Image: Theme 'Discrimination and Intolerance' by Pancho

Discrimination and intolerance

What are discrimination and intolerance?

Discrimination – in all its possible forms and expressions – is one of the most common forms of human rights violations and abuse. It affects millions of people everyday and it is one of the most difficult to recognise. Discrimination and intolerance are closely related concepts. Intolerance is a lack of respect for practices or beliefs other than one's own. It also involves the rejection of people whom we perceive as different, for example members of a social or ethnic group other than ours, or people who are different in political or sexual orientation. Intolerance can manifest itself in a wide range of actions from avoidance through hate speech to physical injury or even murder.

Discrimination occurs when people are treated less favourably than other people are in a comparable situation only because they belong, or are perceived to belong to a certain group or category of people. People may be discriminated against because of their age, disability, ethnicity, origin, political belief, race, religion, sex or gender, sexual orientation, language, culture and on many other grounds, including on several grounds at the same time. Discrimination, which is often the result of prejudices people hold, makes people powerless, impedes them from becoming active citizens, restricts them from developing their skills and, in many situations, from accessing work, health services, education or accommodation.

Discrimination has direct consequences on those people and groups being discriminated against, but it has also indirect and deep consequences on society as a whole. A society where discrimination is allowed or tolerated is a society where people are deprived from freely exercising their full potential for themselves and for society.

This section describes different faces of discrimination, the way it affects human rights, as well as the measures and initiatives that are underway or should be introduced to counter intolerance and discrimination and to contribute to a culture of peace and human rights. Some of the most pervasive forms of discrimination, such as discrimination based on disability, gender or religion, are also presented in more detail in other sections of this chapter.

The principles of equality and non-discrimination are laid down in the UDHR: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" (Article 1). This concept of equality in dignity and rights is embedded in contemporary democracy, so states are obliged to protect various minorities and vulnerable groups from unequal treatment. Article 2 enshrines freedom from discrimination: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind".

The Council of Europe member states are also committed to non-discrimination in Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This article only gives protection from discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of the other rights set forth in the convention. Protocol 12 to the ECHR was drawn up to provide a stronger, free-standing right to equality and a general prohibition of discrimination: "The enjoyment of any right set forth by law shall be secured without discrimination on any ground…"1 Thus, this protocol broadens the scope of the ECHR as it covers discrimination in any legal right, even when that right is not specifically covered by the convention.

Question: Has your country ratified Protocol 12 to the ECHR?

Direct and indirect discrimination

Discrimination may be practised in a direct or indirect way. Direct discrimination is characterised by the intent to discriminate against a person or a group, for example when an employment office rejects Roma job applicants or a housing company does not lend flats to immigrants. Indirect discrimination occurs when an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice de facto puts representatives of a particular group at a disadvantage compared with others. Examples may range from a minimum height criterion for fire-fighters (which may exclude many more female than male applicants) to the department store which does not hire people who cover their heads. These rules, apparently neutral in their language, may in fact disproportionately disadvantage members of certain social groups. Both direct and indirect discrimination are forbidden under the human rights instruments; Indirect discrimination is often more pervasive and difficult to prove than direct discrimination.

Question: Have you ever felt discriminated against?

Structural discrimination

The key element in structural discrimination is not the intent but the effect of keeping minority groups in a subordinate position.
Fred Pincus

Structural discrimination is based on the very way in which our society is organised. The system itself disadvantages certain groups of people. Structural discrimination works through norms, routines, patterns of attitudes and behaviour that create obstacles in achieving real equality or equal opportunities. Structural discrimination often manifests itself as institutional bias, mechanisms that consistently err in favour of one group and discriminate against another or others. These are cases when the resulting discrimination is clearly not rooted in an individual's conviction regarding a person or a group of people, but in institutional structures, be they legal, organisational, and so on. The challenge of structural discrimination is to make it visible, as we often grow up with it being self-evident and unquestioned.

The existence of structural discrimination leaves states with the challenge of adopting policies that look not only at the legal framework but at other incentives as well, taking into account patterns of behaviour and how different institutions operate. Human rights education may be one of the responses to this problem.

