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NEWS - Archive for April 2003

April 2003 Headlines


People have been asking us: 'but why don't you give attention to the war? Why doesn't I CARE speak out on that?' First of all, we are not in favour of war, any war. We do recognize and realise the impact of the war on people and we fear that this war will lead to more division, bloodshed and hate between the multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities in all parts of the world. Having said that, it would not be good for I CARE to focus on the war while people all over the world face everyday racism and need all the attention and exposure they can get for this. So that is why we are not giving too much attention to it, especially not during the International action week against racism which is being ignored by the mainstream media since they are all focussing on the war.

Best Regards,
I CARE, March 21, 2003

Officials responsible for migration issues in the 45 member states of the Council of Europe want to set up a forum within the Organisation bringing together the countries of origin, transit and destination, as a means of implementing common and co-ordinated policies in this field. At the same time, a "European Migration Agency" would be responsible for the practical management of these activities, explained Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Director General of Social Cohesion in the Council of Europe at the close of the Conference on Migration Management in the Mediterranean Region, held in Malta on 10 and 11 April.
Interview with Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Council of Europe Director General of Social Cohesion

Question: In September 2002, in Helsinki, the ministers responsible for migration affairs expressed their wish to further develop the dialogue between host countries and the countries of origin. Has the Malta Conference helped achieve this objective?

Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni: At the Malta Conference, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, China and several embassies from non-member countries expressed their readiness to join the 45 Council of Europe member states in stepping up this dialogue, which also involves many international organisations and NGOs. It now has to be put on a permanent and official footing by setting up a political forum for regular consultation. The European Committee on Migration meets twice a year in Strasbourg; in future each of its meetings will be extended by one day, when this new forum for the "45 member states plus" will bring together all the countries concerned, at intergovernmental level. The European Union will also be represented.

Question: What purposes is this forum to serve?

Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni: The aim is to introduce a common migration policy bringing together host countries and countries of origin. At the moment, every European state has bilateral agreements with the countries of origin, but this sometimes leads to inconsistencies; these can be rectified through multilateral efforts.

Similarly, labour market needs have to be reconciled with migratory flows, and legal channels created for migrants, while efforts are made to integrate them. And at the same time, clandestine networks have to be combated, but work also needs to be done to promote the voluntary return of those migrants who cannot stay in Europe. As all of these policies are carried out, human dignity and human rights must be respected.

The European Committee on Migration has already drawn up a strategy to this end, a strategy which would be able to be implemented if a European Migration Agency were set up, to operate in parallel with the forum, which will continue to provide the ideas behind these policies. Greece, through the Secretary General of Greeks Abroad, Dimitri Dollis, has offered to host this agency on Greek territory. The forum and agency projects are already well advanced, but more detailed negotiations are still needed, particularly between the Council of Europe and the European Union: the forum and agency must genuinely bring together the whole of Europe, East and West.

Question: The Malta Conference also looked at sustainable development and its funding: how can partnerships between all countries in this field be strengthened?

Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni: The question of migration, lawful and unlawful, will not be resolved unless the countries of origin are helped to develop. The international financial institutions, particularly the "ethical" ones, have a significant role to play in this field. They can, in particular, channel the savings of migrants abroad, so that this money can be used not only to facilitate their return, but also to develop their countries of origin.

Did you know, for instance, that the amount saved by people from Mali in France is twice as much as the total amount of development assistance paid by France to Mali? These savings, judiciously used, could be a driving force for local development. The future agency will also be responsible for working on financial policies, especially as many countries of immigration have no structure of their own for taking full advantage of their resources.
©Council of Europe

The Council of Europe's expert body on combating racism, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), today released six new reports examining racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance in Andorra, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova and Sweden. ECRI recognises that, in all six Council of Europe member countries, positive developments have occurred. At the same time, the reports detail continuing grounds for concern for the Commission.

In Andorra,
ECRI notes the absence of certain criminal, civil and administrative legal provisions in the field of combating racism and intolerance. A large number of immigrants are in a precarious situation and the period required for naturalisation of long-term residents is very long. ECRI is concerned that this situation prevents immigrants from fully integrating into the Andorran society.

In Azerbaijan,
notions of racism and discrimination appear to be limited to the most extreme and severe manifestations of these phenomena, whereas their most common manifestations tend to be overlooked. However, there are persons who experience direct and indirect discrimination in daily life in Azerbaijan, including refugees, foreigners, members of minority religious groups and Armenians.

In Liechtenstein,
the issue of a certain interest in right-wing extremism, particularly among young people, remains an area for concern. ECRI notes that a clear and detailed mission statement and strategy to integrate non-citizens and persons of immigrant origin into society still remain to be fully elaborated and implemented.

In Lithuania,
problems of racism and intolerance persist and are particularly acute vis-ŕ-vis the members of the Roma/Gypsy community, although they also concern asylum-seekers and refugees, notably Chechens and Afghans. ECRI observes that the existing legal provisions aimed at countering manifestations of racism and racial discrimination are not always adequate to address these phenomena and are rarely applied.

In Moldova,
the main difficulty lies in the need to ensure, in a peaceful manner and in the interest of avoiding future discrimination or inter-ethnic tension, the coexistence of various languages. ECRI also notes that because of continuing political and social tension, criminal, civil and administrative provisions connected with the fight against racism and racial discrimination are very difficult to implement and that the Roma/Gypsy community is especially vulnerable in this respect.

In Sweden,
problems of racism and intolerance persist and particularly persons of immigrant origin still find it difficult to feel fully part of Swedish society and remain partly excluded from its structures, facing discrimination and disadvantage on the labour market, in housing, access to public places such as restaurants and discotheques, in education and in other fields. The activities of extreme right-wing organisations and movements, including acts of violence and the production of white power music, remain a subject for concern, says E ©Council of Europe

Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, wants Uefa to weigh English football's record on tackling racism against the likely punishment for the abuse aimed at Turkey during last week's Euro 2004 qualifier in Sunderland. The European federation has charged the Football Association with fan misconduct and England risk being ordered to play their next qualifier, against Slovakia on June 11 at Middlesbrough, behind closed doors. Uefa's disciplinary commission meets on May 1 with Caborn pleading the FA's anti-racism record in mitigation. He said: "Such incidents are very disappointing but the FA and many other bodies have worked with fans to take racism out of football and that should be recognised. "A small minority has brought our game into disrepute again and it is for all fans to stand up and say they do not want these hooligans and racist thugs in the game. A lot has been achieved through Kick It Out, and Show Racism the Red Card, but we cannot take our foot off the gas."

The charge, following another for the pitch invasions by England fans during the same game, followed an official complaint from the Turkish federation. The FA has until April 21 to submit a response. Slovakia suffered a closed-doors punishment because their supporters racially abused England players last October though Uefa has said a similar punishment for England is by no means automatic. Disciplinary proceedings have also been instigated against Turkey for the improper conduct of players in the tunnel after the match. MPs are to hold an official investigation into football's finances. The all-party Parliamentary Football Group will investigate spiralling player costs, increased debt, the impact of transfer windows, uncertainty over TV revenues and the growing gap between top clubs and the rest. Alan Keen, the Labour MP for Feltham who chairs the group, said: "Football is part of the nation's heritage but, despite its increased popularity, there are serious financial problems at the professional end of the game. The grassroots could be affected as well as the professional game if the wrong decisions are made. "We hope to gather together the joint wisdom of all those involved in the game at all levels." The inquiry, which will also consider the potential for conflict between fans and shareholders of clubs listed on the Stock Exchange, will publish its findings in the autumn.

