Over the past several years, the European Union has faced increasing challenges in a number of areas, including emerging violent extremist groups and a rising number of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.
With the majority of immigrants entering Europe from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Gambia, race-based crimes, also referred to under the umbrella term, “hate crimes,” have been on the rise. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights defines hate crimes as “violence and offences motivated by racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, or by bias against a person’s disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In April 2016, the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights urged member states to address the discrepancy between reported and unreported hate crimes, in addition to prosecuting and punishing those guilty of committing the crimes. On average, British police officials estimate that only one in every four hate crimes is reported. This discrepancy between reported and unreported hate crimes may be attributed, in part, to the differences of how individuals define what constitutes a hate crime. Reports show that only 28 percent of the British population think that using racial slurs equate to a hate crime. Furthermore, about the same percentage of the population believes that the EU referendum unfairly restricts freedom of speech.
Many British citizens blame the EU referendum for a spike in reported hate crimes, including forty-five percent of Brexit supporters who agree that hate crimes worsened after the referendum was passed. The UN Committee on Eliminating Racial Discrimination cites “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric” as a major influence on the spike in hate crimes surrounding the Brexit referendum. Compared to the same period in 2015, 2016 saw an increase of over forty percent in reported hate crime incidents, with concerns from officials that the actual number of incidents could be higher. In addition to race-based hate crimes, Britain also saw a rise in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Galop, a London-based LGBT anti-violence charity, reported that hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation rose 147 percent during the late summer of 2016.
Other countries across Europe have also experienced an increased rate of hate crimes over the past several years. Between 2014 and 2015, Germany reported a 77 percent increase in hate crimes. Amnesty International reported that incidents of race-based violence are at an all-time high since World War II in Germany. Statistics collected by Germany’s Interior Ministry show that asylum shelters were attacked 1,031 times in 2015, a drastic increase from 199 attacks in 2014 and sixty-nine attacks in 2013. In Spain, the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities reported religious-based, anti-Islam attacks increased from forty-eight in 2014, to 534 in 2015. Additionally, Spain’s Interior Ministry published statistics for 2015 reporting hundreds of hate crimes based on disability, ideology, and sexual orientation. In France, following a state of emergency declaration in late 2015, police officials led over 4,000 raids without warrants and restricted over 400 people to house arrest in careful protection of national security; however, only six of the abusive intrusions led by the French police ended in terrorism-related criminal investigations.
Forty-seven European countries are parties to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Under this convention, all parties have committed to upholding equal human rights protection to all citizens and ensuring fundamental freedoms to all European citizens. Protocol No. 12, Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides: “The enjoyment of any right set forth by law shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”
To combat the spike in hate crimes, member states of the European Union are taking additional steps to uphold the provisions of the ECHR. In July 2016, the United Kingdom government published its plan to put an end to the increased hate crimes and discriminatory violence. In late 2016, Germany announced that it was considering new laws to hold social media platforms accountable for taking down illegal discriminatory posts down as a method to stop widespread hate crimes supported by hateful speech on the Internet. Furthermore, in the summer of 2017 the Council of Europe will host Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP), training course for member states to learn and discuss ways to stop hate crimes and promote the values and responsibilities they have under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Although instability and uncertainty in the region currently prevail, signed conventions and promises to ensure equal human rights to all in Europe cannot be forgotten. Warnings from officials in Britain caution that as Britain’s planned deadline to leave the European Union officially at the end of March approaches, citizens in the European Union countries are likely to participate in violence and hate crimes as a sign of opposition once again. However, taking a lesson from U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that consisted of hateful and xenophobic rhetoric, racism and leadership is not the path to effective leadership, cautions Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director at Human Rights Watch.