memorandum by Ms Mogherini Rebesani, rapporteur
1 In Europe, the number of violent acts motivated by
intolerance, racism and xenophobia is on the increase. Meanwhile,
openly racist and xenophobic parties have managed to gain seats
in the parliaments of many Council of Europe member States and have
even entered government coalitions in some cases.
These developments represent a threat to democracy and pose
a real challenge for human rights and respect for human dignity
in Europe. Although the main responsibility for countering intolerance,
racism and xenophobia lies with the authorities and State institutions,
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play a vital role in this
battle, in several ways:
awareness of the rise of these phenomena and mobilising civil society
to prevent and combat them;
- sounding the alarm and pushing the authorities to tackle
intolerance, racism and xenophobia through appropriate laws and
- criticising political figures and institutions that indulge
in racist discourse or tolerate it, asking them on the contrary
to lead by example;
- ensuring that the relevant measures and legislation are
- offering advice, assistance, legal representation and
material help to victims of intolerance, racism and xenophobia.
The origin of this report is a motion for a resolution on
the “Role of NGOs in countering nationalism, migrantophobia and
xenophobia in Europe”.Note
4 In order to contribute to the preparation of my report, at
its meeting in Paris on 4 June 2012, the Committee on Equality and
Non-Discrimination held a hearing with the participation of Dr Anna
Triandafyllidou, from the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies,
European University Institute in Florence, and Dr William Ejalu,
former member of the Bureau of the European Network Against Racism
(ENAR) from Hungary. For the drafting of this report, I have drawn
upon elements presented by the guest speakers at the hearing, and on
the suggestions provided by the representatives of the NGOs who
are members of the Conference of International Non-Governmental
Organisations of the Council of Europe (Conference of INGOs), Mr
Veysel Filiz and Mr Christoph Spreng, whom I thank for their advice.
The aim of this report is to present a range of tools and proposals
to encourage and support the NGOs in their crucially important role
in order to contain the evils constituted by intolerance, racism
and racism in the political landscape
According to a European Union Fundamental Rights
Agency survey from 2009, Muslims and Roma in Europe experience persistent
hostility and discrimination.Note
A wealth of reports from the European
Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) describe, with
a country-by-country detailed analysis, to what extent hostile attitudes
against visible minorities are increasing in society.
6 Part of the reason for the rise of intolerant attitudes in
society is prejudice. All too often, the media convey a stereotyped
image of the culture and traditions of visible minorities, tending
to present them as a monolithic block and as a foreign element,
which does not tally with Europe’s history and heritage. In addition,
in the multi-cultural European societies, some groups live side
by side, preserving their way of life, language and traditions, but
not necessarily coming into contact with people from different communities.
7 Intolerance, racism and xenophobia are exacerbated by the
effects of the economic crisis and the dissatisfaction experienced
by an increasing number of Europeans who feel more exposed as regards employment,
security and social protection. Immigrants and foreigners are seen
as competitors for the same jobs and forms of public assistance.
8 Against this background, political parties and organisations
circulating messages of a racist and xenophobic nature thrive, increase
their membership, get more organised and sometimes become key actors in
the political arena.
Examples of this trend in the European political landscape
are flourishing: the National Front in France, the Austrian Freedom
Party, Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang) in Belgium, the Party for
Freedom in the Netherlands and the Sweden Democrats. From a marginal
Neo-Nazi group, in three years the Golden Dawn in Greece has become
a political party and had 7% of electoral support in the last two
elections of 2012. In Hungary, Jobbik, the third largest party in
parliament, has links to a paramilitary group implicated in attacks
on Roma. In the Slovak Republic, the leader of the Slovak National
Party called last year for the creation of a separate Roma State.Note
Over the last decade, some political
parties which openly take anti-immigration stands or flaunt racist
ideas have entered ruling coalitions or supported minority governments
at one time.
10 The growing success of these parties at the electoral polls
across the continent is not only a cause for concern in itself but
also has a profound impact on mainstream politics. Migration and
integration are issues that can cause a politician to win or lose
an election. All parties have to state a position on these matters.
In order to avoid losing votes, mainstream parties sometimes present
a watered-down version of the same rhetoric as extremist parties.
The result is that the tone of the political debate increasingly
shifts towards intolerance and racism and that parties circulating
messages of a racist and xenophobic nature are legitimised as political
11 NGOs should centre their action on the questions of immigration
– particularly to address issues such as respect for cultural, ethnic
and religious diversity as well as racism and xenophobia.
12 We are witnessing a failure of the entire political spectrum
to reject and condemn racism and intolerance. Few political parties
are prepared to emphasise that migration has helped shape Europe’s
history and to point to the many contributions made by minorities
and migrants. In my opinion, instead of using fear to fuel electoral campaigns,
politicians should undertake sustained and ambitious work on diversity
and migration in partnership with civil society.
