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Press Release – 15.03.1999

New reports from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reveal problems of racism and related intolerance persist

STRASBOURG, 15.03.99 - Negative media attitudes towards minority groups, police malpractice towards visible minorities, continuing discrimination against Roma/Gypsies and concern about the situation of non-citizens feature prominently among key problems identified in four country reports published today on Austria, Latvia, Romania and Ukraine.

This is the fifth 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 States1. 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, antisemitism and intolerance.

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

Austria has in recent years seen a high level of immigration over a short space of time, as well as an influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Despite efforts made on a national level to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance, Austria still faces problems in these areas, including incidents of extreme violence against non-citizens, certain minority groups and even public figures who are accused of being over-friendly to such groups, as well as episodes of police brutality and other maltreatment often directed towards persons from minority groups. In ECRI’s view, Austria needs to set up a specialised body dealing exclusively with the problems of racism and intolerance, undertake more extensive awareness-raising concerning xenophobia and consider a more flexible approach to the legal situation of migrant workers.

In Latvia, which re-established its independence in 1991, the sometimes tense relations between Latvians and non-Latvian ethnic groups – about one-third of the total population mainly uses the Russian language – have been widely affected by the issues of naturalisation and rights of non-citizens. Instances of aggressive nationalism, racism and antisemitism have been observed, although these do not appear to be characteristic of the society in general and seem to relate instead to ignorance, psychological factors created by past experiences as well as to the difficult economic conditions faced by a great part of the population. ECRI considers there is a need to monitor closely the activities of the Department of Citizenship and Migration Affairs3. Arbitrary and unjustified restrictions for non-citizens, for example in employment and social rights, should be removed.

Romania, with numerous different minority groups, has to deal with continuing large areas of poverty which may contribute to feelings of xenophobia and intolerance. Particularly as regards discrimination and violence against members of the Roma/Gypsy community, problems of intolerance and manifestations of racism persist. Negative attitudes displayed by the media, which also run the risk of exacerbating antisemitic sentiments and racist attitudes in the population, should be countered. ECRI insists upon the importance of police training, since violent acts are publicly committed against members of various minority groups, particularly Roma/Gypsies, which could have the effect of implying official approval of racist acts and attitudes. Romania should also develop criminal, civil and administrative law to combat racism and intolerance. Awareness-raising for tolerance, both in the majority and minority populations, is needed.

Ukraine is confronted with a serious economic crisis. It also faces the challenge of providing for the revival and development of the Ukrainian ethnic identity without infringement of the rights of minority groups. The ultra-nationalist press frequently publishes anti-Jewish and anti-Russian diatribes and the authorities often fail to prosecute those responsible. Although many laws are new or being amended, ECRI considers Ukraine should develop a comprehensive body of legislation to combat racism and intolerance. Monitoring the resettlement of Tartar returnees in the Crimea region also requires special attention.

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; the third on Bulgaria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia in June 1998; and the fourth series on Denmark, Estonia, the Russian Federation, Spain and the United Kingdom in January 1999.

2 The first follow-up reports in 1999 will be on: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland.

3 Since ECRI’s report was written, a national referendum, in October 1998, approved amendments to the citizenship law, adopted following recommendations by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).