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Press Release – 21.03.2000

International Day against Racism: ECRI publishes new reports on Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Switzerland

STRASBOURG, 21.03.2000 - On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released detailed new reports examining racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in five member States.

The reports mark the commencement of publication of a second four-year cycle of monitoring member States’ laws, policies and practices to combat racism. ECRI’s country-specific reports cover all 41 members of the Organisation, on an equal footing, in the perspective of the protection of human rights. They examine the implementation of the proposals ECRI made to the government concerned in its earlier report, provide a general up-date and contain a deeper analysis of selected issues of particular concern in the country in question. They are complied following a contact visit to the country.

ECRI recognises that in all five countries positive developments have occurred. At the same time, the reports detail continuing grounds for concern. These include:

In Belgium anti-racist laws are still very rarely applied. The incidence of discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin in employment is very important. Of deep concern is the widespread exploitation of racism in politics by extreme right-wing political parities. The occurrence of manifestations of racism and intolerance on the part of some law enforcement officials is also of especial concern.

ECRI’s concerns in Bulgaria relate particularly to the Roma/Gypsy population, which has been the target of police ill-treatment and discrimination in many fields of life, including education and employment. Levels of tolerance in the general public are perhaps lower than is commonly portrayed and there is a need to raise public awareness concerning problems of discrimination in Bulgaria.

In the Czech Republic, of special concern is the continuation of racist violence, mainly – but not exclusively – directed towards members of the Roma/Gypsy community. The incidence of discrimination towards members of this community in many fields of life, including the administration of justice and access to equal opportunities in areas such as education and employment is also of concern. The widespread lack of communication between, on the one side, the authorities and the majority population, and, on the other, members of the Roma/Gypsy community is another important issue of concern.

Hungary’s Roma/Gypsy community also suffers discrimination in many fields of life and police ill-treatment of members of this group continues to occur. Furthermore, although the membership of neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing parties is at present relatively limited, ECRI considers care needs to be taken to counter any expressions of intolerance or antisemitism in political discourse and public debate.

Although violent expressions of racism and intolerance remain sporadic in Switzerland, and a rise in antisemitism appears to have peaked, feelings of xenophobia and related intolerance remain present. Swiss society often fails to recognise that the concept of multiculturalism needs to embrace more than the traditional linguistic plurality of the country; this may compound some feelings of unease in the population around issues such as the presence of asylum–seekers or the position of the large non-citizen population (almost 20% of the population), many of whom have lived in Switzerland for very many years.

ECRI’s new reports are available on the internet site in English and French. They can be obtained in the national language of the country concerned on request: combat.racism@coe.int