The UK Government is committed to combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance, both domestically and internationally.
Among our main concerns during 2012 were reports of an increase in hate speech and hate crime in Europe. The Council of Europe held a conference in Budapest in November on tackling hate crime, which promoted self-regulation and online moderation as tools for tackling hate speech. The UK Government published a national plan called “Challenge it, Report it, Stop it” in March to tackle hate crime. The plan focuses on challenging attitudes and behaviours that foster hatred, encouraging early intervention, building victims’ confidence in the justice system to increase reporting and improving the way in which we respond to hate crime.
The Irish Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) made racism and xenophobia one of the priorities of their chairmanship. We were disappointed that it did not ultimately prove possible to agree an OSCE ministerial decision. Nevertheless, the OSCE held a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting in April on “Combating Racism, Intolerance and Discrimination in Society through Sport” at which Lord Bates spoke about the Olympic Truce. The Olympic Truce has its origins in ancient Greece, when it allowed athletes, artists and spectators to travel to Olympia to participate in the Olympic Games and to return home in peace. Securing the 2012 Olympic Truce, which was the subject of a UN resolution, involved Lord Bates walking 3,000 miles across Europe from Athens to London in order to promote the key principles of the Olympic Games of fairness, equality and respect.
The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited the UK in October and held a number of meetings, including with officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the FCO, other government departments, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and members of civil society in both London and Liverpool. The purpose of the visit was to gather information prior to their 2013 report on the UK. Their preliminary findings praised the UK for our comprehensive equalities framework, including our legislation and our effective use of data to help us promote equality and social mobility. They did raise concern, however, that the move to take a more holistic approach to equality risked masking inequalities faced particularly by people of African descent.
The UN resolutions proceeding from the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action continue to articulate the way in which the UN addresses racism. This year’s resolution referred to the scope and nature of the Decade on People of African Descent, recognising the positive role that freedom of expression can play in combating racism and the need to address holistically advocacy of racial, ethnic and xenophobic hatred. It was not possible to achieve consensus, however, partly due to concerns that the text failed to recognise that primary responsibility for combating racism lies with states. New language in the resolution on religion rather than race also threatened to blur the distinction between criticising what people believe and criticising who they are. Religion and belief are identities of choice, whereas race and ethnicity are not. Treating these two elements of a person’s identity as inextricably linked suggests wrongly that individuals cannot change their religion or beliefs.
A further resolution put forward at the UN dealt with the inadmissibility of practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. This included several improvements on the 2011 version of the text, but new elements introduced during the negotiation prevented consensus. In particular, the change in the title of the resolution to include the glorification of Nazism had the effect of limiting the scope of the resolution and not fully addressing all contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. As with changes elsewhere in the text, we felt that this selective approach meant that the resolution failed to address adequately our responsibility towards all victims of racism, past and present.
In 2013, we will continue to strive for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination remains a cornerstone of our efforts. We will also nominate UK experts to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Council of Europe’s monitoring body, who specialise in combating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in greater Europe.