Affirmative action

Structural inequality is a state which arises when certain groups enjoy unequal status in relation to other groups, as a result of unequal relations in their roles, functions, rights and opportunities. The fight against dis-crimination should step out of the courts and into the sphere of education and politics.
Mirjana Najcevska, Chair of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

In some cases a preferential or positive treatment of people belonging to certain groups may be applied as an attempt to alleviate or redress the harms caused by structural discriminations. Affirmative action, sometimes called "positive discrimination", may not only be allowed but even welcomed in order to counter inequality. For example, economic differences between rural and urban areas may lead to a different level of access to services. This may result in inequality unless special efforts are taken to counterbalance the effects of the original economic imbalance. In such cases the preferential treatment is necessary to secure effective equality rather than causing inequality.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stipulates that affirmative action programmes may be required of countries that have ratified the convention, in order to rectify systematic discrimination. Such measures, however, "shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved".

Multiple discrimination

Each one of us belongs to or identifies with several social groups. When dealing with any particular disadvantaged social group, it is important to be aware of the internal heterogeneity of the group and the potential for multiple grounds of discrimination. These multiple identifications not only mean more possibilities of discrimination, but can also come from several directions: for example, a lesbian Roma woman might be subject to multiple discrimination by heterosexual non-Roma; at the same time she can be subject to homophobia within the Roma community and subject to racism within the LGBT community. In most cases multiple discrimination occurs to so-called visible minorities, women and people with disabilities.

Majorities and minorities

Civilisation should be judged by its treatment of minorities.
Mahatma Gandhi

Discrimination is usually exerted by majorities upon minorities, even though discrimination from minorities also exists. Being in the majority is a static or a dynamic situation, depending on many factors. When we are on the winning side in a democratic election, we are in the majority as a result of our convictions, a decision, or, for example, the outcome of a vote. If our convictions change, or the party we support loses the next election, our majority status is no longer valid. There are more static positions of majority and minority, when one or several aspects of our identity (nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, lifestyle, disability) are representative of a group that constitutes less (usually much less) than 50% of the whole of the population of a given geographical unit.

Democracies are vulnerable to the "tyranny of majority": a situation in which the majority rule is so oppressive that it completely disregards the needs and wants of members of minorities. The human rights framework not only protects citizens from the oppression of an individual or a small group of individuals, but is also a means of protection for minorities against the majority.

Majority is not necessarily dependent on the number of people in the group (though it often coincides), but rather with who has the power to make decisions. This aspect – decision-making power – is very important in the dynamic of minority-majority relations.

Question: Can you think of someone who may never experience discrimination?

The role of stereotypes and prejudices

Give me a prejudice and I'll move the world.
Gabriel García Márquez

A stereotype is a generalised belief or opinion about a particular group of people, for example, that entrepreneurs are ambitious, public servants are humourless, or that women have long hair and wear skirts. The main function of stereotypes is to simplify reality. Stereotypes are usually based either on some kind of personal experience or on impressions that we have acquired during early childhood socialisation from adults surrounding us at home, in school or through mass media, which then become generalised to take in all the people who could possibly be linked.3

All representation is misrepresentation in one form or the other.
Edward Said

A prejudice is a judgment, usually negative, we make about another person or other people without really knowing them. Just like stereotypes, prejudices are learned as part of our socialisation process. One difference between a stereotype and a prejudice is that when enough information is available about an individual or a particular situation, we do away with our stereotypes. Prejudice rather works like a screen through which we perceive any given piece of reality: thus, information alone usually is not enough to get rid of a prejudice, as prejudices alter our perceptions of reality; we will process information that confirms our prejudice and fail to notice or "forget" anything that is in opposition. Prejudices are, therefore, very difficult to overcome; if contradicted by facts, we'd rather deny the facts than question the prejudice ("but he's not a real Christian"; "she is an exception").

Discrimination and intolerance are often based on or justified by prejudice and stereotyping of people and social groups, consciously or unconsciously; they are an expression of prejudice in practice. Structural discrimination is the result of perpetuated forms of prejudice, which led to specific categories of people having access to power and decision making, to the detriment of other groups.

