The "HELP in the 28" Programme organised an European Seminar on the "Fight against racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia", in collaboration with the Spanish School for the Judiciary in Barcelona on 26 and 27 July.
The objective of the Seminar was to analyse the phenomena of racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia in Europe as well as the most effective legal ways to prevent and prosecute crimes related to these.
More than 60 judges, prosecutors, lawyers and experts in the field actively participated, including representatives from the HELP Network, EJTN, CCBE, NGOs and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Staff from member equality bodies in Spain, France, Poland, UK, Lithuania and Portugal attended the seminar.
The current European context of institutional crisis, terrorist attacks, high influx of migrants or refugees and rise of populism nationalist was outlined by speakers such as the CoE Director of Human Rights in Directorate General I, Christos Giakoumopoulos, the Special Representative of the CoE Secretary General for migration and refugees Tomas Bocek and the first CoE Commissioner for Human Rights (1998-2006) Alvaro Gil-Robles.
In her opening remarks, the Director of the Spanish School for the Judiciary, Gema Espinosa Conde, highlighted the need to reinforce the cooperation between national and international institutions to train legal professionals in human rights as a means of better application of European legislation, stressing the relevance of the practical training tools provided by HELP.
Council of Europe (CoE) Director of Human Rights in Directorate General I Christos Giakoumopoulos provided an overview of the key trends of last year observed by the CoE European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI): growing anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia. Since then, xenophobia has continued to rise in Europe. Interestingly, xenophobia concentrates in the areas least exposed to immigration, including rural areas. The terror attacks across Europe further exacerbate islamophobic sentiments and are misused by irresponsible politicians to stir prejudices or hatred.
An important part of the Seminar was devoted to presenting the European legal system of the Council of Europe and the EU, as well as case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EU. Presentations were given by ECRI, Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, as well as practical examples by the Spanish School of Judiciary.
The second day focused on LGBT rights, with a presentation from CoE’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit (SOGI). Though the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people are becoming increasingly recognized in the EU, they still face discrimination across all areas of life. EU countries are increasingly taking steps to remove legal obstacles to legal gender recognition. Still, 117 killings of trans people have been documented in 16 European countries since 2008. In at least 21 Member States, sex ‘normalising’ surgery is carried out on intersex children. Best practices were discussed such as the work by the Spanish Association of lawyers for LGBT rights.
The first CoE Commissioner for Human Rights (1998-2006) Alvaro Gil-Robles delivered a final key note speech addressing the current weakening of the common European project where national interests have overtaken the ‘common good’ of the European construction. He stressed the need for weathering the current crisis and be ing brave enough - on a personal and institutional level - to build a solid Europe of values instead of a “Europe a la carte”. Values should not be ‘negotiable’ and should be taught at school and throughout professional lives. Rather than creating new laws or commissions, he called on legal professionals to apply existing European norms and standards fairly and without fear.
The Seminar conclusions can be summarised as: no to populism and fear; border only to phobias; and legal enforcement of European legislation and values.
The main challenge, rather than reforming the institutions or creating new laws, is implementation of existing laws and standards in each case of non-discriminationa cross Europe, and this, not only in Strasbourg or EU capitals, but at every district level. Still some legislation and policy gaps also exist (eg. to tackle underreporting).
Debates also revolved around the need for legal professionals - and also other justice operators like police - to not only develop knowledge but also skills and attitudes. They need to remain vigilant from the perspective of human rights in the current European context; and they need to be able to apply the European jurisprudence (ECHR, EU Charter, etc) in their daily work.
Presentations are available here
Equinet members can disseminate and avail freely of HELP training courses. You may also liaise with HELP contact persons in Judiciary training institutions or Bar Councils in your respective countries.