The strategy of the racist and xenophobic parties is founded
on harnessing freedom of expression, which can only be restricted
in cases of incitement of racial, national or religious hatred,Note
which nevertheless remains difficult
to prove in law. On that score, NGOs have a major role to perform
in promoting and amplifying legal as well as political reflection
on the link between freedom of expression, as a fundamental right
that must be upheld unequivocally, and prohibition of inciting national,
racial or religious hatred.
14 Besides, it is equally important to combat racism and intolerance
in the intellectual arena of ideas and speech. NGOs have the power
to oppose trivialisation of intolerance, xenophobia and racism,
and attempts to make political use of them.
3 NGOs’ role in shaping
15 The rise of extremism, xenophobia and racism is a
worrying trend for our democracies. Xenophobia and racism are fed
by stereotypes and prejudices which must be prevented and eradicated.
To this end, NGOs have a very decisive role to play in shaping and
changing mentalities and supporting public participation and awareness.
It is often through active participation in civic movements and
NGO activities that citizens experience forms of intercultural co-operation
that help to prevent and combat racist attitudes.
16 One of the roots of intolerance is the lack of appropriate
knowledge. This rests on a lack of understanding and false perceptions
about others, born of ignorance. In this area, major steps should
be taken by all actors in society, and NGOs are already very active.
17 Organisations like the Conseil de la Jeunesse Pluriculturelle
International (COJEP International) or the European Muslim Initiative
for Social Cohesion (EMISCO) are dedicated to active participation
in all working groups and public structures by contributing ideas
and proposals. Within the Council of Europe, it might be suggested
that these organisations set up working groups for the purpose of
submitting proposals and arguments for better implementation of
the Council of Europe instruments.
18 Underlining the importance of education in the eradication
of discrimination and exclusion, NGOs have a major role to play
in the education sphere and in youth policies, whether by targeting
youth directly or influencing governmental policies.
19 By giving a voice to minorities, NGOs can build up media capacity
in civil society. Civil society organisations and minority groups
can make their voices heard in the media if they succeed in developing proactive
communication strategies and providing journalists with consistent
and reliable information. Through the media, NGOs have a powerful
tool for combating hostility to refugees and asylum seekers, Islamophobia and
NGOs have a major role to play in combating stereotypes and
prejudices. This includes:
the knowledge of different cultures and traditions, including those
of minority groups, providing positive models/success stories that
can show the positive contribution of minorities in society;
- promoting diversity and equality in society;
- developing media capacity by designating and training
specialised spokespersons who can address the media in a professional
way and speak on behalf of minority communities and vulnerable groups;
- releasing to journalists information and reliable data
on the diverse groups in society;
- raising awareness and promoting public campaigns on a
national or European scale.
4 NGOs’ representation
It is crucial that visible minorities and other groups
who are the target of intolerance, racism and xenophobia are empowered
to be actors in the public arena and express their interests and
concerns through associations and non-governmental organisations.
To this end, NGOs can:
a means for expressing and actively addressing the needs of people
who are discriminated against;
- monitor, document and denounce discrimination;
- support victims of discrimination in their access to justice,
providing advice and legal representation;
- empower groups to engage in campaigns, to be their own
advocates and to assert and enforce their rights;
- inform minorities of the relevant legal framework.
5 NGOs as partners
for public institutions
NGOs can influence public institutions and the decision-making
- acting in a consultative
capacity for public institutions, advocating specific policy measures
that can be effective in preventing and combating intolerance, racism
- participating in structures in which NGOs and public institutions
enjoy equal representation;
- liaising with local and regional authorities;
- developing skills and the capacity to act as a source
of information for monitoring structures such as ombudspersons and
- keeping a critical eye on the actions of public institutions.
An example worth mentioning is Médecins du Monde which deals
specifically with the question of access to care for vulnerable
groups. A survey by its Observatory on Access to Healthcare,Note
in October 2011, testifies to the living conditions, state of health
and access to care of the poorest and most discrimination-prone
people, namely irregular migrants. Among its findings, the survey
shows that access to healthcare is unequal between the European
countries but also very restrictive in each of them. Medical care for
undocumented aliens is grossly inadequate; 72% of their health problems
are poorly treated or not treated at all. Moreover, in Spain, the
health reform which came into force on 1 September 2012 abolishes
free healthcare for irregular immigrants and illustrates an alarming de facto
discrimination faced by
24 This work is indispensable for the information of European
decision-makers and gives rise to recommendations of value to the
member States of the European Union and the European Parliament.
This dialogue and partnership between NGOs and the authorities is
essential to refine policies and legislation in the area of racism
and xenophobia, and ensure that the point of view of minority groups
is taken into account in their preparation, implementation and monitoring.
In fact, by participating in the system of checks and balances, NGOs
are the natural allies of parliaments in the exercise of their function
of overseeing governmental activities.
