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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009. LCCR Education Fund.

Hate Knows No Borders24

The International Component

Bias-motivated violence has been on the rise in many countries across Europe, the former Soviet Union, and North America — in some cases more than doubling in the last five years. Racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim and anti-Roma bias, religious intolerance, disability bias, and homophobia are among the prejudices that have fueled hate crimes in those countries. That trend toward rising violence continued in 2007 and 2008 for several types of hate crime, including anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic attacks. Although official data is available only for a minority of countries — mostly on racist violence alone — there were moderate to high rises in the officially recorded numbers of such attacks in 2006 and 2007 in Finland, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Information from nongovernmental monitors showed rising levels of racist violence in Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine. A 2007 European crime victimization survey of people of immigrant background revealed high levels of hate crimes in Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, despite the virtual absence of official data in those countries.

People of African origin and Roma were the targets of particularly frequent and extreme acts of racist and xenophobic violence in 2007 and 2008. Refugees and asylum seekers were also victims of numerous racist attacks. Anti-Muslim violence fueled by both racism and religious hatred continued at high levels, notably in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Mosques were desecrated or set alight, cemeteries were vandalized, and Muslim religious leaders, ordinary Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim were targeted for sometimes deadly assaults.

The level of personal violence motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice remains historically high in many countries of Europe and North America. Anti-Semitic violence rose in Canada, Germany, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Violent attacks on persons as a proportion of overall incidents continued to rise in the United Kingdom and remained at high levels in France. Hundreds of Jewish cemeteries and memorials were vandalized throughout much of the region, mostly with impunity.

In the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the Central Asian republics, bias attacks on minority Christian faiths were increasingly common. Adherents of religions deemed by governments to be nontraditional in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union were among those targeted for violence, sometimes in the context of government restrictions on religious activities and official rhetoric that vilifies such groups.

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, a new pattern of violence emerged in which Eastern European immigrants from the newly expanded E.U. were targeted with violent assaults, firebombs, and murder. In Germany, Greece, and Switzerland, anti-immigrant political campaigns generated new waves of racist violence against immigrants. In Switzerland, there were at least six firebomb or gunfire attacks on housing for asylum seekers in 2007.

In Italy, in 2007 and 2008, anti-Roma rhetoric by top leaders combined with aggressive anti-Immigration policies to help generate racist violence at a level unprecedented in recent history. In several Italian cities, pogroms devastated Roma communities housing both Italian nationals and Roma immigrants. Attackers terrorized Roma and burned their settlements to the ground as police in some cases stood by. Some public officials added fuel to the fire by calling to eradicate the presence of Roma in towns and cities in official statements both before and after the attacks.

In Ukraine and the Russian Federation, extreme nationalists targeted immigrants and national minorities considered to be "dark-skinned" for assaults and, increasingly, murders. In the Russian Federation — where the leading NGO monitor of hate crimes documented nearly 100 racist or other bias-motivated murders in 2008 — racial chauvinist attackers, in a new phenomenon, video-taped the execution style murders and attacks of minority victims.

Continuing violence motivated by hatred and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity, though still largely unseen, is an intimidating day-to-day reality for people across Europe and North America. As in the past, the years 2007 and 2008 saw the greatest public visibility for LGBT persons in the form of gay pride parades, although that visibility triggered violence and other manifestations of intolerance in several countries. While gay pride events in Eastern Europe have frequently been targeted for verbal and physical attacks, increased official protection was reported in 2007 and 2008 in a number of countries in contrast to previous years, including Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania. In others, such as Moldova and the Russian Federation, the authorities themselves continued to contribute to the danger faced by the participants in gay pride parades. In Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia, violent attacks occurred despite police action to protect the marchers.

Government and Intergovernmental Responses

Overall, government responses to the rise of bias-motivated violence have been inadequate. Despite making official commitments to combat hate crime, many governments have yet to introduce necessary legislative tools, carry out official monitoring of incidents, or implement police training, educational, and community engagement programs that would contribute to a more robust response to the problem.

While more governments are now responding to hate crime violence with monitoring and reporting systems, these governments still represent a significant minority. Some 40 governments (among the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — the OSCE) do not collect and report expressly on violent hate crimes of any kind, or do so in an extremely limited manner. Even where data on racist violence may be developed, official data is often poorly disaggregated and does not cover certain bias crime, such as anti-Roma and anti-Muslim violence. Civil society groups help to fill these gaps in many countries, and have been instrumental in pointing out failures in government responses.

