ECRI: Twenty Five Years
against Racism and Intolerance
- building a diverse Europe
It’s 1993. All over Europe a new era is dawning as countries which were once behind the Iron Curtain begin the work of rebuilding systems based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
It should be a moment of renewal and optimism, a time to celebrate. But at the same time, war, conflict and ethnic violence have returned to the continent of Europe. Old enmities have reignited, new phrases such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ are being coined for age-old crimes. Racism, intolerance and hatred are once again tearing Europe apart.
1993 was a ‘wake-up’ moment for the Council of Europe’s heads of state and government, gathering in Vienna for their first ever Summit. After all, the Council had been set up so that everyone, no matter what their race, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin, could live safely in the knowledge that they would be treated equally and fairly. Yet right in the centre of Europe, deep-rooted hatred was tearing people apart.
Catherine Lalumière, Council of Europe Secretary General at the time, explains the background to the Vienna Summit decision to create ECRI.
Their answer was innovative - a monitoring body which came to be known as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). Its job was to tackle racism at its roots, to look closely at what was happening on the ground, in each country, and to work alongside governments and agencies in those countries to build societies that not only boasted robust and effective systems to counter racism in all its forms, but also created the circumstances for diversity and appreciation of difference to flourish.
Isil Gachet, founding executive secretary of ECRI, talks about the challenges of the early days.
French ECRI member Regis de Gouttes explains the different technical approaches taken by the United Nations and the Council of Europe in the fight against racism and intolerance.
ECRI was different. Nothing like it had existed before, and although other international bodies were involved in the fight against racism, not one of them had ECRI’s breadth of scope. From the very beginning its remit was wide, with the Vienna Summit tasking it to combat ‘racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance’. As time has gone on, it has continued to build on its original mission, and now deals with many forms of intolerance, be they based on skin colour, language, religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Christian Jura, Romanian member, on how ECRI works on LGBTI issues and racism in sport.
With new forms of intolerance appearing every day, it can be a depressing venture to try and measure whether progress has been made: indeed, one of the main principles of the Council of Europe - and one of the reasons it is still not only relevant but essential today - is that as long as humans exist, work for human rights and democracy must continue. There are, however, grounds for optimism. ECRI’s methodology of working in co-operation with governments has led the vast majority of European states to either introduce or strengthen domestic anti-discrimination and anti-hate crime legislation and to set up national equality bodies. It has played a role in bringing discrimination to justice, principally through the European Human Rights Court, and has become an authoritative voice worldwide in the fight against racism and intolerance. Read more about ECRI’s track record in this booklet prepared for the 25th anniversary.
As it reaches its 25th anniversary, this flexibility will allow it to adapt to today's challenges - integrating migrants into their host societies, sharing the lessons of tolerance in schools and colleges, stopping online hate speech in its tracks and making sure that new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, are a force for the good.
Tena Simonovic Einwalter of ECRI’s Croatian member, on the need to create strong networks and adapt to new challenges such as artificial intelligence.
Els Keytsman of Belgium tells her personal story about how she overcame online hate.
Racism and intolerance have a long and unhappy history. Slavery, colonialism, the legacy of totalitarianism, all have left their mark on the way we live and interact now. By helping countries to look at their own past and the issues they face right now, by encouraging and working with them to change laws and find effective new ways to support victims, and by staying ever alert for new threats and challenges, ECRI is helping uproot old ways of thinking and spearheading a movement for active change.
Michal Vasecka of Slovakia on changing hearts and minds and on the legacy of a communist past.
ECRI’s Portuguese member Inês Ferreira Leite on slavery and colonialism, structural racism and why we ALL need to work to be tolerant.
ECRI’s beginnings were innovative, and that innovation is needed still. And yet, the need for ECRI’s monitoring and guidance has never been greater than today. Because the fight against racism and intolerance is a constant struggle. Because new challenges lie ahead. These challenges won’t be overcome simply by passing a law or signing an international convention; changes in approach and changes in attitude are needed in equal measure. Looking to the future and learning from the past, ECRI is ready for the next 25 years.