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Annual survey urges European governments to combat hate crime towards minorities

3 July 2014

Hate crime towards minorities is a daily reality across Europe but is often ignored by authorities, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its annual report.

The international rights organisation’s flagship report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 , focuses on ‘Freedom from hate’ and presents compelling examples and case studies from Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

The report shows that asylum seekers, migrants, refugees, and long settled minority populations such as Jews, Muslims and Roma are the groups most often targeted in the region.

‘Hate speech and hate crime are part of the lived reality of many minorities in all parts of Europe,’ says Carl Söderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications at MRG. ‘And European government inaction can be seen by perpetrators as a green light to continue.’

In many countries, the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis and government austerity measures has been blamed on migrants, and ethnic and religious minorities. This has translated into rising levels of violence and hate. Their espousing of anti-immigrant, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic rhetoric has given a number of far-right groups a significant foothold in national parliaments, for example in Greece and Hungary. Some far-right parties are linked to paramilitary-style militias and vigilante groups, such as the Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary. Far-right parties also made sweeping gains in a number of countries, such as France, during the recent EU elections.

In Russia and Ukraine, violent hate crimes targeting migrants from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as people of African origin are reinforced by nationalist rhetoric in political and public discourse.

A pattern of xenophobia is evident in Bulgaria as well, where the recent arrival of thousands of refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria has provided far-right groups and extremists with a new target. Minority communities in Bulgaria, such as Roma and ethnic Turks, have long suffered discrimination and marginalization – and this has also translated into hate speech and bias motivated violence.

A key problem is that many victims feel that they have no one to turn to. While hate speech and hate crime are often expressed in the form of street violence or individual assaults, they can also be encouraged or reflected in discriminatory government policies. For example in France, following the 2011 ban on the full-face veil in public places, women who continue to wear the veil have been subjected to harassment and abuse by members of the public. And it is not unprecedented that legislation on hate crime is misused against minorities and migrants rather than to protect them, for instance in Hungary.

The disheartening levels of violence, harassment and verbal abuse across Europe highlight the fact that all governments should take hate speech and hate crime seriously, says MRG. Their lack of action, for example in comprehensive data collection, reporting processes or publicity around cases, provides a form of legitimacy to hate. Currently, only four EU member-states gather and publish data comprehensively.

‘The ultimate remedy to hatred is more speech. To address the root causes, hate speech must be countered by politicians, government officials, religious leaders, journalists and members of majority communities,’ says Söderbergh.

The internet and social media have provided new opportunities for venting hate. Individuals belonging to minority communities who step into the public eye in politics, media and sport have provided new targets for hate through social media. But these channels can also be used positively. The report describes a number of grass-roots initiatives to support minority communities, such as in the United Kingdom, and to counter hate speech through education and media campaigns.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • Carl Söderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications, Minority Rights Group International
    • Evelin Verhás, Legal Cases Officer, Minority Rights Group Europe
    • Minority rights activists from Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom
  • State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 is available for free download
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].