Forms of intolerance and discrimination


The Oxford English Dictionary defines xenophobia as "a morbid fear of foreigners or foreign countries". In other words, it means an irrational aversion to strangers or foreigners; it is irrational because it is not necessarily based on any direct concrete experiences of threat posed by foreigners. Xenophobia is a prejudice related to the false notion that people from other countries, groups, cultures, or speaking other languages are a threat.
Xenophobia is closely related to racism: the more "different" the other is perceived, the stronger the fears and negative feelings tend to be. Xenophobia is one of the most common forms of and grounds for discrimination and it is for this that it is a challenge to human rights.

Question: Who are the targets of xenophobia in your society?


Prejudice squints when it looks, and lies when it talks.
Laure Junot, Duchess de Abrantès

Some prejudices may transform into ideologies and feed hatred. One such ideology is racism. Racism involves discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards people because of their imagined "inferiority". There has been wide-spread belief that there are human races within the human species, distinguishable on the basis of physical differences. Scientific research shows, however, that "human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups"4, and that race is an imagined entity or social construct. All humans belong to the same species and, therefore, it makes no sense to talk of "races".

The impact of racist ideologies has been devastating to humanity; it has justified slavery, colonialism, apartheid, forced sterilisations and annihilations of peoples. It has been the basis of the Nazi and fascist ideologies and of the programmes to exterminate Jews and other people deemed inferior by the Nazis and their collaborators.

Unfortunately, racism continues to be present in contemporary European societies and politics. Although race is no longer accepted as a biological category and only few people believe now in "superior races" with an inherent right to exercise power over those considered "inferior", the impact of racism lingers on and takes on different forms, such as cultural racism or ethnocentrism, the belief that some cultures, usually their own, are superior or that other cultures, traditions, customs and histories are incompatible with theirs.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

21 March commemorates the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when the police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid laws in Sharpeville, South Africa.
UNITED for Intercultural Action, a European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees, co-ordinates a European-wide action week around this date to promote tolerance and equal rights, and to celebrate diversity in Europe.7

Discrimination, xenophobia and racism are widespread in many parts of the world: there are around 160 million Dalits (Untouchables) in India suffering from the caste system. In the USA, race is a key factor in de-termining who is sentenced to death.  Hospitals in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have practised involuntary sterilisation of Roma women into the 21st century.6

The widespread practices of deportation and unequal treatment of migrants, as well as the structural discrimination against certain ethnic minorities such as Roma by many governments, nourishes xenophobia and latent racist feelings. Hate-motivated crimes that are supported by racist ideology are regularly in the news in many of the Council of Europe member states.

Question: Can you point out any recent cases of racist violence in your country?


Antisemitism can be defined as "hostility towards Jews as a religious or minority group often accompanied by social, economic, and political discrimination"9. Antisemitism has been widespread in European history up to the present. It is often called “the longest hatred”. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and many Jews were killed or forced to leave. In Spain, in 1492 the entire Jewish population was expelled from the country. This followed the 1391 massacre when tens of thousands of Jewish people were killed. By the end of the 19th century, Jewish communities in Russia had regularly became victims of pogroms, which were systematic discriminatory acts of violence against Jewish communities organized by the local population, often with the passive consent or active participation of law enforcement, encouraged by the antisemitic policies. These are just a few examples, but attacks on Jewish communities were common in other European countries including among others France and Austria, along with severe discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion and perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices.

The rise of Fascism in the first part of the 20th century brought further hardship for Jews in Europe, as antisemitism became part of the racist ideologies in power. This is true for Fascist regimes that collaborated directly or indirectly with the Nazis, but other societies and systems were also influenced by racist ideologies.
During the Holocaust, perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its allies between 1933 and 1945, known also as the Shoah, an estimated 6 million Jews were systematically exterminated for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews.

With the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, pogroms ceased in the Soviet Union but antisemitism continued in different forms, including forced displacements, confiscation of property and show trials. Under communist regimes, antisemitism was often also disguised under official "anti-Zionist" policies.