Derby County have given another indication that their suspended manager, John Gregory, will not be returning to Pride Park by re-employing another person sacked by him. Rod Thomas has been appointed director of football months after losing his job as a scout when Gregory reorganised the department. Billy McEwan, dismissed by Gregory as coach in February, has already been re-employed. George Burley, Derby's interim manager, expects a decision on his future next week. He was appointed for an initial two-week period after Gregory's suspension a fortnight ago and today's game away at Wimbledon was due to be his last. Everton are to look for another new home after scrapping plans yesterday to move to King's Dock. Bill Kenwright, Everton's deputy chairman, said: "We will work closely with the city council to deliver the first-class stadium our supporters want and deserve."
©The Guardian

Five Midland teachers are being hounded out of their jobs by racist kids every year, the Sunday Mercury can reveal. The National Union of Teachers says that its members are quitting in record numbers because of classroom thugs who have gone so far as to make death threats. One teacher contacted the Sunday Mercury to complain about the violence and racist abuse which forced her to walk away from a Midland school. "I was constantly called racist names and told that no-one wanted to be taught by a black bitch like me," she said. "I was told that if I gave a detention, I would be beaten up by the child's dad. I even had death threats which have left me emotionally weak. I had to leave my job." NUT spokesman Brian Carter said that the number of teachers quitting because of violence or racism in Midland schools was on the rise, with around four to five cases each year. "It is a worrying factor but it seems to be a reflection of the attitudes in society in general," he said. "It's a pity that the teacher who contacted the Sunday Mercury felt she had to leave the school because we do have systems in place to protect against racism. "Allegations of racism are taken very seriously because they have a detrimental effect on the whole school." In January a 10-day survey of schools nationwide revealed that teachers were attacked by pupils nearly 100 times a day. A total of 126 physical assaults, 838 cases of verbal abuse - including 62 sexual insults or threats - and nine cases of racist abuse were logged during the 10 days.
©IC Birmingham

The five men suspected of killing Stephen Lawrence may not face a final trial even if the ancient principle of double jeopardy is removed by the Government. Civil rights lawyer Imran Khan, who represents the Lawrence family, says their case will not be helped by changes to the rule which bars a retrial of anyone previously tried and acquitted. The changes to the rule have led to speculation Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight, the three found not guilty on the judge's direction after a private prosecution by the family collapsed, may find themselves back in the dock. David Norris and Jamie Acourt could find themselves there with them if the Crown Prosecution Service judges that evidence is strong enough to put them on trial. Under proposed legislation the Court of Appeal would only allow a defendant to be retried where it is satisfied there is new and compelling evidence and a retrial is in the interests of justice.

But Mr Khan, who has represented the Lawrences for 10 years, told News Shopper a case would only be re-tried if there was a thorough investigation by police when it was originally prosecuted. And while he would still do his utmost to represent the Lawrences if the law does change, he says the original investigation was not competent. He said: "It's disingenuous for Government to say that this provision has been brought about to help the Lawrence family when it won't help them at all." Mr Khan also believes the removal of double jeopardy is wrong in principle. Knowing that "new and compelling" evidence must have come to light to spark a re-trial would put, huge psychological pressure on juries to pass guilty verdicts. He says abolishing the rule could lead to sloppy investigations if police believe they have a second chance to get a prosecution. The Criminal Justice Bill, which includes the double jeopardy provisions, is expected to get royal assent in autumn. The Director of Public Prosecutions will have to personally give the go-ahead for police to reinvestigate an acquitted person. A Home Office spokesman said: "We do not expect this reform to apply other than in exceptional circumstances."

Allegations of racial abuse steadily dropping
Allegations of racial abuse in Greenwich have been steadily dropping over the last five years. Figures show alleged incidents dropped from 1,163 between 1999 and 2000 to 769 in the year 2002 to 2003. And according to police, Eltham is certainly not the worst area in the borough for allegations of racial incidents. Racial incidents have only been recorded by police for the last five years as a result of recommendations made in the Macpherson Report. It was as a result of the report, compiled following the Macpherson Inquiry into the way police investigated Stephen Lawrence's death, that the law was changed to record racial motivation in crime statistics. Greenwich police borough commander chief Superintendent David Commins said:

"Our policing has changed out of all recognition in the last 10 years and this has come as a result of the death of Stephen Lawrence and the inquiry which followed. In the years which have followed we have gained the confidence and earned the respect of the community. "Some of the labels attached to Eltham have had a self-fulfilling prophecy which is unfair on the people who live there. But people trust the police now where they didn't before." Another result of the Macpherson Inquiry is every borough now has its own community safety unit to deal with crimes which affect the community such as racial abuse. More than 30 per cent of the 506 Greenwich police officers are based in the borough community safety unit. Head of Greenwich community safety unit Detective Inspector Mark Castell said: "Eltham is not the worst area of Greenwich and certainly not the worst in Britain. But if anything happens anywhere near Eltham newspapers jump all over it which is unfair. "I would like t Dover Road, Blackheath. Five men were initially arrested but proceedings against two of them were discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service. An inquest into Stephen's death ended in February 1997, with the jury deciding the teenager had been "unlawfully killed in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths". Stephen's parents Neville and Doreen Lawrence then took up a private prosecution against all five but the case against two of them was dropped at the committal stage. Three men Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight went on trial at the Old Bailey but were formally acquitted in April 1996. Stephen's death led to the Macpherson Inquiry which accused the Metropolitan Police of "institutional racism," and changed the way racist attacks are recorded and investigated. Acourt and David Norris another of the initial five suspects were each jailed last year for 18 months for a racist attack on a black police officer. The sentences were later reduced to 12 months on appeal. April 22 will mark the 10th anniversary of Stephen's death.
©News Shopper

Stephen Lawrence was murdered 10 years ago. The case - and what it told us about our society - became a landmark in race relations. But, asks Brian Cathcart, are things any better now?

Can it really be 10 years since he died? It was April 1993: John Smith led the Labour Party, the EU was still called the EC, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales had just split up and the story of the moment was a cock-up at the Grand National start line. If, like me, you think of Stephen Lawrence's murder as somehow more recent, that is probably because of the uncomfortable truth that, back then, most of us scarcely noticed it. When it actually happened, the murder of a black 18-year-old at a bus stop by white boys who called him "nigger" was not much more than a one-day news story. Years would pass before the British public and political classes registered the true enormity of the events in Eltham. The tipping point, the moment when awareness began to dawn, probably did not come until 1997, the year New Labour came to power. That was when Doreen Lawrence told an inquest that the case carried the bald message for British black people that "your lives are nothing". That was when the Daily Mail called the prime suspects "murderers" on its front page. That was when the Police Complaints Authority confirmed what the Lawrences had said all along  that the police investigation had been incompetent.

From then on the story was headline-scale: the inquiry, with its high emotions and dramas; the Macpherson report, with its finding of institutional racism; the ensuing controversy and backlash. A humiliated police force reacted with a mixture of contrition and anger; the wider world, after properly expressing its shock, eventually moved on to the next thing. Did it all make a difference? Did the Lawrence case bring about any lasting alteration in Britain's racial landscape? The most interesting answers emerge when we look back beyond the tipping point, when we see how the world reacted in 1993 and ask another question: would it respond in the same way now? It would be wrong to imagine that, back in 1993, no one cared or paid attention. Stephen Lawrence was confirmed dead in hospital at almost 11.20pm on Thursday 22 April, too late for the news to make the morning papers. But by 10am the next day The Independent had a reporter in the Lawrences' home, and its rivals were close behind.

That afternoon there was an angry meeting of councillors and community leaders at Woolwich Town Hall, and a well-attended press conference at the local police station. The word was out that this London borough was the "race-murder capital of Britain", and no one was in any doubt about the extent of the outrage in the local black community. It was a story  not a front-page story, and not one to top the bulletins, but still a national event. That it disappeared from the news agenda within 24 hours owed a lot to an IRA bomb exploding that Saturday in the City of London; but it also reflected a simple truth  few people in the news media or the wider public expected the Lawrence story to lead anywhere. Racism, like poverty, was a problem that didn't go away no matter what you did, so  to put it brutally  it didn't seem worth doing much.

And so it began.

Just four days after Stephen's death, any hope of catching the murderers had, in all probability, been already wrecked by monumental police incompetence. Vital tip-offs were ignored or misunderstood, any leads that were recognised as such were investigated at a creaking pace, and the surveillance operation was so ham-fisted as to be a waste of time. Were it not so awful, it would be the stuff of situation comedy. Within 10 days, Stephen's parents suspected something was badly wrong, and called a press conference. Doreen Lawrence said: "If it was the other way around and a white boy had been killed by a gang of black men, they would have arrested half the black community in the police they were  they had been given ample time to cover their tracks.

