Thematic meeting on Hate Speech, Hate Crimes and Role of Civil Society

2013 11 25

If you are mugged late at night because you are wearing a diamond necklace, you can decide not to wear jewelry next time you go out. But what if you are assaulted because of the color of your skin, your ethnicity, your religion?

„It has always been the most horrendous experience to feel that you are being targeted on the basis of something that you have no control over“, - Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Fundamental Rights agency (FRA), said at the Fundamental Rights Conference in Vilnius. 

On 14 November 2013 HRMI as the NGO Programme Lithuania Operator together with the Financial Mechanism Office hosted  NGO Programme Operators Thematic Meeting on Hate Speech & Hate Crimes and Role of Civil Society. The meeting aimed to consolidate the knowledge of the hate issues as well as to strategize further programmatic steps as set forth in the Action Plan drafted at the Fundamental Rights Conference.  
Dovilė Šakalienė, Executive Director NGO Program and the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, in her opening speech gave an overview of the Lithuanian situation. The new study “Protection of Hate Crime Victims’ Rights: the case of Lithuania”* conducted by the HRMI revealed that the Lithuanian legal system is not yet ready to respond efficiently to hate crimes while taking into account the victims’ rights. Mrs Šakalienė encouraged the meeting participants to copy, share and develop the best practices focusing on hate crime prevention and prosecution.
Vilde Høvik Roberge, the Chief Adviser of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, welcomed the participants and stressed that the fight against hate crimes remains a priority for the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism.
Following the opening remarks, Henri Nickels, researcher with the Fundamental Rights Agency, presented the Action Plan drafted at the conference. Rui Gomes, representative of the Council of Europe, gave an introduction into the No Hate Speech Movement – large-scale campaign running between 2012 and 2014 which aims at reducing hate speech and at combating racism and discrimination in their online expression. Non-governmental organizations from Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, presented theirs thematic initiatives, such as the training of young journalists and hate crime documentation.
Participants of the meeting included the experts from the Fundamental Rights Agency, Council of Europe and NGOs, including NGOs from the Donor States (Norway). The meeting also became a space for the NGO Programmes operators from 15 EU countries to share their concerns and develop common actions.  
The thematic meeting was organised as a  as a follow-up to the Fundamental Rights Conference „Combating hate crime in the EU“ which took place  in Vilnius on 12-13 November. Over 300 decision-makers and practitioners from across the EU gathered in a core event of Lithuanian Presidency to explore effective strategies to combat hate crime through legal and policy measures at both national and EU levels.
The threat of hate crime is not acknowledged yet. „Growing discrimination does irreparable harm to individuals and society“, - said Juozas Bernatonis, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania, in his opening speech.  
We live in the world where 38% members of Jewish community refrain from wearing or displaying symbols that might identify them as Jews in public. Fear to be seen as a member of a certain group, fear that what has happened once will happen again, and fear that family members and friends will suffer the same victimization - this is a daily reality of many people in the EU. „It is very important to understand that hate crimes do not only affect the victims themselves, but they affect entire communities, who are terrified because they share a certain feature with the victim. Because they may be targeted too“, – Morten Kjaerum emphasized.  
„Hate crimes attack the core of what we believe in as Europeans”, – said Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner European Commissioner for Home Affairs. “Nowadays populists are fighting for the "values", but that battle is often directed against the smallest, weakest people. We live in difficult economic times for the EU, but if we will not defend people who cannot defend themselves, it is necessary to raise the question if this union is required“.
Hate crime is a complex problem, which has no uniform definition. "Hate crime in [one] country is constitutionally protected freedom of speech [in another one]", - highlighted Snežana Samardzic – Markowitz, Director General of Democracy at the Council of Europe.
Another issue is the data collection: only four countries in Europe have thorough data collection mechanisms in place. "The fact that the UK last year has 41 000 registered hate crimes, does not mean that Britain is leading in the number of such crimes, the country simply do count," – said Mrs Samardzic - Markowitz. She also emphasized the significance of education: history classes are all about war history, no adequate attention is being paid to the emergence of the human rights movement and social changes that came through peaceful resistance. 
All the conference participants agreed that identification and prosecution of hate crimes, data collection and education are the fundamentals on the way to a united and hate-free Europe. 
The study “Protection of Hate Crime Victims’ Rights: the case of Lithuania” was presented during the Conference and discussed in the Working Group I: Making hate crime visible: strategies to build trust and encourage reporting. Hundreds of hard copies of the study were sought after during the first day of the Conference.
*The unique national level study “Protection of Hate Crime Victims’ Rights: the case of Lithuania” was funded by the Fund for Bilateral Relations at national level of the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism of the EEA Grants 2009-2014.