6 The NGOs in the
Council of Europe framework
25 The Council of Europe has set up a number of mechanisms
to associate NGOs in its work.
26 The Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations
is one of the pillars of the Council of Europe. Through it, the
370 international non-governmental organisations holding participatory
status with the Organisation can actively participate in the decision-making
process and in the implementation of the Council of Europe’s programmes.
This co-operation can go from simple consultation to full-scale
participation in some projects.
27 The role of NGOs in promoting human rights is recognised in
many conventions. For instance, the European Convention on Human
Rights (ETS No. 5, “the Convention”) recognises the right for NGOs
claiming to be victims of a violation of the rights set out in the
Convention to lodge a complaint. Rule 44 of the Rules of Court of
the European Court of Human Rights (“the Court”) foresees the possibility
for NGOs to intervene as third parties in a case before the Court,
subject to the consent of the President of the Court. The same rule applies
for the protocols to the Convention, including Protocol No. 12 (ETS
No. 177) on non-discrimination. In this way, human rights NGOs such
as Amnesty International or Liberty have regularly intervened in
certain leading cases.
28 Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights, for which
this procedure does not exist, the European Social Charter (revised)
(ETS No. 163) foresees the possibility for NGOs to lodge collective complaints.
The collective complaints procedure was adopted in 1998 in an effort
to revitalise the European Social Charter. INGOs enjoying consultative
status with the Council of Europe and representative national NGOs
whose countries have made a special declaration (at present, only
Finland) can initiate a complaints procedure against any State bound
by the Charter. The procedure must concern a general legal or factual situation.
The prior exhaustion of domestic remedies is not required. So far,
complaints have concerned Roma and/or Travellers, mostly pleading
the violation of the right to housing under Article 16.
29 A number of Council of Europe conventions also recognise the
role of NGOs in monitoring their implementation. The Convention
on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CETS No. 197) gives
a prominent role to NGOs, establishing an obligation for parties
to encourage co-operation between their authorities and NGOs and
recognising NGOs as a source of information for the reports drawn
up by the convention’s monitoring body, GRETA.
30 In much the same way, in the Convention on Preventing and
Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS No.
210), the group of experts monitoring the implementation of the
convention (GREVIO) may receive information from NGOs when preparing
31 NGOs have also played a major role in the context of Council
of Europe campaigns, including in the areas of intolerance, racism
and discrimination, such as the Dosta! campaign
on the inclusion of Roma and the campaign All
Different – All Equal.
The Council of Europe Conference of INGOs has provided three
tools to enable NGOs, but not only them, to work at bringing into
being a culture of participation, which remains the best antidote
- the Code of Good
Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process:Note its purpose is the definition of
a set of guidelines for NGO participation in decision-making processes
at local and national level in Council of Europe member States;
- the Expert Council on NGO Law:Note set up in January 2008 by the Conference
of INGOs, it annually submits to the plenary Conference a thematic
study on specific aspects of NGO law and its implementation in the
member States (as well as Belarus). Since 2011, the Expert Council
has decided to produce reports on NGO law as it applies to a given
country for greater effectiveness (Azerbaijan in 2011);
- the Dialogue Toolkit:Note taking note of the accumulation
of unresolved issues in matters of diversity and migration over
the last few years which have led to an intolerable level of extremist,
populist and/or racist movements in the European countries which
I mentioned above, the Conference of INGOs has elaborated this practical
guide to conduct dialogues where they are most needed. It is conceived
as a follow-up to the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (2008)Note and as an implementation facility
for the Report “Living together. Combining diversity and freedom
in 21st-century Europe” (2011). I had the pleasure of attending
its launch in June 2011. The aim is to provide a hands-on, user-friendly
practical tool for dialogue. Its approach aims to help build social
cohesion and the human rights-based approach regarding diversity
33 The Conference of INGOs contemplates agreements for the implementation
of the existing instruments against discrimination, racism and intolerance
with the competent Council of Europe directorates and organs, with
a view to providing solutions to specific situations and furthering
the culture of participation in the member States.
34 The Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly
have supported the fight against intolerance, racism and xenophobia
ever since their creation. They were set up precisely to avert the
return of the nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism that had
led to the Second World War and its atrocities.
35 During various discussions in the Committee on Equality and
Non-Discrimination, the similarities between the current times and
the pre-war period have been underlined: on the one hand, the economic
crisis, high unemployment, the perception of “native” cultures being
under attack; on the other hand, the increasing success of racist
groups, which tolerate and even resort to violence against people
whom they consider to be “different”, their political legitimisation
and the inability of mainstream political parties to make a strong
stand against racism and xenophobia, in all their forms.
36 Despite these similarities, and even though the situation
is alarming, I believe that one main difference between the pre-war
period and today is the role and impact of NGOs, and their capacity
to mobilise civil society and to contribute to close scrutiny of
the authorities. This role must be recognised and given prominence
by the institutions.