All of this made little impact in the media. The Lawrences' press conference attracted scant attention and the Mandela event not much more. The arrests were widely reported, but then a blanket of silence descended: the suspects were minors, so their names and other details couldn't be disclosed. By then, it was all over, bar the shouting. Since the charges were soon dropped and the family's subsequent private prosecution of the five suspects would collapse, no one would ever be convicted of Stephen Lawrence's murder. The Metropolitan Police eventually admitted a "systemic failure" had occurred in its ranks  surely an admission few would dispute. But why had it occurred? As the public inquiry concluded six years later in February 1999, it was an entire mindset that was at fault, a way of viewing things that was by no means exclusive to the police. At its heart was the conviction that only a small minority of obviously bad people could be racists, accompanied by a reflex of outraged denial when anyone suggested otherwise.

This is the pivot on which the whole Lawrence story turns, and 10 years on, the measure of how far things have changed must be how far we as a society have understood how misguided it was. The mindset expressed itself in a hundred ways, but few were more potent or damaging than the stubborn reluctance  again not restricted to the police  to accept that Stephen's death was indeed a "race murder". From the first day all sorts of rumours circulated, in Eltham and further afield, about Stephen Lawrence: he had raped a white girl; it was a drugs thing; it was a gang thing; he had provoked white youths by shouting insults. There were also rumours about his friend Duwayne Brooks, who was with him when he was killed and who heard the attackers use the word "nigger". These rumours had a purpose: for those who wanted one, they provided an excuse to deny that this young man had been murdered because he was black. All you need is the smell of something dubious around the victim and the effect is achieved. But in the Lawrence case, remarkably, it turned out that no such refuge was possible. The events of 22 April 1993 and their background had such a terrible and unusual purity that it was actually possible to prove the innocence of the victims. There had been no rape, there were no drugs and Stephen and Duwayne were not in any gang. Two independent witnesses saw everything they did in that part of Eltham that night, and they provoked no one.

More than that, the circumstances of the murder, as they became clear, lent power- ful support to the race motive. It was a stranger attack, completely unprovoked, in an area known for hostility to black people; all the attackers were white and of the five young people at the bus stop, only the two black ones were attacked. Add the use of the word "nigger", and by any sensible estimation what you have is a race crime. One of the most depressing spectacles of the public inquiry, however, was the procession of detectives who still argued that the murder was just a piece of thuggery, that the killers would have done the same to a white boy, that you couldn't tell exactly what was in their heads when they attacked. Tom Cook, a former deputy chief constable on the inquiry panel, was driven to exasperation. If a man goes into a post office with a gun and demands money, he said, you don't need to see inside his head to know his motive is robbery. Another way in which the mindset showed itself was in the response that accepted that the murder was a tragedy, but insisted it should not be politicised. Anti-racism groups and local politicians were wrong, it was said in the press and elsewhere, to use the case in arguments about policing and race relations; they had their own agenda, which was scarcely compatible with the needs of a grieving family. When an anti-BNP march near Eltham ended in violence between mainly black protesters and police, "race activists" and "black radicals" were accused of it was certainly an assault on a whole community, and for that reason it deserved a higher priority, more resources and more thought than other murders. It didn't get them.

These two things  the denial of the motive and the refusal to accept that what happened was more than a random street event that could be dealt with by normal procedures  had practical consequences. Even if the investigation had been competent, it would have eroded trust in the police among the ethnic minorities, whose point of view was not heard and who were entitled to conclude that, as Mandela put it, their lives were cheap. But the detectives also closed their eyes to race. Incredibly, no witness in the case, and no informant, was ever asked for information about the suspects' racial attitudes. When the suspects were interviewed, one of them raised the question of race, and he was told it wasn't relevant. And the reflex of denial ran deeper. It may have taken the Lawrences only 10 days to work out what was really going on in the incident room, but it took six angry years to drag out the facts. The attitude of many officers was captured in one memo to Scotland Yard: "Our patience is wearing thin on 3 Area, not only with the Lawrence family and their representatives..."

Once, and only once, was the case subjected to internal police reassessment, but that was an extraordinarily and  the inquiry found  transparently flawed affair. But the upper ranks, believing what they wanted to believe, rather than taking seriously what a black family with a left-wing lawyer was telling them, clung to the report uncritically. It was, an officer said, their "comfort cushion", and they certainly rested on it. As the public inquiry found, the common thread that tied this whole disastrous Lawrence bundle together was racism. If racism is by definition to cause people disadvantage because of their race, then it was difficult to conclude that the police service had not perpetrated an act of racism against the Lawrences. The report stressed that it did not suggest that every officer was a malicious racist; but the pattern of the police responses to black people that emerged in the case was crystal clear. It was one of denial, rejection, defensiveness, avoidance and the transfer of blame, and the consequence was a catastrophic and deserved loss of trust. People who are not malicious racists, people no different from you and me, can act in racist ways, or in ways that have racist effects. More than that, we can do damage by what we fail to do. We can do it singly or in groups, and in the latter case it can be called institutional.

So what of the present day? When a black man is attacked or killed these days because of his colour, is anything different? Many things are. Thanks to the Macpherson report, the police are better trained, are obliged to take any suggestion of a racial motive more seriously, and have much closer relations with minority communities, while their procedures for monitoring investigations and liaising with stricken families have been transformed. But have those visceral responses to black experiences been replaced in the police, or in wider society? Has the reflex that demands that the victim must be proven innocent disappeared, or do we still respond to these crimes with suspicion? Is the reflex thatdoubts the racist motive still there? Does public opinion still recoil from the notion that race crime is political and that people have a right, even a duty, to be angry about it? And does our political class hear and respond to the grievances of ethnic-minority people, even when what they find may be uncomfortable?

I wonder. Listen to that background hum of complaint about thought control, political correctness and excessive paperwork, and it's clear that there are some who are convinced that getting this right is not worth any effort. I am an optimist; I believe that 10 years on, things have improved and that, at the very least, the terms of the argument have changed. But I am not naďve: if you are black, the bar of justic © Independent Digital

The integration of Roma into Slovak society and ensuring equal opportunities for the minority are underlying this year's cabinet priorities in a strategy to help the country's troubled 500,000 strong Roma population. The cabinet discussed the strategy at a meeting on April 2, and is expected to approve funding for concrete Roma projects later in the month. For this year the cabinet has freed Sk50 million (1.2 million euro) from the state budget for Roma projects. But despite focused cabinet efforts to aid the Roma, since 1999 in particular, the lives of the minority have "not improved by one centimetre", said Ladislav Fizik, head of an umbrella organisation for Roma politicians called the Roma Parliament. He said the funds freed for improving the lot of Roma - whom he believes are among the country's poorest, least educated, and most discriminated against inhabitants - was far from enough. "What is Sk50 million? Just look at how the Roma live. I think Sk1.5 billion should be allotted for solving Roma problems," Fizik said.

The cabinet appointee for Roma issues, Klára Orgovánová, agreed that the funds were "not sufficient", saying that "[the Roma] problem is growing disproportionately to the possibilities of the cabinet". She pointed out, however, that in addition to the Sk50 million, individual ministries run several Roma-related projects from their own budgets, and that the cabinet plan also expects EU funds to be used for some Roma programmes. Since 1999, the cabinet has given hundreds of millions of crowns to various Roma projects, including housing, education, employment, and social programmes. Through the PHARE fund, the EU has also contributed millions of euro to numerous development projects for the Roma. Housing, however, remains among the worst problems faced by the minority. According to cabinet statistics, there are 620 Roma settlements, primarily in the east of the country, where about 139,560 Roma live in ghetto-like conditions. Others live in run-down flats in the suburbs of Slovak towns and cities. In the settlements, several families often live together in sheds built of wood or corrugated iron. They rarely have running water, heating, or electricity. "[When visitors come to the Roma settlements they say] the living conditions are impossible, that this situation reminds them of the middle ages," said Fizik.

The Roma are also generally in poorer health than the majority population. The cabinet's strategy for the Roma - officially entitled Elementary Thesis of a Concept of Cabinet Policies in Integrating Roma Communities for 2003 - states that while the national average life expectancy of Slovak men is 66.5 years, Roma men live 54.5 years on average. Roma women on the other hand live 68.5 years, compared with 76.5 years for Slovak women in general. EU officials have regularly pointed out that helping the country's Roma must become a priority for the Slovak administration. The cabinet's 2003 Roma strategy acknowledges those demands, stating that "the integration of minorities and their coexistence with majority society is a condition for the successful functioning of Slovakia within the EU". "Countries that have not completely solved the situation with their minorities have limited chances of succeeding in a united Europe. A productive integration, via political participation, education, and employment, is a precondition for a conflict-free coexistence. The price for delaying solutions would be high," states the document.

