Submission from the European Monitoring
Centre on Racism and Xenophobia
1. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism
and Xenophobia (EUMC) has monitored and reported on offences against
religious as well as racial minorities in the European Union.
It is part of the EUMC's explicit remit to monitor and report
on anti-Semitism in particular, as laid out in the EC Regulation
on which the Centre is based.
2. In the wake of 11 September 2001 the
EUMC identified both Jewish and Muslim communities and individuals
in the European Union as particularly vulnerable. Therefore, the
EUMC has monitored and reported on offences and discrimination
against these religious minorities in all EU member states. In
particular, this has included a comprehensive monitoring exercise
on anti-Islamic reactions after 11 September, with the final report
published on 23 May 2002. A comparable report on anti-Semitic
offences in the EU, especially in the context of the escalation
of the crisis in the Middle East, will be published in September.
3. The EUMC's report on anti-Islamic reactions
found increased hostility and a prolonged upsurge of both verbal
and physical attacks on Muslim communities and individuals throughout
Europe. The EUMC's fundings show that religious offences and discrimination
are becoming an increasingly serious problem that our legal system
must be able to tackle.
4. The EUMC's focus on both racial and religious
minorities is derived from a broad definition of racism and xenophobia
which is also the basis of the proposed Council Framework Decision
on Racism and Xenophobia, of which an amended draft was considered
in the EU Select Committee on 26 June. The original draft prepared
by the European Commission contained the following definition:
"racism and xenophobia" shall mean the belief in race,
colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin
as a factor determining aversion to individuals or groups".
While this definition has now been withdrawn from the proposal,
religion remains included in the scope of the Framework Decision.
5. The EUMC is content with the general
inclusion of religion in the broader definition of racism and
xenophobia and does not advocate the agreement of a fixed list
of acknowledged faiths. As in the case of the definition of "race",
the definition of "religion" can safely be left to the
courts. Such openness and flexibility is possible under our common
6. In my own experience as a former senior
Commissioner at the CRE and Chair of the CRE's Legal Strategy
Committee I have dealt with a number of specific instances of
discrimination against Muslims in the UK where prosecution proved
difficult (at all stages of the legal system, be it police, CPS
or the courts) because of a gap in UK law. In all cases I felt
that a legal provision against religious discrimination would
have provided the basis for a more consistent, fair and just way
of handling these cases.
7. The current UK law is inconsistent and
the source of unequal protection of different religious groups.
While Jews and Sikhs are covered by the Race Relations Act in
so far as they are recognised as ethnic groups, other religious
groups receive no protection.
8. Likewise, the UK law is different depending
on the geographical area where a case is tried: Northern Ireland
has criminal and civil law against incitement to religious hatred
and religious discrimination. No such protection is available
on the mainland.
9. These inconsistencies lead to unequal
protection. For example, Muslims can only receive protection if
it can be proved that an offence (criminal or civil) against them
was actually directed against them as Pakistanis or Bangladeshis,
not as Muslims. This leaves converts with no protection at all.
The absolute primacy of race is also increasingly irrelevant in
a social and political context in which, as the EUMC's report
has clearly shown, Muslims are being regarded as the new public
enemies, regardless of their nationality, race or ethnicity. It
is the visible signs of being Muslim, ie specific clothes and
dress codes that trigger hostilities, not the colour of someone's
skin or their language or accent.
10. With regards to civil law, legislation
against religious discrimination is due to be brought in by 2003
under the EC Employment Directive. This required extension of
our anti-discrimination provisions provides an opportunity to
achieve an overall consistent equality framework, in which the
provisions under the Employment Directive are extended to fields
beyond employment, eg education, goods, facilities and services,
in line with the Race Relations Act. This would be essential to
ensure that different religious groups are enabled to live as
well as work as equals in our society.
11. Religious offences and discrimination
must be outlawed on the basic principle of equal protection under
the law of all people. Everyone has the right to live free from
fear and harm as well as the right to equality of opportunity.
Our legal framework must be designed in such a way to ensure this.
People must not be abused or disadvantaged for their faith, which
many consider to be an important part of their identity.
12. It is essential to keep in mind that
we must legislate against acts, not against prejudice. Any act
that causes, or is likely to cause, harm to someone because of
a factor that distinguishes them from others, such as race, religion,
sex etc, must be outlawed as it violates the main principle of
13. I propose to the Committee that it deals
with religious offences in a consistent manner that brings together
the current proposals in civil lawie outlawing religious
discrimination in employment and beyondand the current
proposals relating to criminal law under the proposed council
Framework Decision. It is important that these attempts at legislative
reform are not undertaken in a piecemeal fashion but that the
Committee looks at the wider framework for equal protection under
the law. This must include a consideration of the provisions in
Northern Ireland. Legislative provisions must complement each
other and be clear and consistent. Legislative action also needs
to take into account the relevance of proposed measures in relation
to the likelihood of their use. For example, anti-discrimination
provisions under civil law are widely used and regarded as important
legal but also policy and public awareness raising instruments.
By contrast the criminal law provision of incitement to racial
hatred has rarely been used. Therefore, Parliament must be aware
of the signals it might send in proposing one, but not the other.
Equal protection against discrimination under civil law will be
very important to religious groups that have not been able to
benefit from the Race Relations Act.
8 July 2002