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Racism and Xenophobia: The Role of Governments in Addressing Continuing Challenges
Friday, July 18, 2008

by Mischa Thompson, PhD and Alex Johnson, Staff Advisors

On May 29-30, 2008, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) held the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM), titled “The Role of National Institutions against Discrimination in Combating Racism and Xenophobia with Special Focus on Persons belonging to National Minorities and Migrants” (http://www.osce.org/conferences/shdm1_2008.html). Prior to the meeting, a “roundtable for civil society" was organized by ODIHR to enable civil society representatives to prepare recommendations to be presented during the Opening Session of the SHDM.

The purpose of the Supplementary Meeting was to focus on “National Institutions Against Discrimination” (NIADs) that OSCE countries have developed to combat racism and discrimination. The majority of OSCE countries have in place national human rights or ombudsman institutions to deal with human rights violations in general, however, their mandates and capacity to deal more specifically with manifestations of racism and xenophobia vary, with some having little to no focus on this area. The SHDM examined the role of national institutions in responding to and combating racism and xenophobia in particular, where such cases involve persons belonging to national minorities and migrants.

Official delegations from the OSCE countries took part in the conference, including participation from the U.S. Congress. Representative Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), participated as head of the Official OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation in his role as President Emeritus of the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). The U.S. Delegation included U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley, as well as Naomi Churchill Earp, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The two-day Conference featured three panels focused on the role and mandate of NIADs in combating racism and xenophobia, overcoming challenges, and good practices. Additionally, there was a side event hosted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and ODIHR entitled, “Is the right to asylum undermined by racism and xenophobia?” The conference was held in Austria, where reports from the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (EUFRA) and European Network Against Racism (ENAR) had previously cited numerous cases of racism and discrimination impacting Roma, Black, Muslim, Jewish, and migrant communities in education, employment, housing, criminal justice, and other areas (see http://www.fra.europa.eu/factsheets/front/factSheetPage.php?category=113... http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/national/Austria_2006.pdf.)

Chairman Hastings, representing the OSCE PA, delivered remarks at the Opening Session of the meeting following presentations from the outgoing Director of ODIHR, Ambassador Christian Strohal, and the incoming Director of EUFRA, Morten Kjaerum. Chairman Hastings’ remarks focused on the importance of the U.S. story in developing remedies to historic injustices, lessons learned, and remaining challenges, including those faced by migrant populations. He noted that, “given the multiple effects of racism and discrimination, there is no single government office that can fully address the problem [and that] the decades of U.S. government institutions fighting discrimination, recruiting from diverse communities, providing education and training opportunities for minorities coupled with efforts from the civil society and private sector were critical to [gains minorities have made in the U.S.].” In addition to noting the need for minority input in the creation and implementation of any strategies, he also stressed the need for action. “I’ve been meeting on efforts to stop racism for 30 years. It’s time for something to be done,” he said.

The need for action also was underscored by a number of attendees of the meeting who cited numerous problems with the political independence of, funding, structure, knowledge of, and mandate of NIADs, which impacted their abilities to adequately address problems faced by the communities they were designed to assist. Calls for NIADs to be independent were raised by numerous civil society members, as they felt links to government prevented prompt and appropriate responses to acts of discrimination. Additionally, this was said to impact their structure, as members of the affected communities cited that they were not appointed to the boards, employed in the organizations, nor consulted in the plans and initiatives of the institutions. One civil society participant cited as evidence of this, that a number of the panelists at the SHDM were not “Muslim, Black, or some other visible minority,” despite playing leading roles in NIADs. Others noted cronyism in the appointments, leading to questions of whether the leaders of a number of the organizations possessed the ‘cultural competency’ needed to adequately address problems of racism and xenophobia.

Concerns about the mandates were also raised, as they were often focused on legal remedies, data collection, and assisting victims, but may not have included or were unsuccessful with outreach, education, and/or empowerment tools, e.g., informing affected communities of anti-discrimination laws and initiatives, providing technical assistance to minority/migrant organizations to represent themselves. For many, these problems indicated a lack of actual political will to solve the problems, which was then also reflected in several NIADs reporting a lack of government funding. These concerns were noted as reasons civil society was in some countries assuming and/or being asked to assume government responsibilities for addressing racism and xenophobia.