Orgovánová told The Slovak Spectator that the cabinet aimed to continue supporting development projects in spheres such as education, employment, housing, and tolerance towards Roma, so that "[Roma are accepted as] equal citizens of the Slovak Republic". "The marginalised groups of the Roma population do not enjoy equal opportunities in comparison with the rest of the population," she said. Roma politicians, meanwhile, are reminding t Pavol P. and Major Peter M. allegedly said at a military seminar dedicated to minority-versus-majority issues that "97 per cent of Roma are unable to adapt and should be shot dead", according to the private TV channel Markíza. Eliminating such racist attitudes is believed to be among the toughest tasks for the cabinet and the NGOs with whom the administration works in this sphere. But until Roma see their lives visibly change for better, they say they will look at all cabinet strategies with scepticism. "We are the poorest [people in the country] and we are beginning to think that no one is able to ease our misery," said Fizik.
©The Slovak Spectator

Motherhood came at a tender age for Ingrid Ginova, who had her first child at 15 and her second a year later. But her tragedy, she says, is that she'll never give birth again. Ginova, a Gypsy, contends she was sterilized against her will after delivering her last baby. Now 20, she is among 110 Gypsy women who human rights groups say may have been forcibly sterilized or coerced into the procedure since the fall of communism in 1989. "If they had at least told me ... or asked me if I knew what sterilization is," Ginova said, her eyes downcast. The women's plight has triggered a debate about medical care in Slovakia, and nine U.S. congressmen have urged an investigation. The Slovak government has begun one, but says so far it has not found evidence of racially motivated sterilizations aimed at Gypsies, who also are known as Roma. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Slovak Center for Civil and Human Rights raised the alarm in a joint report based on interviews last year with 230 women in 40 Gypsy settlements in eastern Slovakia. They also talked to doctors and other health officials, who have denied coercing women into undergoing sterilizations. The rights groups said they "uncovered clear and consistent patterns" of health care providers who "disregarded the need for obtaining informed consent to sterilization." They "are complicit in the illegal and unethical practice of sterilizing Romany women without obtaining their consent," the report said. However, it cautioned that because race statistics are not published in Slovakia, "it is not clear if doctors are performing Cesarean deliveries or subsequent sterilizations more on Roma women than non-Roma women."

As in the rest of eastern Europe, Gypsies are among the country's poorest citizens and live in settlements outside cities and villages. Gypsy women contend they face discriminatory standards in health care and say they've been denied access to medical records. The European Union, which Slovakia expects to join in 2004, repeatedly has urged the government to do more to improve the treatment and living conditions of Gypsies. "The high levels of racist animosity documented generally in Slovakia - and in particular anti-Romany sentiment - appear to have played a role in the abusive or negligent treatment of women by doctors and nurses," the European Roma Rights Center and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said in a joint statement this month. Late last month, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and eight other congressmen assuring them his government was committed to a full investigation. Some people say the problems outlined in the January report are more an illustration of weaknesses in doctors' work rather than evidence of a campaign against Gypsies.

"It is a very bad report on Slovakia. But to automatically look for racism behind this, or bad intentions - that seems to be a bit too much," said Michal Vasecka, an analyst with the Institute for Public Affairs, an independent think tank that monitors Slovakia. Miroslav Kraus, director of the state-run hospital in the eastern city of Krompachy, where Ginova was sterilized, acknowledged that relations between doctors and Gypsy patients are sometimes troubled. But, he said, they "surely are not criminal." Kraus said more non-Gypsy women are sterilized than Gypsies at his hospital. "In no case can we speak about genocide or some racial issue," he said. The report has prompted Slovakia's gynecologists to begin drafting an amendment to a 1972 law to ensure patients are explained the effects of sterilization before they authorize it. Health Ministry investigators sent to Krompachy, who concluded that "suspicion of active genocide and segregation were not confirmed," said all women sterilized there had given written authorization. But in two cases, ©Associated Press

The family of Anastazia Balazova, who was beaten to death by skinheads in Zilina, Slovakia, in August 2000, has been granted asylum by the General Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium, the European Roma Rights Center announced. In the early morning hours of August 20, 2000, four skinheads broke into the home of Frantisek Balaz and attacked his children with baseball bats. When his wife Anastazia tried to protect her daughter, she herself was clubbed to unconsciousness and died three days later from a cerebral hemorrhage. The perpetrators, Peter Bandur, Pavel Hrcka, Pavol Kozak and Marian Skalican, all in their twenties, were ultimately convicted of racially motivated bodily harm and given sentences ranging from three to seven years, although the first instance court had refused to recognize racial motivation in the actions of the men.

Following Mrs. Balazova's death, her husband and children were verbally abused and sometimes physically attacked by townspeople in Zilina, apparently blaming the family for the bad publicity Slovakia had received following the vicious murder. In April 2002, while on his way to Budapest to meet with his legal representatives (including members of the ERRC), Frantisek Balaz was assaulted by three skinheads at the train station in Zilina. The family subsequently fled to Belgium where, assisted by the Belgian League for Human Rights, they applied for asylum in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In a letter to the General Commissioner urging the granting of refugee status to the Balaz family, the ERRC cited several incidents of skinhead violence in Slovakia and noted that the publicity attendant to the case had made the Balaz family a target of skinheads throughout the country. In its 2000 and 2001 accession reports, the European Commission identified "violence, notably at the hands of ‘skinheads'," as a continued serious threat to Roma in Slovakia.

The ERRC welcomes the decision as an important affirmation that European asylum systems are still, in some instances, capable of providing protection to refugees, despite intense pressure to contract the asylum right to the point of meaninglessness. "The General Commissioner's decision indicates that Belgium's commitments under international law to protect refugees take priority over political considerations," said attorney Alexis Deswaef, who argued the Balaz's case to the General Commissioner. The Belgian Home Office did not appeal the decision, which was issued on March 18.

ERRC concerns in the field of asylum and migration issues are available here.
ERRC concerns with respect to the situation of Roma in Slovakia are available here

©European Roma Rights Center

France's estimated five million Muslims were set to get their first officially-recognised national body following elections on Sunday to the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM). Representatives from nearly a thousand mosques chose members of the new council's general assembly and central committee, as well as 25 regional bodies. The elections were staggered, with around 20 percent of the country having already voted on April 6. Turnout was higher than 80 percent in many regions. The results of the vote were due to be announced on Monday. At the Paris area polling station, set up in a sports hall in the capital, 75 percent of the region's 395 Muslim representatives had turned out to vote by 4:00 pm (1400 GMT). They came in small groups from the city's northern and eastern suburbs, many of them in suits, some wearing traditional north African dress, but there were notably few women or young people. Many of those present heaved a sigh of relief, to see the result of three years of work towards setting up the council. "It is born at last" said Pierre Besnard, who was involved in coordinating the election.

The vote followed an accord reached in December between Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and leaders of France's main Muslim organisations, who agreed on the need for a unified representative body similar to those that exist for the other main religions. But some liberal Muslims have said the election process was undemocratic and that the new body would give undue influence to traditionalists. Only some 4,000 appointed electors are authorised to vote and the CFCM leadership has already been divided up between France's main Muslim bodies: the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), the National Federation of of Muslims in France (FNMF) and the Paris mosque. A third of the new general assembly has also been directly appointed and there will be only a handful of woman representatives. The president of the CFCM will be Dalil Boubakeur, a 62-year-old Algerian doctor and the rector of the Paris mosque. He will be backed by two vice-presidents from the UOIF and FNMF.