Racism has gained a new respect as a commonsense solution to pressing political problems. Of course we don't call it racism. We call it anti-terrorism or immigration policy.
Alana Lentin8

Today, antisemitism remains widespread in Europe, even if in some cases it is harder for the public to identify or to admit. In recent years, Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, Jews are regular targets of hate speech and they are sometimes physically attacked. Research regularly indicates ongoing high levels of antisemitism among mainstream European societies, accompanied by sporadic rises.
As the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) pointed out, it is an alarming trend in Europe, that despite all efforts antisemitism "continues to be promoted, openly or in a coded manner, by certain political parties and leaders, including not only extremist parties, but also certain mainstream parties"10, and in many cases there is tolerance or even acceptance of these agendas by certain segments of the population.

Question: What are the main forms in which antisemitism is manifested in your country?

Young people working against antisemitism

Movement against Intolerance (Spain)
High School students repainted parts of Picasso's "Guernica" and reassembled them on a big wall in a public action to show that the fatal realities of the past are present here and now. During this process the symbols used in the painting and its relation to the Holocaust and the "Kristallnacht Pogrom" were explained to the audience.

Holocaust Centre and Foundation (Russia): International contests "Holocaust lessons – a way to Tolerance"
Since 2002 this centre has run memorial programmes and international educational activities about tolerance and the Holocaust, including an annual contest for students and teachers from Russia, other European and CIS countries, Israel and the USA.

The Resolution 1563 (2007) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe urges the member states to criminalise and/or implement such legislation which condemns antisemitism, including, but not limited to Holocaust denial, whether it is committed by individuals, groups or even political parties.11

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) of the European Union publishes overviews of the situation of antisemitism in its member states. In their 2010 update on antisemitism in the EU, the Agency noted that "most Member States do not have official or even unofficial data and statistics on antisemitic incidents". The Agency has recognised the importance of Holocaust education as a means of addressing antisemitism, and over the years has initiated and participated in several joint projects in this area.12

Discrimination against Roma people: Antigypsyism / anti-Roma racism

Image: Romaphobia and Antigypsyism by PanchoThe name Roma or Romani is a collective title for a very diverse ethnic group of people who self-identify as members of various sub-groups based for example on current or past geographical location, dialect, and occupation. There are approximately 10 million Roma in Europe. A few groups live as travellers with no permanent home, but the majority is now living under sedentary conditions: there are urbanised Roma groups as well as many living in more or less segregated neighbourhoods or sections of smaller towns or villages. Roma are present in virtually all European countries.

Antigypsyism can be defined as a specific form of racism, an ideology of racial superiority, a form of dehumanisation and of institutionalised rac-ism applied against Roma people. "It is based, on the one hand, on imag-ined fears, negative stereotypes and myths and, on the other, on denial or erasure from the public conscience of a long history of discrimination against Roma."13

Discrimination against Roma is deep rooted and a common reality all over Europe. As the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out, there are alarming trends throughout Europe, strongly resembling Nazi ideology and reasoning in relation to Roma, such as fears for safety and public health. Rhetoric criminalising the whole Roma population is also very common throughout the member states.14
As Roma are more likely to be discriminated against, the Roma population is disproportionately vulnerable to armed conflicts, natural catastrophes or economic crises. In many countries, Roma have been victims of violent racist groups (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and so on), resulting in murders. Roma were caught in the crossfire of the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia; Roma neighbourhoods and villages are often segregated and isolated.15 Many young Roma grow up in hostile social environments where the only support and recognition they have is in their own community or family. They are denied many basic rights such as education or health, or have limited access to them.

Question: What is the estimated proportion of Roma in the population of your country?

Deportations of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma in 2010

In 2010, the French government announced a crackdown on illegal camps of Roma who had recently migrated to France, and sent several thousand of their inhabitants back to Romania and Bulgaria, claiming that Roma settlements are major sources of crime and a public nuisance.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sharply criticised France's crackdown and said that racism and xenophobia were undergoing a "significant resurgence". At the same time, opinion polls suggested that as many as 65% of French people backed the government's tough line.16 The European Committee of Social Rights concluded unanimously that the forced evictions of Roma constituted a violation of rights provided for in the revised European Social Charter, including the freedom from discrimination and the right to housing.17

Porrajmos refers to the genocide of European Roma perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies between 1933 and 1945. The estimated number of victims varies, according to different sources, from between half a million to 2 million, leading to the loss of up to 70% of the pre-war Roma population.

