European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

10 years of combating racism

Palais de l’Europe, Room 1
Strasbourg, Thursday 18 March 2004

Legislation, an effective tool for combating racism

At the European Conference against Racism held in Strasbourg in 2000, the governments of Council of Europe member states undertook to introduce and implement national laws and administrative measures to prevent racism and prohibit racial discrimination in all spheres of public life.

In its country-specific reports, ECRI regularly recommends that member states adopt effective legal measures to combat racism and racial discrimination. It therefore decided to adopt a General Policy Recommendation (N7) on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination.

This Recommendation is of contemporary relevance to Council of Europe member states. 28 States have, to date, signed Protocol N12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a general prohibition of discrimination, and 5 States have ratified it. Once this Protocol will come into force, ie after it has been ratified by 10 States, the European Court of Human Rights will be able to consider individual applications in this domain.

In its Recommendation, ECRI stresses the vital importance of appropriate legal measures in combating racism and racial discrimination effectively and in a way which both acts as a deterrent and, as far as possible, is perceived by the victim as satisfactory.

Racial discrimination can take different forms, all of which must be covered by legislation. It is often very difficult to prove discrimination, as the conclusive evidence is in the hands of the guilty party. Civil and administrative law should therefore ensure that the burden of proof is shared between the victim and the perpetrator of the discrimination to make the law more effective.

Action must be taken against racist remarks and acts, particularly through criminal law. As argued by the European Court of Human Rights itself, it is unacceptable for people to deny, for racist reasons, the existence of crimes against humanity. It should be possible to dissolve organisations with racist aims and to punish their leaders. These are only some of the provisions that ECRI recommends that states incorporate into their domestic legislation in order to combat racism and racial discrimination effectively.

Nevertheless, if these provisions are to be fully effective, it is essential that the authorities, in particular the police and the courts, implement them. They should on no account remain a dead letter, which means it is necessary to organise not only a widespread campaign to inform the public and potential victims but also staff training courses on discrimination. That is one of the reasons why, in both Recommendation N7 and in its General Policy Recommendation N21, ECRI stresses the need to establish a specialised national body, with local branches, to combat racism and racial discrimination.

ECRI is aware that legislation alone cannot eliminate racism and racial discrimination, but it also firmly believes that racism and racial discrimination cannot be combated without legislation.

1 ECRI General Policy Recommendation N2: Specialised bodies to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at national level.