Guest piece by Michael Farrell: European Racism Watchdog launches new ‘Roadmap’

Michael Farrell is the Irish member of ECRI and a member of its Bureau. ECRI is made up of one member from each member state of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has marked its 25th anniversary by adopting a new ‘Roadmap to Effective Equality’ setting out its priorities for the next period. 

The Roadmap, which was launched at a recent conference in Paris, noted substantial achievements by ECRI over the last 25 years.  ECRI has established a procedure for regular monitoring every five years of racism and intolerance in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe.  It engages in a dialogue with the governments concerned about their treatment of ethnic and other minorities and publishes quite critical reports based on its country visits.

The ECRI monitoring teams base their conclusions about the countries visited on standards drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights and the decisions of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And ECRI has played an important part in putting opposition to racism on the agenda in most of the states involved and getting them to adopt anti-discrimination legislation and establish Equality Bodies.  ECRI also broadened its remit in 2013 to include LGBT issues, a major step in combating homophobia and transphobia, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.

However, the ECRI Roadmap also notes with concern that “in more recent years Europe has experienced the emergence of new racist, xenophobic and homo/transphobic movements, sometimes even supported by governments…”.  It notes as well that there has been a serious upsurge of hate speech, particularly on social media and the internet, and directed against Roma, Muslims, Jews, migrants and members of the black and LGBT communities.  “In these challenging times”, the Roadmap says, “ECRI’s work is more relevant than ever and we are determined to carry on that work”.

ECRI completed its fifth monitoring cycle of country visits earlier in 2019.  This was the first cycle in which it included LGBT issues and the resulting country reports exposed the level of harassment, discrimination and sheer homophobia that still exists in a number of countries.  As a result the Roadmap indicates that ECRI has decided to produce a new standard setting document or General Policy Recommendation (‘GPR’) on LGBTI rights[1].  ECRI’s ‘GPRs’ set out the position in European and international human rights law on particular issues and outline good practices already developed in some countries.  They are often accepted as the standard that all countries should adopt and they are powerful tools that can be used by civil society organisations campaigning to change the law in particular countries.

An earlier ECRI ‘GPR’ on Hate Speech, adopted in 2015, has now become the standard setter for laws on hate speech and hate crime – a standard not yet achieved in Ireland with its very weak law on this issue.  And the ECRI Roadmap also commits to updating existing ‘GPRs’ on Islamophobia and Antisemitism to take account of new outbreaks of hostility to Muslims and Jews by far right organisations in a number of European states.

Another recent ‘GPR’ upholds the rights of undocumented migrants and the Roadmap states that ECRI will continue to call for humane treatment for all migrants and for generous and effective programmes to assist the integration and inclusion of migrants, especially children, in their host countries.  The ECRI Roadmap also expresses concern about the possible future use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and algorithms in ways that would facilitate or lead to racial stereotyping and discrimination against minorities.  ECRI will oppose this use of AI but believes that these new technologies can also be used to combat racism and intolerance and it will support projects aimed at doing so.

ECRI’s monitoring visits have also made it aware of cross cutting issues where the intersection of different characteristics such as ethnic origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other grounds can lead to multiple discrimination as experienced, for example, by Muslim women who wear the hijab in the street or at work.  In connection  with combating this or other forms of discrimination ECRI places a lot of importance on strengthening the independence and effectiveness of Equality Bodies in every member state of the Council of Europe in line with the recommendations in another recently revised and expanded ‘GPR’ on the establishment of such bodies.

Finally, the Roadmap acknowledges that the struggle against racism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance requires allies and it pledges to work closely with other Council of Europe (COE) bodies and institutions like the Court of Human Rights, the COE Human Rights Commissioner, its Parliamentary Assembly and its other monitoring bodies, as well as UN agencies, civil society organisations, academia and the media.  And, of course ECRI will work with the governments of all the COE member states, praising good practice where it is found, advising where its views may be useful, and criticising where it is necessary to do so.


[1] It was decided to include Intersex issues as a logical extension of LGBT rights.



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