But the exact role of the CFCM has yet to be established. While Boubakeur hopes it will act as a consultative body for the government, others say it must restrict itself to matters such as mosque-building, burial plots and the appointment of Muslim chaplains in prisons and hospitals. Sarkozy has spelled out his hope that the CFCM will encourage greater understanding of the country's second largest faith, as well as the integration of Muslims into national life and the development of a liberal, homegrown version of Islam. "It is the Islam of cellars and garages that has fed extremism and the language of violence ... and cast suspicion by association on the whole of the Muslim community which only wants to live in peace," he said before worshippers at a Lyon mosque before the first round of voting. "What we are doing is being watched everywhere in Europe. I believe we are setting an important example. What I want is a training-college for imams who speak French, who know our culture and respect our customs," he said on French television. A poll this week said that 56 percent of French Muslims practice their faith and 55 percent are against the ban on veils for girls at school. Only 29 percent had heard of the elections for the CFCM.
©The Tocqueville Connection

Eager for a stronger voice in society and a better understanding of Islam in today's tense climate, French Muslims elected a national body on Sunday aimed at bringing their community of five million out of the shadows. Participants hope the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), to open in September, will foster better relations with mainstream France and provide a platform for talks with the government on building mosques and Muslim cemeteries. A secular and mainly Catholic country, France has been swept up in a global fear of Islamic fundamentalism since the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities that has made some people uneasy of ordinary Muslims. "Thanks to TV, the French think all Muslims are extremists and that ours is a barbaric religion -- which is ludicrous and leads to rows over Mosques and women wearing veils," said Adama Sow, after casting his vote at a Paris polling station. "The vast majority of Muslims are not extremists. They just want to live their religion in a transparent way and prove there is no contradiction between being French and being Muslim."

Despite their numbers and historical ties to France, Muslims are still poorly integrated, often living in grim, crime-ridden estates on the outskirts of cities where frustrated youths can be more easily won over by extremist groups than they might be elsewhere. A lack of mosques means many have to cram into basement prayer rooms to practise their faith -- which can feed the illusion among other French of a menacing, underground cult. Sow, a member of an association that tries to weed out extremism and improve relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, was one of some 7,000 Muslims selected by local mosques to cast a vote to elect 25 regional council heads. In a two-stage ballot, voters from 900 mosques or prayer centres also elected a 150-member national assembly which will meet in May to elect a national council with a 16-strong board.

Extremists shunned
Successive governments tried for years to create a Muslim council but got bogged down in squabbling among France's various Muslim groups, which include a number linked to Algeria and Morocco. With conflict in the Middle East stoking racial violence between some Muslim and Jewish youths here, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy stepped up the pressure last year and brought Muslim leaders to a chateau near Paris to agree on a council. "The integration of Muslims has reached a level of maturity where we can sit down with the government and tackle things like racism," said a Muslim official who preferred not to be named. Yet some Muslims boycotted Sunday's election on the grounds that a decision to exclude certain groups and hand the top jobs to mainstream Muslim organisations was undemocratic. The CFCM has shunned fundamentalists and will be headed by the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, a prominent mouthpiece of moderate Islam. The voters selected had to pledge to respect the values of the French republic. "The CFCM is to represent a faith, not a community. In the faith there is no room for extremism," said the Muslim official.

Acts of racial violence rose fourfold in France last year, and inter-religious tensions led to scuffles between Muslim and Jewish youths in recent anti-war demonstrations. Yet a poll this month by Le Figaro newspaper found that 78 percent of France's Muslims -- of whom about half practise their faith -- felt Islamic values were compatible with French values. "Muslims here have been bad at coming forward and talking to other religions and that's what we want to change," said Sow, a Mauritanian who moved to France 10 years ago. "If we all make an effort then people will realise diversity of race and religion is actually something very positive."

France's interior minister threatened today to expel any Muslim religious leader considered extremist after a fundamentalist Muslim organization unexpectedly won a large number of seats in an election for the country's first national council of Muslims. Nicolas Sarkozy, the law-and-order minister who pressed hard for the creation of the council, told Europe 1 radio that he would make sure that the organization would not be used to spread views that run counter to French values, particularly the promotion of Islamic law. "It is precisely because we recognize the right of Islam to sit at the table of the republic that we will not accept any deviation," Mr. Sarkozy said. "Any prayer leader whose views run contrary to the values of the republic will be expelled." At another point he said, "Islamic law will not apply anywhere because it is not the law of the French republic."

Representatives of nearly 1000 mosques and prayer centers went to the polls on April 6 and last Sunday to elect representatives to a council that will represent the country's five million Muslims before the French state. The goal, Mr. Sarkozy said repeatedly, is to create an "official Islam for France" that will take france's second-largest religion out of the "cellars and garages," make it more transparent and show that most Muslims are "moderate," mainstream, law-abiding citizens. The group that made a surprisingly strong showing in the election is the Union of Islamic Organizations in France. It preaches a strict conservative interpretation of Islam, derives much of its support from the poor suburbs of Paris and other major cities and is said to derive its inspiration from the banned fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood originating in Egypt. In the two rounds of elections it won 14 of 41 seats on the governing administrative council.

The organization has come under fire by those who claim it has close links with the Muslim Brotherhood, which calls for Islamic rule via Islamic law, personal purification and political action, and should not be officially recognized by a secular country like France. "This is a hidden movement, skilled in double talk, that plays on the social frustrations of many young people," Addzidine Houssain, president of an Islamic group from the Paris suburb of Seine-St.-Denis, was quoted as saying in today's editions of the newspaper Le Parisien. He added, "The wolves have entered the manger." Mr. Houssain personally criticized Mr. Sarkozy, saying that his acceptance of the group has "created an Islam that has no connection with the Islam of France." The so-called moderate Islamic organization, represented by the Algerian-backed Paris Mosque and supported by Mr. Sarkozy, was expected to dominate the elections but received only six seats on the council. A third group that is less fundamentalist than the Union of Islamic Organizations in France and close to the government of Morocco won 16 seats, more than expected. Despite its weak showing, the rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubaker, will automatically become the head of the council under a compromise hammered out by the three main Muslim groups under pressure from Mr. Sarkozy, long before the elections. "There is neither victor nor vanquished," said Khalil Merroun, rector of the mosque of Evry, who derives his support from the group allied to Morocco. "This is victory for Muslims."

Unlike Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, Islam has no hierarchical structure in France, and the council will give it a forum by which it can directly communicate requests and grievances to the government. The other mainstream religions have long had similar councils. But Paris's Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, expressed concern Sunday night on radio and television that the council could nurture radicalism. And he complained that the French government was making Islam a "state religion" bec ©The New York Times

Thousands of Kurds forced to leave Nagorny Karabakh a decade ago find themselves under threat once more.
By Rauf Orujev, correspondent for the Ekho newspaper in Baku

Aligismet Jabbarov never thought he would have to leave his hometown of Lachin in western Azerbaijan, where he worked as a restaurant inspector. But soon after his second child was born in 1993, Armenian forces attacked Lachin - a finger of land separating Nagorny Karabakh from Armenia - and his family abandoned their home and all their possessions, joining thousands of other Kurds in their exodus to the east of the country. "We got as far as Agjabedin district, where they placed us in a dormitory. Locals brought us clothing. Three years ago they built some 300 single-story homes for refugees in Takhta-Kerpu village nearby, and we moved in," recalled Aligismet. On April 2, the Kurdish refugees marked the tenth anniversary of their exodus - an event made all the more distressing by media demands for an investigation into alleged links between members of the community and the extremist Kurdish Labour Party.

Azerbaijani Kurds have always lived in close-knit communities - mostly in the districts of Kelbajar, Lachin, Zangelan and Gubadlin - located close to the epicentre of Karabakh conflict and now controlled by Armenia. "On March 27, 1993, the Armenians attacked Kelbajar from three directions," recalled Shamil Askerov, the seventy-three-year-old former director of the Kurdish Museum in Kelbajar. "They were firing Grad rocket launchers on us. The only escape route was a narrow mountain path across the Murovdag ridge. Adults, seniors and children set out walking across the mountains in the snow and the sleet." There were some 41,000 Kurds in Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. According to Arab chronicles, the first Kurdish settlements appeared in these parts in the 7th century AD, but mass migration began in the late 16th century, when Shah Abbas of Iran sent 24 Kurdish tribes here from western Iran to guard the empire's north-western frontier. Local Kurds had always been on good terms with the Azerbaijani majority. But now that they are scattered across the country's 60 municipalities, they feel more estranged and on their own. A Kurdish radio station, newspaper and numerous schools attempt to keep Kurdish culture alive, but fewer families bother to teach their mother tongue to their children anymore. Askerov, who travels around Kurdish communities a lot, has observed that more than 50 per cent of families speak Azerbaijani to each other.