Question: What are the typical ways of presenting Roma in the news in your country?

A greater awareness and concern about the Roma is slowly emerging. The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005–2015 stands as an unprecedented political commitment by European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma.19 Actions and programmes by young people have also contributed to counteracting intolerance and prejudices towards Roma by deconstructing the stereotypes many of us have grown up with. The international campaign Typical Roma?, for instance, addressed stigmatisation and stereotypes as root causes of the social exclusion of Roma.20

Effects on young people [of Romaphobia] include passivity, frustration, marginalisation, as well as mutual stereotyping and fear to interact with others due to the segregation and the wrong perceptions of the "others" and the lack of possibilities to interact.18

The Council of Europe began working against the discrimination of Roma in 1969 by adopting the first official text on the "situation of Gypsies and other Travellers in Europe". In 2006, the Council of Europe launched the Roma campaign Dosta!, an awareness-raising effort that aims at bringing non-Roma closer to Roma people.
In 2010 the Strasbourg Declaration on Roma was adopted at a High Level Meeting; in the declaration the member states agreed on prioritising action for non-discrimination and social inclusion of Roma, including the active participation of Roma.

In 2012 the youth sector of the Council of Europe, together with European Roma networks and organisations, initiated a Roma Youth Action Plan in order to improve the participation of Roma youth in European policies on Roma and youth, and to counter effects of discrimination on young Roma.

ECRI also pays attention to the situation of Roma in Europe; its General Recommendation 13 (2011) on Combating Antigypsyism and Discrimination against Roma stresses that antigypsyism is an "especially persistent, violent, recurrent and commonplace form of racism" and urges governments to combat antigypsyism in the fields of education, employment, housing and health and combat racist violence and crimes against Roma.

Roma are the true Europeans.
Günter Grass

The European Union is also increasingly acknowledging the need to counteract the effects of discrimination against Roma in its member states. In April 2011, the European Commission issued "An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020"21, which stated that "In spite of some progress achieved both in the Member States and at EU level over the past years, little has changed in the day-to-day situation of most of the Roma".

Young people learn about the Roma Genocide 

DIKH HE NA BISTER (“Look and don’t forget” in Romani) – the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative, mobilises each year thousands of young Roma and non-Roma all over Europe on the occasion of the 2 August – the European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma – to advance remembrance, recognition and education about the Genocide of Roma people. The event is a space of learning about the past, as well as of reflection about the role of young people in Holocaust remembrance. The initiative creates a dialogue and personal encounter of young people with Holocaust survivors. Their testimonies inspire the participants to address and resist against current challenges of antigypsyism, and other forms of racism in Europe today.

Intolerance based on religion

Freedom of religion and religious tolerance are basic values present in every European country, yet acts of discrimination based on religion have not yet disappeared. Religious intolerance is often linked with racism and xenophobia – particularly with Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Whereas in the past Europe was characterised by conflicts between, and discrimination of Protestant or Catholic Christians, Roman and Eastern Orthodox or "official" churches and dissenting groups, today the political differences among Christian denominations have become far less important. At the same time many religious communities in minority positions continue to thrive across Europe, including Baha'is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Rastafarians. This growing religious diversity is often ignored, as well as those millions of Europeans who are not religious.

More detailed information about discrimination based on religion can be found in the section on Religion and Belief

Religious intolerance is often linked with racism and xenophobia – particularly with antisemitism and Islamophobia, leading thus to multiple and intersectional discrimination.


Trainings for schools, youth and public authorities are offered by CEJI to promote respect for religious diversity, to counteract prejudicial thinking and underline the importance of social action. Specific training programs have been developed in order to address: 
- Religious diversity and anti-discrimination
- Overcoming antisemitism
- Overcoming Islamophobia
- Reconciling religion, gender and sexual orientation.

Question: What minority religions exist in your country?

Discrimination based on gender identity, gender or sexual orientation

Gender-related discrimination includes the discrimination of women as opposed to men (this form is also called sexism or sex discrimination) and that of transgender or transsexual people, whose gender identity is inconsistent or not culturally associated with their assigned sex. Discrimination based on sexual orientation affects homosexual and bisexual people. As equality between women and men is discussed in detail in the section on Gender, here we only address the other forms of gender- or sex-related discrimination.