Addressing some of these concerns, and underscoring a number of Chairman Hastings’ observations, U.S. delegate Naomi Earp of the EEOC provided remarks on the U.S. approach to combating discrimination during the Opening Session and Session III of the Meeting (Document 1, Document 2). Noting that, “Sadly racism is alive and well,” she detailed the numerous federal, state, and local civil rights programs and institutions in the U.S. created to implement racial equality. She cited politics and funding as primary challenges and noted the need for “a viable consensus” among government actors, civil society, the private sector, and other affected parties to prioritize and formulate successful strategies. “Nations must understand that institutionalizing equal opportunity, while laudable, has financial consequences,” she said, including details of the importance of planned and adequate funding. Moving beyond a paradigm of addressing violent forms of discrimination, she also noted the need to combat systematic or institutionalized discrimination, as well as subtle and blatant forms of discrimination that impact hiring, promotions, and other aspects of the workplace (see E-Race initiative http://www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race/index.html).

A number of other participating States, such as France and Belgium noted how their NIADs were organized and what they did. Others reiterated the growing problems of racism and xenophobia in their societies and cited the need for solutions. Russian Ombudsman Vladmir Lukin remarked, “extremist ideas and xenophobic attitudes are nowadays commonly concealed as formally legitimate disagreement to a state’s migration policy,” and that solutions should also focus on tolerance education, as “responding to already committed crimes makes it impossible to start their effective prevention.”

The Meeting ended with OSCE Chair-in-Office Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions, Anastasia Crickley calling for an increased focus on implementing solutions. She noted that the remarks of two Americans, Chairman Alcee L. Hastings and Naomi Earp, illuminated two key concepts participants should take away from the SHDM. First, she observed that Chairman Hastings demonstrated why, “national institutions and official agencies should reflect the diversity of the communities they represent,” and second that, Ms. Earp demonstrated that participants must “measure issues so that they can address them.” Ms. Crickley also observed that a number of forms of discrimination were inadequately engaged throughout the SHDM proceedings, particularly discrimination faced by Roma and Sinti communities.

Expected outcomes of the meeting included the creation and/or strengthening of NIADs by OSCE participating States, increased cooperation and partnerships of NIADs with civil society, and assistance for burgeoning NIADs. Additionally, the development and implementation of national action plans with the consultation of civil society, improved data collection, research, and reporting, and maintaining a focus on combating racism and xenophobia in the face of attempts to refocus the conversation solely on integration and immigration were highlighted. Many questions of what the follow-up to this meeting could be remained, including possible trainings and technical assistance to strengthen NIADs, outreach and empowerment initiatives for affected communities, the role of the private sector, and as well as the need for participating States themselves to better understand racism, xenophobia, and discrimination and how best to adequately, design, fund, implement, and sustain successful strategies.

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  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest May 2022

  • Supporting Ukrainian Refugees

    More than 6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country due to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Most have entered bordering EU states, with more than half of those going to Poland. Poland and other frontline countries acted swiftly not only by opening their borders to Ukrainians, but also by enacting policies and legislation to provide them with temporary status, housing, job training, healthcare, and access to education. For its part, the Biden Administration announced that it will take in 100,000 refugees, opening a path for Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole in the United States. In addition, the United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance and support to countries hosting refugees. Nevertheless, as Russia’s bloody assault on Ukraine enters its third month, there is no end in sight to what has become the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Witnesses discussed the responses and challenges that frontline countries face in supporting Ukrainian refugees and how the United States might strengthen its policies in response, including by making the process of applying for visas more efficient.   Related Information Witness Biographies

  • Support for Ukrainian Refugees to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: SUPPORTING UKRAINIAN REFUGEES U.S. Policy and Visa Issuance Wednesday, May 25, 2022 2:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission More than 6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country due to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Most have entered bordering EU states, with more than half of those going to Poland. Poland and other frontline countries acted swiftly not only by opening their borders to Ukrainians, but also by enacting policies and legislation to provide them with temporary status, housing, job training, healthcare, and access to education. For its part, the Biden Administration announced that it will take in 100,000 refugees, opening a path for Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole in the United States. In addition, the United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance and support to countries hosting refugees. Nevertheless, as Russia’s bloody assault on Ukraine enters its third month, there is no end in sight to what has become the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Witnesses will discuss the responses and challenges that frontline countries face in supporting Ukrainian refugees and how the United States might strengthen its policies in response, including by making the process of applying for visas more efficient. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1 Dana Francis, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration,U.S. Department of State (TBC) Panel 2 H. E. Marek Magierowski, Ambassador of Poland to the United States Irina Manelis, Esq., Principal, Manelis Law

  • Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

    Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.”  The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing discussed the findings of the OSCE report, examined evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyzed paths to bring perpetrators to justice.   Related Information Witness Biographies  

  • Helsinki Commission Regrets Closure of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—On April 28, the OSCE announced that Russia had definitively forced the closure of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, following its veto of the mission’s mandated activities as of April 1. In light of this announcement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Moscow’s choice to force the closure of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is only its latest offense against the rules-based international order. The brave monitors and staff who served the mission, in place since 2014, did exactly what they were supposed to do. Despite continual harassment and under constant threat, they reported objectively on ceasefire violations, informing the international community about the brutal reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The monitors’ clear and continuous reporting allowed the world to draw its own conclusions about the roots of Russia’s aggression. Moscow’s move to force the mission to close only underlines its desire to hide this ugly fact. “As we commend the service of these brave monitors and condemn Russia’s obstruction, we renew our call on Moscow to immediately release all Ukrainian SMM staff members who have been detained in occupied parts of Ukraine. “We also mourn the recent loss of Maryna Fenina, a Ukrainian national serving with the SMM who was killed by Russia’s shelling in Kharkiv on March 1, and we will never forget American paramedic Joseph Stone, who was killed while serving in support of the mission when his vehicle struck a landmine in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine on April 23, 2017.” The SMM was established in 2014 as an unarmed, civilian mission and served as the international community’s eyes and ears on the security and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. It operated under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest April 2022

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Condemn Detention of OSCE Officials by Russian-Led Forces in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—Following the detention of four Ukrainian nationals serving as members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine who reportedly were accused of illegal activities including treason and espionage, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The targeting and detention of OSCE officials by Russian-controlled forces is utterly unacceptable. Those detained must be released immediately. We will hold Russian officials responsible for any mistreatment they suffer.” On April 24, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that four Ukrainian staff members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) had been detained and held “for engaging in administrative activities that fall within their official functions as OSCE staff.”   The SMM had served a critical function as the eyes and ears of the international community in the conflict zone since 2014, until a Russian veto forced its mandated activities to cease on April 1. Since then, Ukrainian mission members had been carrying out minimum necessary administrative tasks focused on efforts to ensure the safety and security of its mission members, assets, and premises throughout Ukraine, including in Russian-controlled areas.

  • Helsinki Commission Urges OSCE PA to Adopt Ukrainian Declaration Recognizing Russia’s Actions as Genocide

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), who serves as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), along with other Helsinki Commissioners who hold leadership roles in the commission and the OSCE PA, today released a letter urging the assembly to adopt a declaration by the parliament of Ukraine that recognizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide. Co-Chairman Cohen was joined in the letter to OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt by Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), who serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance; Senate Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), who serves as an OSCE PA vice-president; Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), who chairs the OSCE PA Committee on Political Affairs and Security; and House Ranking Member Joe Wilson (SC-02). The letter read in part: “It is clear to us that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his military regime are engaging in acts of genocide against Ukraine and its people and we urge the OSCE PA to also endorse the Rada’s declaration and issue a similar statement. “We do not come to this conclusion lightly, and we recognize the importance of precision in employing such terminology. However, given the overwhelming evidence—from Putin and his regime’s many comments denying the existence of Ukrainian nationhood and the deliberate targeting of civilians, to the wholesale destruction of Mariupol, the mass graves that now pockmark Ukrainian lands, and reports of forced deportation of Ukrainian people including children to Russia where they are being indoctrinated in “reeducation camps” in attempts to destroy Ukrainian identity—we cannot be silent. The OSCE PA must raise its voice and speak with unity and unmitigated clarity about the unspeakable horrors that are unfolding in Ukraine and be truthful about what is happening there… “Given Russia’s disregard for the 10 Helsinki principles guiding relations between participating States, its manipulation of OSCE rules for its own destructive ends, and its encouragement of neighboring Belarus to be complicit in its war crimes and genocidal actions, the Parliamentary Assembly should make clear where we as a credible body stand. Russia’s horrific war of choice in Ukraine and this unfolding genocide must be described just as it is.” The full letter is available online.

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