"My father told me our ancestors moved to Karabakh from Iranian Kurdistan about 200 years ago, when they all spoke Farsi. Now we all speak Azerbaijani. There's nothing wrong with that as long as no one forces us to learn it," said Adaliat Khashimov. Coming to terms with life as refugees has been hard, but it seems the Kurds' troubles are far from over. Over the past few months, there have been reports in the Azerbaijani opposition press linking some of their community with the Kurdish Labour Party. The National Security Ministry has not taken the reports seriously, saying that 32 people have been arrested on suspicion of such links over the past ten years, with the last detention in 2001. Kamil Gasanov, director of the Kurdish Culture Centre in Baku, insists the accusations are unfounded. "This is just a side-effect of the political struggle between opposition parties. They even accuse our culture centre of terrorism in their papers," Gasanov told IWPR. Independent analysts believe the controversial media reports started appearing with the start of the Iraqi war when Turkey - Azerbaijan's historic ally - considered deploying its troops in Iraq's northern Kurdish-controlled provinces.

They say tensions may also have been raised by worries about a possible influx of Kurdish refugees from northern Iraq. But the fears have proved to be misplaced, as only sev ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Local non-governmental organisations are lobbying the authorities to overturn a damaging amendment to the grants law.
By Gulnaz Gulieva, correspondent of the Turan news agency in Baku.

Azerbaijan's non-governmental organisations, NGOs, are falling on hard times after the authorities amended the country's grants legislation to repeal tax breaks. The changes mean that organisations which receive grants now have to pay more than a quarter of their payroll fund and two per cent of every salary into the Public Social Security Fund. Yashar Gajiev, manager of Global Internet Policy Initiative, GIPI, is one of many who now fears that his operation's days are numbered. "The costs of running an NGO in Azerbaijan have shot up," he told IWPR. "Western donors are already rethinking their policies and warning that us some of their programmes here will have to be discontinued. "Anyway, grants are a form of support, not profit-making, and it's downright unethical to slap tax on them." The authorities, however, deny this. Arastun Mekhtiev of the presidential public policy department asked, "Why should NGO employees get special treatment? As far as we know, they make much more money than public servants, who do pay their social security charges."

Now the National NGO Forum is preparing to lobby the government to reinstate the tax breaks. "The new amendment puts non-profit operations on an equal footing with business companies. This is a severe blow to civil society," said forum president Azai Guliev. Last month, the forum - which comprises around 400 operations in Azerbaijan - submitted a package of new initiatives for review to government economics adviser Vakhid Akhundov, but he is currently ruling out a return to the tax break system. The proposals include deferring the social security charges for three years, to give NGOs some leeway to negotiate with the donors and prepare the groundwork to factor those new charges into future grant budgets. They also want the rate to be reduced from 27 per cent to around a tenth of the payroll fund. So far, the government has given the non-governmental sector only one concession. Ongoing grants approved before January 1, 2003 - when the amendments came into force - have been exempted from social security charges. "Whatever the authorities decide on the social security charges, the issues of the non-governmental sector have to be addressed somehow," said Guliev. Tired of the authorities dragging their feet, the forum is already working on a draft governmental programme for NGOs, addressing all the problem areas such as registration, legislative gaps and access to government tenders. The draft is due for submission in two months.

Of nearly 2,000 NGOs in Azerbaijan, less than a quarter are actively involved in various projects. Guliev believes this is down to the government's lack of a coherent policy for the sector, which has created a difficult environment for such operations. The justice ministry routinely turns applications for official registration on the grounds that paperwork is not in order, or that the proposed projects unconstitutional or against the interests of the state. "The government does not help NGOs in any way whatsoever, leaving them at the mercy of international donors. If they make NGOs pay social security, the donors may turn away and many operations will go bankrupt," Guliev warned. Some Baku analysts believe the best solution would be to keep the social fund amendments, but to ask the government to pay it for NGOs. This, they argue, would be a good way for the government to prove that it cares for civil institutions. Rovshan Bagirov, director of public relations at the Azerbaijani office of the Soros Foundation, said, "We believe 'social' charges are a good thing, but the rate seems too high." The Soros Foundation paid out more than 260,000 US dollars in grants in the first quarter of 2003, but all the money w ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Chechens are living in fear of a knock on the door at night, a leading human rights group said yesterday. It cited leaked government statistics suggesting that civilians are still being terrorised by killings, disappearances and beatings. Statistics said to have been compiled by the pro-Moscow Chechen administration contradict the Kremlin's claim that stability is returning to the republic, which has been engulfed in fighting and lawlessness since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Last year, 1,123 civilians were killed in Chechnya – a murder rate at least 10 times higher than in the Russian capital, said Anna Neistat, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, which said it obtained the statistics from a government source.

In the first two months of this year, 70 civilians have been killed and about 14 a week have gone missing, according to another report. Chechnya's Moscow-appointed leader Akhmad Kadyrov denied the secret crime data existed. But a Chechen administration official said an inquiry had begun to find who leaked the statistics. Ms Neistat said Chechens usually disappeared after being seized in their homes by masked gunmen who burst in late at night. The Russian human rights group Memorial recorded 537 abductions last year, most by federal troops. Eighty-one people were found dead, 90 were freed and 366 are missing. Fighting in the republic continues. In the past 24 hours, five Russian soldiers have been killed and 12 wounded in rebel attacks, an official said.
© Independent Digital

Amnesty International today called on the Russian authorities to take vigorous measures to combat racism and promote tolerance and respect for difference in order to stop the growing tide of attacks against ethnic minorities. The organization is concerned for the safety of national and ethnic minorities in Russia as the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth on 20 April approaches. In previous years, this anniversary has been marked by an escalation of racially motivated harassment and violence. On 26 March 2003, a group of young people attacked and severely beat two African students in Moscow. One of them was hospitalized. The Association of African students in the Russian Federation called for speedy investigation of this crime and asked for increased security around the students' compound as it feared more racist attacks. "Fear of racist attacks among Russia's minority population is not confined to fear of 'skinheads'; they have almost as much to fear from officials," the organization stated. One July evening in 2002 a group of about 10 Russian men with shaven heads shouting racist abuse brutally attacked African students, refugees and asylum seekers who were picnicking in a Moscow park. Police nearby initially refused to come to their help. When finally police arrived half an hour later, all but two of the alleged attackers had left. One of the officers accused the picnickers of starting the fight and ignored evidence forwarded by eyewitnesses.

"Police and other law enforcement officials routinely subject racial and ethnic minorities to harassment and intimidation and often respond with indifference to racist attacks. Victims of racist attacks frequently complain that law enforcement officials are reluctant to register attacks as racist or fail to understand the serious implications of racially-motivated violence. Police often advise the victims to report the attack as 'hooliganism'," Amnesty International said. "Until the authorities address racist attitudes within law enforcement agencies, they will continue to be part of the problem, rather than the solution." Discrimination on the grounds of race is a reality for many members of ethnic or national minority groups in the Russian Federation, warned Amnesty International when it issued its latest report 'Dokumenty!' Discrimination on grounds of race in the Russian Federation last month. "Racism is an attack on the very notion of universal human rights. It systematically denies certain people their full human rights because of their colour, race, ethnicity, decent or national origin. The right to be free from racial discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights law," Amnesty International warned again.

Racial attacks are often perpetrated by people with far-right sympathies, known as 'skinheads'. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, there are approximately 20,000 'skinheads' in Russia and 2,500 in Moscow. The victims of racist attacks include immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, including ethnic Chechens. Members of the Jewish community are also frequently subjected to racial harassment and assault, and synagogues and Jewish community centres are often targeted. Both President Putin and Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov have made public statements that racist offences will not be tolerated and that those responsible will be treated with the "maximum strictness allowed by law". In 2001, the authorities initiated a five-year State Program on Tolerance and Prevention of Extremism in Russian society which aims to change attitudes and practices that facilitate discrimination on the grounds of race and religion.
©Amnesty International

Shunned by taxi drivers, rejected at hotels, turned back at immigration counters, many people from SARS-hit Asian regions are discovering another symptom of the deadly SARS virus -- discrimination. In Hong Kong, residents in buildings afflicted by SARS complain of being turned away by private doctors as soon as they disclose their addresses. Ethnic Chinese in SARS-hit Toronto are quizzed on their health by neighbours, or shunned on the subway, while some taxi drivers in Taiwan avoid areas popular with mainland Chinese. As it burrows into the lungs of thousands of people worldwide, the SARS virus also appears to be infecting social attitudes, provoking mild discrimination or even blatant racism. In countries such as Singapore, a tiny island republic with the world's fourth-highest number of infections of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, some residents say they fear being treated as pariahs if they travel abroad. "I'm staying here in Singapore because I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable," said Cynthia Tan, a 29-year-old insurance broker.

