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Helsinki Commission Addresses the Rise of Hate Crimes and Discrimination in Europe

WASHINGTON –  Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), held a briefing entitled, “Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE.” Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA). The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The panel of speakers included, Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.

Chairman Hastings stressed, “Not only are hate crimes in the OSCE on the rise, but discrimination is also an everyday experience for many persons who live in OSCE countries, as many Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, south Asian, or other descent can attest to when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, or even go to school.”

Hastings went on to say, “Politicians and political parties are also increasingly adopting anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric without receiving proper condemnation from their colleagues or other public leaders. While censorship is not the answer, political leaders do bear a unique responsibility to promote tolerance and mutual respect amongst its citizenry, not to sow mistrust and discord.”

Senator Smith commented, “For the past several years, I have watched with alarm as right-wing extremist parties have become more popular. These groups often espouse viciously anti-Semitic slogans, and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity. I had hoped that this identity had faded into the rubble of the last European war. But I may have been wrong. In Hungary last month, 600 people publicly joined a right-wing paramilitary group in a mass ceremony. Members wear apparel reminiscent of Hungary’s World War II fascist government, and support an ideology of xenophobia and bigotry. The ceremony was an unwelcome reminder of a bitter past, to which I cannot believe any European would willingly return.”

Congresswoman Solis, Special Representative on Migration for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, noted: “I stand in strong support of finding positive solutions to ending hate crimes and discrimination throughout Europe. As Special Representative on Migration, I am very interested in addressing these problems. I look forward to continuing my work with my fellow OSCE colleagues to capitalize on the positive aspects of migration in each of our countries.”

As a result of the efforts of Helsinki Commissioners and other OSCE Parliamentarians to address a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in 2001, the OSCE has established a tolerance unit within its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) that publishes an annual hate crimes report, trains law enforcement on responding to hate crimes, and developed numerous tolerance education initiatives that address anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, and intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, Christians and members of other religions.

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