Nearly four years ago, foreign ministers and other senior officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security body, met in Berlin to address a new plague of anti-Semitism in Europe. The conference was a much-needed wake-up call to confront the violent resurgence of this age-old hatred.
Since then, the OSCE has ratcheted up its capacity to address anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance: special representatives on these issues were appointed, a creative and dynamic tolerance and non-discrimination unit was created, and high-level follow-up conferences were organized.
In a welcome development, a conference that took place last week in Tel-Aviv, the OSCE states discussed issues of "tolerance and non-discrimination" with their Mediterranean partner states.
Earlier this year, Human Rights First, a New York-based organization which works in the US and abroad, reported on a rise in violent anti-Semitism and other hate crimes in many European countries in 2006. There are few signs that the situation has improved in 2007.
Just recently, in October, a synagogue was torched in Kiev. In the same month in Greece, an Israeli youth was viciously attacked. And lest there be any doubt as to the offenders’ motivations in either case, anti-Semitic slurs were featured in both attacks: "Death to the Jews!" read a note wrapped around a rock found in the Ukrainian synagogue, and as Greek thugs kicked and punched Nick Kolyohin in the head, they screamed "F– Israel!" and "You’re Jewish!" Anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
Yet to suggest that Jews are the only people to be targeted in such despicable crimes would be to miss a very important mark.
Hate crimes criss-cross borders and span ideologies: a year before the synagogue incident in Ukraine, a Nigerian man there was murdered by five men in what was thought to be a race-based attack. In Italy, a mosque near Milan was vandalized in October for the third time in several months. They were among eight attacks reported in 2007 on mosques in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. In Russia, bias crimes seem to be out of control with one NGO monitor there reporting on more than 50 racist murders in 2007.
Yet most European governments are failing to address the issue with the urgency it requires.
In a follow-up "report card" on government responses to hate crimes released last week in Tel Aviv, Human Rights First concludes that more than 30 European governments get failing grades in their obligations to monitor discriminatory violence – a first step in understanding the scope of the problem. Some governments even continue to deny that bias crimes ever occur.
UKRAINIAN authorities, for instance, stated in an official report to the UN that "all forms of discrimination based on race and nationality have been eliminated." Cyprus recently declared that it does not submit figures on racist crime to the EU’s anti-racism and human rights body because it doesn’t have a problem of racism. Greek authorities don’t provide reliable data on hate crimes nor are there provisions in law allowing bias to be taken into account by the courts as an aggravating circumstance. Italy has established important new institutions to combat discrimination, but has yet to include violent hate crimes in its programs. Official data in the largely ignores the problem of violence motivated by prejudice and hatred.
While NGOs can and have compensated somewhat for these failures, in terms of monitoring and reporting incidents, there is ultimately no substitute for official vigilance.
Governments across the board must establish or strengthen official systems of monitoring and reporting, to provide accurate data for informed policy decisions.
Data collection systems must be established that are sufficiently broad to include incidents motivated in whole or in part on the basis of the victim’s race, national origin, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other similar form of discrimination.
Laws must be adopted which address violent hate crime specifically and police and prosecutors must receive the resources and training required to hold the perpetrators accountable.
And finally, governments must come to understand that whether the victim is an Israeli Jew, an immigrant from Africa, a Muslim or a gay man, hate crimes are nothing more nor less than human rights violations.
All such acts are forms of discrimination, part of a continuum that extends to ethnic cleansing and genocide. History provides ample evidence that "ordinary" acts of hate violence can quickly escalate to mass campaigns of brutality. 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.
The writer is the president of Human Rights First, an advocacy organization based in New York City and Washington, DC, which works to create a secure and humane world -advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law.