“There is a profound lack of acknowledgement of the existence of structural and institutional racism, its dimensions and its historical correlation, in political and public debate,” said Momodou Malcolm Jallow (Sweden, UEL), PACE General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance. “The cases of human rights violations affecting, for example, people of African descent, or Muslims, are not given adequate consideration, and are sometimes not even publicly condemned – even when they are reliably attested. That needs to change,” he added, speaking at the opening of a parliamentary conference on “Diversity, inclusiveness and non-discrimination against racism and intolerance in Europe”, held in Paris today in hybrid mode.
“We need to combat racism at its roots and therefore tackle the structural and historical aspect of it. We need to move beyond tackling individual aspects of racism and address the structural inequalities for racialised people,” he said, deploring that, too often, the intersection between ethnicity, gender, religion and migration background were markers of exclusion.
“There have been milestones not only in the work towards gender equality but also in the fields of inclusiveness and non-discrimination at all levels in Sweden and elsewhere, but democracy can never be taken for granted,” warned Andreas Norlén, Speaker of the Swedish Riksdag. “Much can be achieved, both in parliaments and in interparliamentary work, to promote democracy, defend human rights and combat hate speech and intolerance,” he said, highlighting the responsibility carried by Members of Parliament and commending the work of the No Hate Parliamentary Alliance.
One significant threat to democracy was hate, threats and violence against elected representatives, he recalled, evoking the recent murder of British MP David Amess, which he described as “a truly horrifying act”.
Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, recalled that the Council of Europe was working with member States to help them “bridge the gap to genuine equality”. He mentioned the General Policy Recommendation on combating racism and racial discrimination, and tools developed to root out institutionalised racism. “We have also taken steps to help member States with systemic racism,” he said, explaining that this was where discrimination had become embedded in the way that policy-makers, employers and service-providers operate, a “subtle, but insidious” process.
He stressed that individual policies were not enough, and that ultimately change should come from the bottom up, announcing that the Council of Europe was working on “a comprehensive approach to addressing hate speech, including online”.
This conference was organised by the Swedish Parliament and the PACE Equality and Non-Discrimination Committee, as part of the activities of the No Hate Parliamentary Alliance. Speakers included parliamentarians and representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, and a number of NGOs working in the field; the Swedish Equality Ombudsman; the Swedish member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI); and academics.