Homophobia is often defined as "an irrational fear of and aversion to homosexuality and of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT22) people, based on prejudice, similar to racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and sexism"23, as well as people who are perceived as being LGBT. If directed against transgender people, it is called "transphobia". Various totalitarian regimes of the 20th century made homophobia a part of their political ideology, such as Nazism in Germany, Stalinism in the Soviet Union or Fascism in Spain. Democratic regimes in Europe have, nonetheless, justified homophobic legislation, including pathologisation and criminalisation of homosexuality, and, with it, structural discrimination of LGBT people for a long time.  Today, discrimination against LGBT people still occurs in all societies in Europe in spite of the fact that many states have adopted anti-discrimination legislation.  Many LGBT people cannot fully enjoy their universal human rights, run the risk of becoming victims of hate crime and may not receive protection when attacked in the street by fellow citizens.

When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.
Epitaph on the grave of Leonard Matlovich, gay and war veteran

In many parts of the world, LGBT people are subjected to different forms of violence that range from verbal attacks to being murdered. In many countries in the world, the practice of homosexuality is still a crime and in some of them it is punishable by a prison sentence or the death penalty24.

61% of young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons from 37 European countries claimed that they experienced prejudice and/or dis-crimination in school, and 51% in their family. 38% of respondents said they had experienced prejudice and/or discrimination in a community they belonged to and 30% did so in their circle of friends.25

LGBT people are often denied their human rights, for example the right to work, as they get fired or are discriminated against by employers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The right to safety and security of a person is another which is very often violated when (young) people are bullied at school or harassed in the work place. Lesbian and gay couples in many countries of Europe feel discriminated in such areas as the right to marry, to constitute a family or to adopt children.

Question: In what areas of life are LGBT persons discriminated against in your country?

Council of Europe's work

The European Court of Human Rights has often had a pioneering role in sanctioning homophobia. In a series of cases the court found that discrimination in the criminal law regarding consenting relations between adults in private was contrary to the right to respect for private life in Article 8 of the ECHR (Dudgeon v. UK, 1981, Norris v. Ireland, 1988, Modinos v. Cyprus, 1993). The Court was in fact the first international body to find that sexual orientation criminal laws violate human rights and has had the longest and largest jurisprudence in addressing sexual orientation issues. There have also been several cases related to single-parent adoption.

In 2011, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights published his report on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The report welcomed the advances made in the field of LGBT rights in most member states, stating that "the pathologisation and criminalisation of homosexuality in Europe clearly belong to the past". At the same time the report noted that serious concerns remain in many areas of human rights of LGBT persons, and this is especially true of the rights of transgender persons.26
The Council of Europe set up a unit on LGBT Issues in order to to streamline work on LGBT matters. This was announced as the first-ever structure of its kind in an international intergovernmental institution and signals the importance of LGBT issues within the framework of human rights in Europe.

Education, both formal and non-formal, play a central role in reducing and eradicating prejudice against LGBT people. It is only through education that prejudices can be addressed and challenged. The programmes of the European Youth Centres and of the European Youth Foundation regularly feature human rights education and training activities for multipliers and activists against homophobia. These include study sessions organised in co-operation with youth organisations such as the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organization (IGLYO) and the Association of Nordic and Pol-Balt LGBTQ Student Organizations (ANSO).

Counteracting Discrimination


Gender Matters
In 2007 the Council of Europe's youth sector published Gender Matters, a manual to assist educators and youth leaders work on issues of gender and gender-based violence with young people.

There are several approaches to anti-discrimination and anti-racist activities including:

  • legal action to enforce the right to non-discrimination
  • educational programmes that raise awareness about the mechanisms of prejudice and intolerance and how they contribute to discriminate and oppress people, and on the appreciation of diversity and promoting tolerance
  • activism by civil society to denounce discrimination and prejudice, to counteract hate crimes and hate speech, to support victims of discrimination or to promote changes in legislation.

