EU Observer reports on the publication of a report by the Council of Europe on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe.
The report, which documents Member States’ compliance with fundamental rights as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, notes serious violations with ‘corruption, immunity from prosecution, impunity, human trafficking, racism, hate speech and discrimination’ on the rise throughout Europe.
Ethnic discrimination and the situation of national minorities is regarded as the most serious problem affecting 39 of the CoE’s 47 Member States.
Acknowledging the progress made by Members on non-discrimination, the CoE notes that “immigrants, persons from a migration background, non- nationals, asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and members of national minorities still experience hate crime, hate speech, discrimination and other forms of intolerance.”
On the far right and the proliferation of xenophobia in mainstream discourse, the CoE report notes “The increasing influence of political parties with extreme-right agendas [and its] challenges [to] the principles of democracy. In some member States, such parties have won seats in parliament. Although in most cases their presence has not called into question democratic institutions, their influence can push governments into decisions that weaken rather than strengthen democracy.”
The report further notes, “Technology facilitates the dissemination of racist and xenophobic messages. Their authors have easy, anonymous access to virtually unsupervised online platforms. Hate crime remains underreported due to lack of victim assistance and victims’ negative perception of law enforcement. Most states have comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and good criminal laws punishing hate crime. However, these need to be applied properly, which is not always the case.”
The report observes tendencies to scapegoat minority communities in the prevailing economic climate stating, “National minorities are frequently used as scapegoats for unemployment and broader economic hardships. Moreover, new nationalistic and racist ideologies are emerging, further jeopardising minority rights.”
In a section on other forms of discrimination, the CoE notes particular concerns in relation to the rights of Muslim minorities in Europe. The report states:
“ECRI has noted a general increase in religious intolerance. Websites, such as those focusing on Muslim immigration and allegations of a worldwide “Jewish conspiracy”, amplify extremism and fuel tensions. Religion is increasingly used as a pretext for discrimination on other grounds.
“While many European countries have abolished blasphemy laws, publication of anti-Islam material has re-opened an international debate on the criminalisation of religious defamation.
“ECRI has also noted increasing discrimination affecting women and girls wearing the Islamic veil or headscarves. They often cannot find jobs, adequate housing or attend school.”
The report also notes the effect on minorities of an aggressive approach to border control stating: “The policing of migration flows has resulted in discussions that fuel the xenophobic debate. ECRI also noted that some member States use their anti-terrorism legislation to remove non-nationals who had obtained interim protection from the Court. As a result of the economic crisis, most member States prioritise restrictive immigration policies at the expense of integration policies, restricting family reunification while tightening citizenship laws.”
The report advances a number of recommendations to address what it details as serious violations of human rights and the standards expected of Member States as signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The publication of the report a month before the European Parliament elections is a stern reminder to political parties across the continent of their responsibilities to uphold minority rights and desist from engaging in exclusionary rhetoric while on the campaign trail.
The Council of Europe report can be read here.