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EU High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance

6th Meeting of the EU High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia
and other forms of Intolerance

Discussion on the future of the EU High Level Group


16 October 2018
Vienna, Austria


Statement by
Birgit Van Hout
Regional Representative for Europe
UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe (OHCHR)


Distinguished participants,

I would like to thank the Austrian Presidency and the EU High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance for inviting the UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe to contribute to the discussion on the future of the EU High Level Group. We greatly appreciate this opportunity.

Unfortunately, no society, no country is free from racism. This High Level Group has played an important role in addressing hate crimes through practical guidance for national authorities, such as guiding principles on hate crime, training for law enforcement and criminal justice authorities on ensuring justice, protection and support for victims of hate crime and hate speech, and how to improve the recording of hate crime by law enforcement authorities.

Discussion on the future of the EU High  Level Group

In international human rights law, hate speech is called “incitement to hatred.” I would like to take the liberty of referring to the extensive work that has been carried out by the UN Human Rights Office on the tension between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred, which culminated in the Rabat Plan of Action.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are a denial of human dignity. The definition of racial discrimination in the International Convention against All Forms of Racial Discrimination covers actions, whether deliberate or unintentional; overt as well as subtle manifestations of racism. And it covers all spheres of public life. Racism, as we know, may exist at the behavioral level, in relations between individuals, but also at the cultural or structural level. Therefore, it is important, in addition to punishing hate crimes and incitement to racial hatred, to take a holistic approach when addressing racism.

Victims of racial discrimination often belong to minorities that lack recognition for their contribution to the societies in which they live and have only limited participation in public life. Hate crimes are often “message crimes”: beyond the individual, they send a message to the community to which the victim belongs, whether Jewish, Arab, Roma or of African descent, that it is not wanted and does not belong here. Genuinely recognizing these minorities as full-fledged members with their rightful place in society, listening to them, making them visible in public discourse in a positive manner and ensuring their representation in public institutions at local, national and regional level is therefore of critical importance.

With this in mind, we would encourage the EU High Level Group to adopt a comprehensive and victim-oriented approach to its work. This would be in line with the international human rights framework against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which includes, but is not limited to hate crime and hate speech.

Public administration and the judiciary are central to the struggle against racism, because failure to protect citizens from racial discrimination or to provide redress for victims leads to an immense loss of trust in the State and rule of law. Progress has been made in tackling racial profiling in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, yet more remains to be done to eliminate racial stereotyping. CERD’s General Recommendation No. 31 on the Prevention of Racial Discrimination in the Administration and Functioning of the Criminal Justice System identifies indicators on racial discrimination and proposes preventive measures.

But racial discrimination is not just a question of civil and political rights; it is also a matter of economic and social rights and we would encourage the EU High Level Group to address both as two sides of the same coin.

There is no shortage of recommendations to States, whether from international mechanisms or regional bodies, on how to address racism. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, and the Universal Periodic Review, which is a peer review mechanism, all make recommendations in the area of racism. All these recommendations are easily accessible through the online Universal Human Rights Index. We also have a good practices against racism database.

The challenge we are facing, not only in Europe, but globally, is not a lack of recommendations, but rather the implementation of all these recommendations. It would be very interesting if this something that the EU High Level Group could take up or look into.

We recently upgraded the online Universal Human Rights Index to make it searchable by Sustainable Development Goal and target. Unlike the Millenium Development Goals, which did not apply to Europe and allowed for goals to be met in an aggregate manner, in the Sustainable Development Agenda States committed to "leave no one behind" and to start with those furthest behind.

Although the two groups are not identical, there is a certain degree of overlap between the ones most behind - the most disenfranchised - and the victims of racism. And then there are, within this group, the most vulnerable of the disenfranchised: women, youth, persons with disabilities, the elderly. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and to lift up those most left behind, we must tackle racism and inequality simultaneously. We would be interested if the EU High Level Group would explore the linkages between the anti-racism agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, as we believe that the Sustainable Development Agenda challenges us to make concrete advances in the struggle against racial discrimination.

We further encourage the EU High Level Group to link its work to other ongoing processes as well. This year, the United Nations marks the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, the International Decade for People of African Descent is being observed from 2015 until 2024. The 70th Anniversary and the Decade are unique opportunities for the EU and for Member States to increase their efforts for the fight against racism and recognize the contributions of minorities to societies in Europe. Launching the Decade on People of African Descent in Europe would also send a powerful signal across the Mediterranean at a time when the EU seeks to strengthen its partnership with Africa.

Finally, we welcome the effort of this High Level Group to increase cooperation with the EU High Level Group on Non-Discrimination, Equality and Diversity, and believe both would gain from further strengthening these efforts. Such cooperation allows for a more comprehensive approach. In addition, a cooperation between the two groups can enhance the useful transfer of knowledge and expertise. On the one hand, the EU High Level Group on Non-Discrimination, Equality and Diversity has expertise in the development and implementation of policies and programmes at EU and national level aimed at combating discrimination, promoting equality and diversity. On the other hand, the EU High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of related Intolerance can contribute expertise and good practices in the area of countering hate speech and good practices in fighting hate crime through criminal law.

I would like to conclude by reiterating the support of the United Nations for the EU High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance. The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to provide technical assistance and expertise on international human rights standards related to racism and to work with the EU High Level Group on joint initiatives as appropriate.

You can count on our cooperation. Thank you.