Living with SARS
Yeh Fu-lung, a taxi driver in Taipei, says he refuses to pick up Taiwan travellers who are returning from China. "A lot of these returning Taiwanese first take a shuttle bus from the airport into town, and then hail a cab. You can tell they're coming back from China," he said. In the popular tourist destinations of Thailand all visitors from high-risk countries must wear surgical masks at all times or face a jail term or a fine, even if healthy. Malaysia, whose population is 30 percent ethnic Chinese, no longer grants visas to people from mainland China, which has the world's largest number of SARS infections. But Thailand's and Malaysia's dramatic measures are unlikely to stoke diplomatic anger in countries hit hard by SARS, such as China, said Dr Lam Peng Er, a researcher at the East Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore. "Right now the situation is really medical. It's an epidemic. I don't think we should read too much into it," he said. "The local people expect the government to act, and the governments have to appear to be acting." "Until the situation really deteriorates, I think countries will deal with it very pragmatically," Lam added. But for many people in multicultural Asia, the feeling of being singled out at airports or isolated along ethnic lines, or even shunned by a neighbourhood dentist because of a chance brush with a mysterious illness, is disturbingly new. Ko Shiou Hee, an architect, said he was baffled when his Australian business partner quizzed him repeatedly about his health just days before leaving for Australia. "I actually didn't know why he called me. I thought he was just concerned about my health," he said. "But after speaking with a few people, I started to realise that my partner out of politeness actually didn't tell me that he's a bit concerned about me going there."

Like Ko, others bristle at reports of Canadian shoppers staying clear of Toronto's usually bustling Chinatown district or cab drivers avoiding ethnic Chinese. "I'm quite surprised to hear it from the Canadians, but maybe it's because they are really feeling it with so many getting SARS there. People say irrational things when they are afraid," said Juyi Ong, a Singapore photographer. To send a message of tolerance, Prime Minister Jean Chretien lunched at a Chinese restaurant in Toronto last week. The hysteria in Canada, which has 283 SARS cases, prompted one U.S. official to say the virus was not a disease unique to Asians. But frustration is brewing as newspapers report scattered instances of stereotyping and racial bias. Taiwan's government issued a rare public appeal on Monday to treat people from SARS-affected countries no differently than others. "Overseas tourists have passed through stringent measures to enter the count ©Reuters

There are few more volatile issues than racial profiling by police. Whether real or perceived, the charge is always met with emphatic denial. At least initially. When a Toronto Star study of traffic data last fall suggested the city's police disproportionately target black drivers  an analysis that supported long-time anecdotal claims  Chief Julian Fantino angrily rebutted the allegation and the 7,200-member police union filed a $2.7 billion libel action. The response echoed the reaction of scores of police forces in the United States who've been hit in recent years with the same accusation. Individual officers may be at fault, they say. But don't  don't  tar an entire department when it's only trying to do the tough job of preventing crime.

Instant polarization.
Determining if racial profiling exists  and when it's "a few bad apples" or the whole institutional tree  is at the core of a rising field of social science, born in the 1990s out of a series of contentious court cases in the U.S. It argues that measuring the racial breakdown of those stopped on the road is the key to determining whether police use group stereotyping in before-the-fact surveillance. Traffic-violation pull-overs are a discretionary tool often used by officers as a pretext to look for evidence of other offences, usually involving drugs or guns. They lie at the heart of the profiling issue and the research now being conducted into it. "We want to find out whether police stop who they see or what they see," says Matthew Zingraff, a noted social scientist at North Carolina State University. Find out scientifically, that is, rather than depend on police saying it's what and the black community saying it's who. Only hard statistical evidence can provide the catalyst for an informed discussion, he says.

But measuring is no easy task. It requires a demographic benchmark against which the rates of traffic stops can be compared. The vast majority of studies in the U.S. and here have relied on census data for the racial breakdown of a given area. But the census has been criticized for supplying an apples-and-oranges comparison, providing only the racial makeup of the area and not its traffic population  who is driving on the roads, legally or not, and therefore available to be stopped. The growing consensus is that a more relevant benchmark is the field, or point-to-point, survey, in which trained observers, for a given period of time, visually track the racial characteristics of all drivers on designated roads, highways and intersections. (In the U.S., licence plates are sometimes checked with government motor vehicles departments which record the race of licensed drivers.) The proportion of whites and minorities is then measured against the rate of stops by police.

The field survey was devised in 1993 by Temple University social psychologist John Lamberth when he acted as a court witness in one of the first lawsuits involving a profiling allegation. He has since conducted benchmark studies for state officials in New Jersey, Maryland and Arizona and, in 2000, founded Lamberth Consulting in Philadelphia, whose president is his son Karl. "Getting the hard evidence right by using a valid approach is vital because this is a volatile issue," says Karl Lamberth. "You can't just experiment theoretically and make a mistake because mistakes have enormous consequences." The apples-to-apples comparison of the field survey is seen  to date, at least  as the most objective method. But even it has limitations, says Zingraff, who analyzed the data after North Carolina became the first state (in 1999) to require race to be recorded in all highway-patrol stops. As in all other studies that have been done, a proportional discrepancy was found in the stop rates between whites and blacks. "Field surveys are expensive to conduct," he says. "And can they be averaged out for an entire city? I don't know. target blacks thrives in the dissension  doing immense harm to both sides. The issue has got mired down in accusations of racism, but experts say profiling isn't primarily about the racial animus of individual police. It's about the tacitly, if not openly, approved use of group stereotyping as a crime-prevention tactic. "It's about a set of institutional assumptions," says David Harris, a University of Toledo law professor considered the pre-eminent authority on the issue. The practice came into play in the early 1980s when Washington declared its War on Drugs and a "drug courier profile," listing several factors but with unmistakable racial overtones, took hold in law enforcement. By the time "Operation Pipeline," a highway pretext-stop program, was launched in 1986, skin colour had emerged as the major profile component. Police had come to believe, empirical evidence to the contrary, that blacks are disproportionately involved in drug use and trafficking. "It's not that police think all black people are bad," Harris says, "but that they think profiling is the only way to catch bad guys. But it isn't the only way. We know it doesn't work." If not, why the strongly ingrained belief in some forces that it does?

Because police only measure their successes, he says, not their failures. "They claim success with their methods because they got X number of drugs or guns off the street. They don't count the number of stops that resulted in nothing  nothing, that is, but anger in the black community." After the U.S. Customs Service was repeatedly criticized for disproportionately stopping blacks and Latinos in the search for drugs and other contraband, it finally adopted a new, multi-factor system not focused on race, but on "different dimensions of behaviour," including where a person is arriving from. The result? The overall number of stops was cut in half, but the "hit," or success, rate in finding illegal goods went up five times. According to David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor, "This was an agency engaged in very serious law enforcement which abandons profiling and finds, lo and behold, if they don't rely on race and use better criteria, they stop fewer innocent people and they find more drugs.

That's what we ought to be doing across the board.'
But now police department stop rates are starting to be counted, with predictable results in city after city  initial police denial and researchers arguing the toss over the legitimacy of the statistics."Lots of people are afraid of the numbers, or say they can't tell you anything," says Harris, who has worked with several state legislatures on the issue. "But they're quick to use them when they find some supporting their views." He's referring specifically to a controversial speeding study of the New Jersey Turnpike  never officially released but leaked to the New York Times last year  which found that blacks speed more than whites and at faster rates. Critics who say that racial profiling is a myth, that police only go where the crime is and that monitoring their actions is insulting and counter-productive, jubilantly embraced the results. They saw them as justification for the previously measured higher stop rates of blacks in New Jersey  "as if speeding were the only factor in traffic stops," scoffs Harris.

