Contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination are complex and disturbing in today’s world. These issues are increasingly at the center of political and social concerns in Europe. Faced with persistent manifestations of racism and xenophobia, the Council of Europe’s Member States have taken firm and sustained action to combat these trends for several years.
Without exhaustively cataloguing the situation and listing all of the observed problems, we can outline a few broad categories in which racism and racial discrimination manifest themselves: daily life in significant areas such as employment, education, housing, and access to social services; human rights violations against members of Roma communities; hostile attitudes toward and stigmatization of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers; increasing prevalence of anti-Semitic incidents; intensification of Islamophobic expressions; use of racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic arguments in politics. Of course, these trends vary in magnitude from country to country, but they are significant enough to warrant concern.
To deal with this situation, European countries have developed national and European-level responses. The distinguishing feature of the Council of Europe Member States’ actions over the last few years has been their commitment to addressing issues of racism and racial discrimination through the lens of protecting and promoting human rights. In other words, the right to be free of racism and discrimination on the basis of race is a fundamental right shared by all human beings.
When it comes to developing practical and sustainable long-term solutions to racism and racial discrimination, options vary by country. All strategies in this area should include elements of legislation, public awareness, education, positive action, and participation. While legislation alone is insufficient to combat racism and racial discrimination, it is unquestionably a necessary component. The greatest strides in recent years in Europe have been made in the legal realm. Numerous Member States have initiated reforms to supplement their national anti-discrimination legislation. This is a positive development for victims, given the critical nature of effective, dissuasive, and satisfactory legal measures to combat racial discrimination. However, enacting anti-discrimination legislation does not always imply that equal rights are achieved for all members of society. It is not sufficient to prohibit discrimination; we must also combat it by ensuring that anti-discrimination provisions are effectively implemented. Similarly, criminal law provisions prohibiting racist acts are comparable.
To be effective, all of these provisions must be implemented by the authorities, including the police and the judiciary. They should not be merely theoretical; they should include large-scale public awareness campaigns directed at potential victims, as well as training for appropriate officials. As a result, it is critical to establish an autonomous national body charged with the sole responsibility of combating racism and racial discrimination; numerous Council of Europe Member States have taken steps to establish such bodies.
On a more global scale, the most significant development in recent years has been the adoption of Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force on 1 April 2005. The Protocol includes a general, self-contained provision prohibiting discrimination. Due to the European Court of Human Rights’ ability to hear individual cases in this area, the Protocol is an especially useful tool for combating racial discrimination. Currently, only 35 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states have signed Protocol No. 12, and only 15 have ratified it. Finally, in 1994, Member States took a further step toward combating racism and racial discrimination by establishing and establishing the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). ECRI’s work, which is based on human rights, aims to protect all persons on the territory of the Council of Europe’s Member States from racism and all forms of racial discrimination. It is composed of independent, unbiased members whose statutory responsibilities include monitoring racism and racial discrimination on a country-by-country basis, formulating general policy recommendations, and raising awareness and disseminating information through its relationships with civil society.
One of ECRI’s primary accomplishments has been to effect changes in national and European law and practice in order to more effectively combat racism and intolerance.
One of its most significant contributions has undoubtedly been to educate people about the fact that “racism” and “racial discrimination” are evolving concepts that now encompass acts directed at individuals or groups based on their color or ethnic origin, as well as their language, religion, or nationality. The primary precondition for effectively combating racism and racial discrimination is an acknowledgement of their existence. ECRI has shed light on widespread racism and racial discrimination on a daily basis across Europe, posing significant and sometimes insurmountable obstacles for many individuals.
European governments face several immediate challenges, two of which are critical: enforcing anti-racism and anti-discrimination legislation in an environment increasingly impacted by the fight against terrorism; and addressing the issue of integration, which is hotly debated in the majority of European countries. The reader is referred to ECRI General Policy Recommendation No. 8 on combating racism while fighting terrorism, as well as General Policy Recommendation No. 11 on combating racism and racial discrimination in policing, which was adopted on 29 June 2007. The latter includes a legal definition of racial profiling and directs Member States to define and prohibit racial profiling in their domestic legislation. As racial profiling has grown in popularity and taken on new dimensions in the fight against terrorism, Recommendation No. 11 is an effective tool for combating this particular form of racial discrimination. In terms of integration, it is critical to emphasize unequivocally that the success of any integration strategy will largely depend on the priority placed on combating discrimination in general, and particularly racial discrimination. The principle of non-discrimination and policies aimed at achieving equality are necessary preconditions for integration.
Finally, encouraging signs at the national and European levels demonstrate that governments and civil society in Europe are genuinely committed to combating racism and racial discrimination. However, the battle is far from over, and advancements are needed now more than ever to guide our countries and give full meaning to the universal principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”