On December 1-2, foreign ministers and other officials from the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – a conflict prevention organization bringing together states from North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union – met in Athens, Greece for the annual ministerial meeting. A Decision on "Combating Hate Crime" was one of a dozen or so decisions adopted by ministers on issues related to security, democratization, and human rights.
This Decision comes at a time when hate crimes are on the rise throughout many parts of the OSCE and indeed, the world.
Racist and other hate crimes are reprehensible and unacceptable, whether it is a beheading of a Tajik migrant worker in Moscow, the brutal murder of a Congolese asylum seeker in Kyiv, a vigilante raid on Roma camps in Italy, an aggressive assault on gay pride parade participants in Eastern Europe, or a beating to death of a Mexican immigrant in the United States. Beyond the incomprehensible and immediate damage inflicted upon the victims of hate crimes and their families, this ongoing violence continues to erode every person’s sense of security and equality–necessities that a healthy society needs to function, much less flourish.
For some, it may come as a surprise that hate crimes are occurring so frequently. But the latest report by the Warsaw-based human rights arm of the OSCE reaffirms that hate crimes continue to be a serious problem across the region. They reported that, on the basis of data collected by States, hate crimes are occurring across the OSCE region and are motivated by a wide variety of forms of intolerance: racism and xenophobia, antisemitism, bias against Roma and Sinti, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions, bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as bias based on physical or mental disability."
Even worse, what we know may only be the tip of the iceberg because underreporting of incidents is severe and widespread. Many victims do not trust law enforcement authorities and so they keep quiet. Furthermore, contrary to their promises and commitments, countries continue to produce poor and unreliable data. As a result, it’s difficult to identify recurring trends and to know with any certainty the real number of attacks committed in a given country and the way a government has responded to them.
With this Decision, States have committed (in many cases re-committed) to taking a number of important steps to combat hate crime, including by: enacting laws that provide effective penalties for hate crimes, collecting reliable statistics on incidents, investigations, and prosecutions; encouraging better victim reporting of attacks, training law enforcement and criminal justice officials, and conducting awareness raising campaigns.
Undoubtedly, all of these are important and much needed steps. Until now, OSCE governments have largely been failing to fulfill many of these commitments: 22 states still have no express provisions on hate crime, and only 14 states are fulfilling their basic commitments to collect reliable data on hate crimes.
The international community must take a firm stand against any hate crime against anyone, anywhere. No one community under threat should be left to stand alone in the face of violent hatred and bigotry. Let’s hope that the recognition OSCE ministers gave to this issue will allow their respective governments to seize the opportunity and implement the policies prescribed by this Ministerial Council Decision.