Educators recognise the need to develop in every person a tolerant, non-discriminatory attitude and create a learning environment that acknowledges and benefits from diversity instead of ignoring or excluding it. As part of this development, those who work with children or youth, as well as children and young people themselves, should become aware of their own and others' discriminatory behaviours. For instance, human rights educational activities can help participants to develop awareness and empathy on the one hand, and resilience and assertiveness on the other hand so that people can avoid, prevent or stand up against discrimination.

The Education Pack ‘All Different – All Equal' was developed by the Council of Europe to promote awareness and action against racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia and intolerance.

Intercultural learning is the process of learning about diversity and has been a central approach in European youth work. In the youth field of the Council of Europe, intercultural learning is presented as "a process of social education aimed at promoting a positive relationship between people and groups from different cultural backgrounds"27 and promotes mutual respect and solidarity.

International human rights framework

United Nations

One of the primary tools of fighting discrimination within the UN system is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which commits the signatory states to the elimination of racial discrimination. The Convention includes an individual complaints' mechanism and is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a body of independent experts. All states parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee, which in turn addresses its concerns and recommendations to the state party in the form of "concluding observations". The Committee has three other mechanisms for its monitoring functions: the early-warning procedure, the examination of inter-state complaints and the examination of individual complaints.
Other conventions of the UN address discrimination against specific groups, such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women or the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

OSCE is a regional security organisation with 56 member states from three continents (including all the Council of Europe member states). The OSCE also participates in combating all forms of racism, xenophobia and discrimination, including antisemitism, and discrimination against Christians and Muslims. One of its institutions is the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) which:

  • Collects and distributes information and statistics on hate crimes
  • Promotes best practices in the fight against intolerance and discrimination
  • Provides assistance to participating states in drafting and reviewing legislation on crimes fuelled by intolerance and discrimination.

The OSCE has a High Commissioner on National Minorities whose mandate includes identifying and seeking the early resolution of tensions involving national minority issues.

The European Union anti-discrimination policies

We … acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity … and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
From the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action28

According to Article 21.1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, "any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation, shall be prohibited".
The EU has several anti-discrimination Directives. The Racial Equality Directive ensures equal treatment between people, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. The Employment Equality Framework Directive prohibits discrimination in the workplace on grounds of disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age. The equality of men and women are provided for in two Directives, one in matters of employment and occupation the other in the access to and supply of goods and services29.
The EU legislation also requires that each member state has a designated national equality body which can be contacted for advice and support.

Questions around the denial of asylum to refugees, deaths of many migrants on the EU borders, Islamophobia, and the deportation of Roma continue to divide the European Union members and tarnish its record of anti-discrimination efforts. A threat to human rights also comes from political parties which in power pass de facto discriminative legislation. These problems can be remedied only by a comprehensive policy, including youth policy in the sphere of non-discrimination, combating racism and intolerance.

The Council of Europe

Combating racism and intolerance was at the heart of the creation of the Council of Europe in 1949, and remains one of its priorities today. In addition to the European Convention of Human Rights and other conventions, the Council has set up specific instruments addressing racism, discrimination and intolerance. In 1993, the ECRI was created as an independent human rights body to monitor the situation with regard to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in each member state, and to make specific recommendations to their governments and general recommendations addressed to all member states.

While the ECRI is the Council of Europe's principal body in combating racism and intolerance, other bodies and departments of the Organisation such as the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Court on Human Rights also contribute to this objective.

The Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities recognises that "[the]protection of national minorities and of the rights and freedoms of persons belonging to those minorities forms an integral part of the international protection of human rights" (Article 1). State parties to the convention are committed to guarantee to national minorities the right of equality before the law as well as in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life; ensuring their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, expression, thought, conscience and religion; and enabling national minority members to maintain, develop and preserve their culture. It also prohibits forced assimilation.30

Segregation of Roma children the Czech Republic condemned by the ECHR31

"The applicants were schoolchildren of Roma origin who were placed in "special schools" intended for pupils with learning disabilities. They submitted that they had been treated differently in the education sphere to children who were not of Roma origin in that, by being placed in special schools without justification, they received a substantially inferior education to that provided in ordinary primary schools, with the result that they were denied access to secondary education other than in vocational training centres." The Court found a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) read in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education).32

Question: Which public authorities have the responsibility to combat discrimination in your country?

