Fight against hate crime must continue

Fight against hate crime must continue

It is four years today since terrorist Anders Behring Breivik went on his racist mass killing rampage in Norway. It started with the taking of eight lives in a bomb blast outside government offices in Oslo and finished with an hour-long shooting spree at a socialist youth summer camp on a nearby island, slaughtering a further 69, mainly young people from a diversity of backgrounds.

While fully admitting what he had done, Breivik showed no remorse. He instead attempted to justify the massacres, in a “manifesto” released simultaneously, and later at his trial, by citing the perceived threats of immigration, “multiculturalism”, Islam, and “cultural Marxism”.

Today, a broad coalition of civil-society groups from across Europe, under the banner of the No Hate Speech Movement, has been campaigning for today’s date, July 22, to be given official recognition as European Day for the Victims of Hate Crime.

The initiative is driven by concern at a continent-wide increase in racist violence, the recent electoral successes of far-right and populist parties, and set against the background of the multiple impacts of austerity and the growing normalisation of the use of racist and xenophobic discourse in mainstream public and political spheres.

In Europe, Ireland stands alone in failing to provide statutory protections for victims of hate crime, in spite of the fact that the phenomenon is known to be a fact of life, not just for ethnic minorities but also for people with disabilities and those who identify as transgender, lesbian, and gay.

Just last week, the University of Limerick’s Hate and Hostility Research Group published its initial findings of a timely 360-degree inquiry into Ireland’s criminal justice provisions for responding to racist and other bias-motivated offences.

The study, ‘Out of the Shadows: Legislating for Hate Crime in Ireland’, was commissioned by an NGO working group, led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which had been brought together by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Minister of State with responsibility for Equality, New Communities, and Culture.

The report includes a meticulously wrought Criminal Law (Hate Crime) Amendment Bill 2015.

By enacting this robust legislation, the Government could, in one stroke, go a long way to meeting its European and international obligations, including many of those of the 2008 EU Council framework decision on racism and xenophobia, and in particular the provisions of an EU victims directive.

The latter pays special attention to crimes against people with specific characteristics, and for which the deadline for transposition is November 2015.

Were we to enact this legislation, we would not just be conformant to our European obligations, we would stand to become a model of best practice and finally begin to give criminal justice professionals the tools they need to protect people targeted on the basis of difference.

However, the fear is that the bill will not see the light of day under this Government. If we persist on our current course by failing to enact legislation, it will cause more than merely an embarrassment for us in Brussels and Strasbourg because of a breach of EU law.

As can be seen in the case of “Jane” — detailed by Cormac O’Keeffe’s report elsewhere on this page — the principal effect of Government inaction on hate crime is on ordinary people. This working mother in west Dublin and her family have been the targets of an escalating campaign of racial bullying, harassment, and intimidation, culminating in her decision to uproot and leave the community she has lived in for six years. Her ordeal is prototypical of the far reaching experiences of people who are subjected to hate crimes, many of which are logged with, ENAR Ireland’s independent hate crime monitoring mechanism.

In spite of the heartening demonstration of community solidarity with Jane and her family, the bottom line is that she still has little confidence in a State system which manifests all the failures which result from Government inaction. This failure to protect is reflected across policies relating to policing, prosecution, and more broadly into areas like housing and social policy. Victims and commonly targeted communities are all too aware of this failure and typically express a sense that even when they do report, nothing can or will be done to address their experiences.

The result is that, according to data from respondents, over 70% of people will not report hate incidents to the authorities. This may explain the stark difference in the comparative 2014 data on racist hate crimes from (137 in total) and that of the Garda statistics given to the CSO (just 43 racist hate crimes in the same period).

The failure of Government to enact hate crime legislation and the necessary flanking measures to combat racism also has an important effect on perpetrators. The invisibility of hate crimes gives rise to a situation in which the perpetrators can feel that not only have they gotten away with their crime, but that they have the tacit approval of “their” community.

The same interpretation is often made by their victims, particularly in the absence of solidarity, or when their experience is not properly addressed by State agencies. This interpretation is also reinforced by a broader context of policies, and of public and political discourse.

If “immigrants” and “Travellers” are habitually framed as problems and the institutionalisation of asylum seekers under subhuman conditions is normalised, are the actions of hate crime perpetrators not a reflection of the values of wider society?

One of the lessons of the Oslo massacres is that perpetrators don’t need to espouse openly neo-nazi views in order to carry out heinous acts.

A surprising aspect of Breivik’s “manifesto” is how mainstream and everyday much of its content appears. Political analysts have remarked that the ideology he espouses is more ultraconservative than neo-nazi, using language more akin to Jeremy Clarkson than Herman Goering. This made it easier for him to delude himself that he was acting on behalf of “his” people.

The prevention of hate crimes requires special protections in law, but also challenges to the cultural context in which they occur. The yes result in the marriage equality referendum has been a major stride for equality and a proclamation of our society’s acceptance of the diversity it has always contained. It provides an important context inside of which targeted protections for LGBT communities such as hate crime legislation could have real traction.

For racial and ethnic minorities, too, there is a need to be able to come out of the shadows and fully participate as equal members of society. Here, achieving equality requires a national action plan Against Racism: A roadmap for joined-up policy and legislative change across a range of institutions and practices.

Flanked by such measures, hate crime legislation in Ireland could put us ahead of the curve again on equality in Europe.

Shane O’Curry is the director of ENAR Ireland, the European Network Against Racism Ireland which manages the racist incident reporting system on behalf of its network of 50 organisations.

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