents units in all police divisions.

ECRI also appeals to all member states, at national and international level, to fight the spread of racist materials and ideas via the Internet and computers generally.

1 The first series of reports, 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 1998; and, the third, on Bulgaria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia, in June 1998.

2 The first follow-up reports will be on: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland.

3 Under the propiska system, an individual needed permission from the authorities to register her/his place of residence. While the system has been declared unconstitutional, a similar regime has been introduced by local authorities, affecting many of the political, social and economic rights of those concerned.

4 Since ECRI’s report was written, new legislation has been adopted concerning racially-aggravated violence and harassment.