Though more than 38 of the 56 OSCE states have hate crime legislation of some kind, others have no such provisions. Even when hate crime legislation is on the books, most countries fall short on implementation. Italy, Spain, and Ukraine, for example, have hate crime legislation, but almost nothing to show with regard to reporting or prosecutions for hate crime incidents.

Some governments have responded to hate crime violence by strengthening their criminal justice response. This has included new legislation addressing hate crimes in Croatia (defining hate crimes to include a broad range of bias motivations, including sexual orientation and disability bias), Latvia (defining racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance), Portugal (on sexual orientation bias crimes). Others, like France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have seen the benefit of major initiatives by law enforcement and prosecution services to introduce training and procedures making the implementation of hate crime legislation a major priority.

European countries' criminal law most commonly addresses hate crimes motivated by racism (including bias motivated by national origin, ethnicity, and xenophobia) and religious intolerance. Hate crime laws extend to sexual orientation bias in twelve of the 56 OSCE countries, with disability bias covered in only seven.

On an intergovernmental level, the OSCE has addressed hate crimes as a human rights issue and as a threat to regional security. In a series of high-level decisions, OSCE participating states have made commitments to monitor hate crimes and to regularly report on these findings and measures taken to combat them. The organization — particularly through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' (ODIHR) Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Unit — has provided a unique forum to address hate crimes that brings together the governments of Europe, Central Asia, and North America. Among other initiatives, the OSCE has hosted a series of international conferences, round tables, and consultations on anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, anti-Roma bias, and anti-Muslim bias; appointed three personal representatives to the Chairman-in-Office on combating various forms of discrimination; provided training for law enforcement and civil society groups monitoring hate crimes; and produced regular reporting on hate crimes and measures to combat them.

As part of one recent initiative, the ODIHR recently published new guidance designed to establish a common framework for improving responses to hate crimes within the OSCE. The new publication, Hate Crime Laws: A Practical Guide, provides practical and accessible advice for lawmakers, community-based organizations, and law enforcement personnel charged with prevention and effective response to bias-motivated violence. The Guide is drafted to reflect the many different legal systems and traditions from the 56 nations that comprise the OSCE. The Guide has been already been used by ODIHR as the basis for legislative reviews and training sessions and has been translated into several languages, including French, Russian, and German.

International Policy Recommendations for the Government of the United States

To demonstrate international leadership and reduce the number of hate crimes worldwide, the United States should take the following steps:

Demonstrate International Leadership at the OSCE

Take a leading political role in advancing the OSCE's tolerance and nondiscrimination agenda by ensuring support and guidance for the OSCE Chairman-in-Office's three personal representatives on combating intolerance and the ODIHR's Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Unit, as well as ensuring continued high-level discussions on hate crimes within the framework of the organization.

Provide for extrabudgetary contributions, secondment of personnel, and other in-kind support for OSCE programs to combat violent hate crimes, including making available its law enforcement expertise. In this connection, undertake a process to assess and reform the current mechanism of budget allocation by the State Department to ensure that the United States meets its funding obligations to the OSCE in a timely manner.

Advocate in Bilateral Relationships and Offer Technical Assistance

Promote stronger government responses to violent hate crime among OSCE participating states through U.S. reporting as well as the bilateral relationships of the United States with those countries, by:

  • Maintaining strong and inclusive State Department monitoring and public reporting on racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Roma, and other bias-motivated violence — including by consulting with civil society groups as well as providing appropriate training for human rights officers and other relevant mission staff abroad.
  • Raising violent hate crime issues with representatives of foreign governments and encouraging, where appropriate, legal and other policy responses, including those contained in Human Rights First's ten-point plan for governments to combat violent hate crime.
  • Offering appropriate technical assistance and other forms of cooperation, including training of police and prosecutors in investigating, recording, reporting and prosecuting violent hate crimes.

Support Civil Society Organizations

Expand funding and other support to build the capacity of civil society groups in the OSCE region to combat violent hate crimes, by:

  • Providing extrabudgetary support to expand ODIHR's civil society training program on combating hate crimes.
  • Ensuring that groups working to combat all forms of violent hate crime have access to support under existing U.S. funding programs, including the Human Rights and Democracy Fund and programs for human rights defenders.

Next Section: Hate Crimes Against African Americans


25. This section is largely based on Human Rights First's 2008 Hate Crime Survey.

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