European youth policies have traditionally included a strong dimension of intercultural learning and combating racism and prejudice. Agenda 2020, the main youth policy document of the Council of Europe, puts a special emphasis on "preventing and counteracting all forms of racism and discrimination on any ground" and recognises intercultural learning as a non-formal educational method "particularly relevant for promoting intercultural dialogue and combating racism and intolerance"33. One of major actions of youth work and youth policy against discrimination have been the European youth campaigns All Different – All Equal, which mobilised young people against racism, antisemitism, xenophobia and intolerance and for diversity, human rights and participation. Thousands of young people took part in the various activities of the campaign throughout Europe.
The White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue "Living Together as Equals in Dignity" was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2008 and provides guidelines and analytical and methodological tools for the promotion of intercultural dialogue by policymakers and practitioners. It promotes intercultural approaches for managing cultural diversity, based on human dignity and embracing "our common humanity and common destiny".

Despite the wide spectrum of existing instruments and approaches to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination, hostility against foreigners, violation of the rights of minorities, high levels of aggressive nationalism and banal forms of discrimination are still a daily reality in most societies across Europe. That is why it is so important today to be active and creative in promoting diversity, equality, non-discrimination and human rights.


1 Protocol No. 12 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
2  Mario Peucker, "Racism, xenophobia and structural  discrimination in sports", Country report, Germany, Bamberg, 2009, p26:
3 Education Pack "All Different – All Equal"   – "Ideas, resources, methods and activities for informal intercultural education with young people and adults" (revised edition) Council of Europe, 2005
4 For example, see American Anthropological Association Statement on "Race":
5 Racism and the administration of justice, Amnesty International, 2001, AI Index: 40/020/2001:
6 Lydia Gall, Coercive Sterilisation – an Example of Multiple Discrimination, 2010:
8 Alana Lentin, "Committed to Making a Difference. Racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and intolerance and their impact on young people in Europe" (symposium report), 2006
9 Webster's Third New International Dictionary
10 ECRI General Policy Recommendation No.9: The fight against antisemitism, June 2004, CRI(2004)37
13 Valeriu Nicolae, ergonetwork:
14 "Positions on the human rights of Roma", Position Paper from the Commissioner for Human Rights
15 Dosta! Campaign background information. 
16 Q&A: France Roma expulsions, BBC article
17 Resolution CM/ResChS(2011)9 Collective Complaint No. 63/2010  
18 Ingrid Ramberg, "Committed to Making a Difference. Racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and intolerance and their impact on young people in Europe" (symposium report), 2006
19 Learn more at
20 Learn more at
22 Intersex people (variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male) and the ones who identify themselves as "queer" may associate themselves with the LGBT community, which is then collectively referred as LGBTIQ.
23 European Parliament resolution on homophobia in Europe (P6_TA(2006)0018), January 18, 2006,
24 ILGA "State Sponsored Homophobia", May 2009:
25 "Social Exclusion of Young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People in Europe", ILGA-Europe and IGLYO, April 2006,
27 Equipe Claves, quoted in "Intercultural Learning in European Youth Work: Which Ways Forward?", by Ingrig Ramberg (ed.), Council of Europe, 2009.
28 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance:
29 Directives (2000/43/EC), (2000/78/EC), (2006/54/EC) and (2004/113/EC) respectively.
30 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities,
31 Case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic (Application No. 57325/00), Judgment, Strasbourg, 13 November 2007:
32 60 years of the European Convention on Human Rights: Roma Rights, 2010, Council of Europe
33 Final Declaration: The Future of the Council of Europe youth policy: AGENDA 2020, 8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for youth, Kyiv, 2008:

Related activities
Key Date
  • 27 JanuaryInternational Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust
  • 21 MarchInternational Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  • 8 AprilWorld Roma Day
  • 17 MayInternational Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
  • 20 JuneWorld Refugee Day
  • 2 AugustInternational Remembrance Day of the Roma Holocaust
  • 9 NovemberInternational Day against Fascism and Antisemitism
  • 16 NovemberInternational Day for Tolerance
  • 18 DecemberInternational Migrants’ Day