Parliamentary Conference on Diversity, Inclusiveness and non-Discrimination against Racism and Intolerance in Europe

25 October 2021
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Speaker Norlén,

Distinguished parliamentarians,

Dear friends,


It is an honour to be part of the opening of this important conference –

And I congratulate the Committee on Equality and Non-discrimination, the No Hate Parliamentary Alliance and the Swedish Riksdag for their commitment to addressing the grim realities of racism in Europe today.

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly has a distinguished record in tackling racial discrimination in our member states and in you, Mr Jallow, it has a strong and active General Rapporteur, to help steer that work in the right direction.

Racial prejudice and intolerance can never be excused and should never be accepted.

They are inherently unacceptable.

They perpetuate inequality.

And they erode individuals’ dignity, opportunity and capacity to realise their proper potential.

They are also a violation of the respect and fundamental rights to which everyone on the European continent is entitled.

Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits discrimination on any grounds, such as race, colour, language, and national origin.

The Convention has been ratified by every one of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states and has the force of law across our common legal space.

Governments must therefore implement it, and in particular the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

This is not some sort of a request, but a basic, legal requirement.

I also want to add the following:

Those countries that have not ratified Protocol 12 should also do so, as this provides a more general ban on discrimination, which is right, proper and moral, not least when we see today how prevalent racism remains.

Yes, many European societies have gone further than ever before to recognise and confront it.

But progress is patchy, uneven and incomplete.

We need to do more.

That’s why the Council of Europe is working with member states to help them bridge the gap to genuine equality.

Our General Policy Recommendation on combating racism and racial discrimination is designed to help national authorities identify these practices, ban them, and conduct effective and independent investigations.

Our cooperation programmes have developed tools to root out institutionalised racism and enhance states’ capacity to confront it, including within law enforcement agencies such as the police –

Not least to increase victims’ trust in the authorities and their confidence in reporting crimes.

And we have taken steps to help member states with systemic racism too.

This is not necessarily about deliberate wrongdoing.

Rather, it is where discrimination has become embedded in the way that policymakers, employers and service providers operate.

This can be subtle, but insidious.

Here, our ever-expanding Intercultural Cities Programme has helped local authorities to recognise where prejudice hides, the factors that feed it, and how to ensure the cooperation, respect and trust that should replace it –

Because a community that embraces each of its members is one that thrives for the benefit of all.

This philosophy also underpins our Model Framework for an Intercultural Integration Strategy and the complementary recommendation that we are drafting for the governments of our member states –

Both of which are designed to tackle the problem through inclusive policies at every level of government.

In terms of specific communities, we have a new recommendation on preventing and combating antisemitism;

A revised recommendation on combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, which will be published next year;

And a Strategic Action Plan for Roma and Traveller Inclusion –

All of which are designed to help determine, prevent and remedy the hate that is all too often directed at people from these groups.

We also undertake a range of activities to protect migrants and asylum seekers who often face hostility while seeking a better life.

Dear friends, but we all know that individual policies are not enough.

Ultimately, change must come from the bottom up:

For European society to embrace inclusion and reject racism whenever and wherever it rears its head.

Certainly, we can help encourage that change.

And we are at work on a comprehensive approach to addressing hate speech, including online, where racism is not only prevalent but enabled by anonymity and stoked by extremism.

This will include proposals on clearly defined legal frameworks, regulation of the internet and internet companies, and non-legal measures such as awareness-raising, victim support and national and international cooperation.

Our newly-created Steering Committee on Anti-discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion provides an intergovernmental, expert-driven structure that is guiding that work.

Of course, the complex, intersectional nature of racism is deeply entrenched.

Its historical and contemporary roots must be explored and understood, and steps taken to break down the cultural barriers that stand in the way of progress.

The Council of Europe is ready to play its part.

Your work in the Parliamentary Assembly will be crucial, including your No Hate Parliamentary Alliance that is doing such good work in pushing for change.

Ultimately, we must take a human rights-centred approach.

And human rights belong to everyone.

While racism persists, our job is not done.

I wish you a successful conference, exploring and discussing key areas, and last but not least how we can, together, make a difference.

Thank you for your attention.