Smart police forces are starting to see through the pro-and-con rhetoric, the "duelling social scientists," he says. Indeed, several thousand of the 18,000 police forces in the U.S. have begun recording race in traffic stops, a practice that's still informally banned in Toronto. Only a few dozen are using valid statistical benchmarks to compare them with, but researchers say they still allow police chiefs to assess how their officers conduct themselves on the job. "It's starting to sink in that profiling is a poor way to police," says Harris, whose 2002 book, Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work, documented the inefficiency of the practice and the self-fulfilling prophecies it sets in play. "Police of Toronto social scientist Scot Wortley. Like many American researchers, he argues that stop-rate studies always should be followed up or, ideally, be ongoing. Police are then "less likely to make an arbitrary decision to stop some guy and see if he's up to no good," he says. "They know it could come back to haunt them."

But it's difficult to get race-based studies off the ground in Canada, so deep-seated the cultural reluctance to count or categorize by race. Toronto police record it only when individuals are charged, not when they're stopped. But they are forbidden by the civilian police services board from analyzing the numbers. For its investigation, the Star obtained arrest, ticketing and other statistics from the police database, 1996 to 2002, via a freedom of information request. Like the majority of surveys in North America, it used the census to provide the racial demographics of the city. Unlike many who consider anecdotal accounts emotional and unscientific, Wortley thinks surveying personal experiences is also a valid tool for unlocking the issue. The belief that police racially profile is rampant throughout North America and, even in the absence of confirming evidence, it's a hugely damaging perception. Profiling consultant Karl Lamberth says police who don't consciously target can be shown that, regardless of their intent, a perception of harassment grows out of how blacks feel they're being treated. More than courtesy is needed.

"Police have to go into the community and explain why they do certain things the way they do." Lamberth's company provides police training as well as benchmark study design, promoting a technique called Objective Criminal Assessment. It identifies "individual characteristics, observable behaviours and criminal indicators" that lead to objective, not biased, traffic stops. He'll be discussing it later this month in Markham at a conference being held by Blue Line, the Canadian law-enforcement magazine. Remedying the situation shouldn't wait until the statistical debate plays out, the researchers themselves say. The entrenched resentment in black communities has to be acknowledged and dealt with, warns David Harris, in Toronto, as anywhere else. "Police leadership has to step up and say, `You think we profile, we think we don't. But we have to deal with your perception.' Right or wrong, the anger can't be ignored. The debate has to be seen as an opportunity." And it will be, in the fullness of time, says researcher Matthew Zingraff. In the near future, recording race data at traffic stops as an early warning sign of profiling will be a routine part of what cops do. "It's older police officers who have so much difficulty with this issue because it means change. The younger ones now in police academies will be okay with it. It will just be one more form to fill out."
©The Toronto Star

Finds `significant' evidence it exists Basketball player stopped by police

Ontario's highest court has recognized the existence of racial profiling, saying there is "significant" evidence it happens and it was potentially behind a police officer's decision to pull over then Toronto Raptors basketball player Decovan (Dee) Brown. In a 3-0 ruling yesterday, the Ontario Court of Appeal became the first appellate court in Canada to tackle the explosive subject head-on, acknowledging that some police do target racial minorities out of a belief they are more likely to commit crimes. The court also laid down rules for determining whether racial profiling  either consciously or subconsciously  is at work in a case. And it made it clear that judges are expected to treat such allegations fairly. Legal experts are calling the decision a key moment in "the search for the truth" about the practice. "The fact that racial profiling by police officers exists is now the law of the land in the province of Ontario," said Julian Falconer, a lawyer for the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, which intervened in the case. "While the Court of Appeal is not saying every Toronto police officer is guilty of racial profiling, the court has taken judicial notice of the fact that the phenomenon of racial profiling by police exists," he said yesterday. "This case is an important watershed in the search for the truth about racial profiling by police."

Last night, Craig Bromell, head of the Toronto Police Association, said he plans to go to members with a "no-contact, no-complaint" policy, which would mean that any officer who feels they could be the subject of racial-profiling allegations will not follow up on an investigation. "This is very serious," he said. "If this is the system people want, then this is the system people will get." The court was ruling in a crown appeal of a lower-court decision that set aside Brown's conviction for driving on the Don Valley Parkway on Nov. 1, 1999, with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. Mr. Justice Brian Trafford of the Superior Court of Justice set the conviction aside in January, 2002, because he found the conduct of the trial judge, Mr. Justice David Fairgrieve, would leave a reasonable person with the impression he had closed his mind to Brown's contention that he was pulled over simply for being a black man driving an expensive car  in his case a new Ford Expedition.

Brown's trial lawyer, Steven Skurka, argued the arresting officer was not being truthful about the real reason for stopping Brown. Among other things, the officer ran a licence-plate check on Brown's car to see if it was stolen before pulling him over and prepared a second set of notes, suggesting he was firming up his reasons for justifying the stop, Skurka said. But Fairgrieve repeatedly admonished Skurka for alleging that racial profiling was at play, calling the notion that police would target a person of colour distasteful, offensive, nasty, troubling and potentially malicious. In convicting and fining Brown $2,000, the judge also suggested he apologize to the arresting officer. Yesterday, Brown, now director of player development for the National Basketball Association's Orlando Magic, said he doesn't believe he was treated fairly during the trial but is glad the Canadian justice system has recognized his concerns. "We're not judging the entire Toronto police force, but these incidents happen in Canada and people better wake up and realize it soon," he said.

When the appeal was heard in January, crown counsel James Stewart argued there was no evidence to support the contention that Brown's arrest was the result of racial profiling, but he did concede that the phenomenon exists  pointing to the province's 1995 report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System as proof. Two cabinet ministers immediately tried to distance judges are entitled to intervene, even press lawyers to prove their case, Fairgrieve expressed his dislike of Brown's racial-profiling claim using words that were nothing short of "conversation stoppers" and designed to signal his general antipathy toward the allegations, Morden said. Openly expressing his distaste in that way was "utterly inconsistent with the duty of a judge to listen dispassionately with an open mind," he said, writing for Mr. Justice John Laskin and Madam Justice Kathryn Feldman. Fairgrieve also demeaned Brown by suggesting he apologize for alleging the officer engaged in racial profiling, the court said. All in all, there was "cogent" evidence that a reasonable person sitting in Fairgrieve's court would conclude he had closed his mind to the issue of racial profiling, Morden wrote. Fairgrieve did not seem to grasp, the court added, that racial profiling can stem from subconscious attitudes on the part of police.

The court adopted the arguments of Brown's appellate lawyer, Philip Campbell, in formulating a test to determine whether a police stop is based on racial profiling. Campbell suggested that an argument for racial profiling can be made if the evidence shows the circumstances of a police stop fit the characteristics of racial profiling — for example, a young black man driving an expensive car — and they give a court some basis for inferring that an officer is lying about why the accused person was singled out. "I accept that this is a way in which racial profiling could be proven," Morden said. At a news conference yesterday, Campbell said it is "now clear, beyond dispute, that racial profiling is a reality in this province, in this city," and that people who have experienced it can go to court and seek relief. But yesterday's decision should be considered "a starting point" and not the end of the issue, he said. The next step shouldn't be litigation but changes to police practices and procedures, he added. Now that the Court of Appeal has adopted the findings of the commission on systemic racism, the Ontario government should do the same, lawyer Julian Falconer said. Toronto police issued a news release yesterday emphasizing that the appeal court decision was confined to reviewing the fairness of Brown's trial and wasn't passing judgment on the conduct of police. Nobody disputed the evidence relating to Brown's impaired-driving charge, the force noted. At trial, Skurka moved to have the evidence of a breath-test result excluded because it was gathered in breach of Brown's Charter right not to be arbitrarily detained. Trafford, in overturning Brown's conviction, ordered a new trial. It will now be up to the crown to decide whether to proceed with one.
©The Toronto Star

The federal government today will pledge $30-million to the construction of a world-class museum on Winnipeg's riverfront that will chronicle the evolution of human rights in Canada and around the world. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which will also receive financial support from the provincial and municipal governments, is the brainchild of media mogul Israel Asper, who has spent years lobbying Ottawa to build a prestigious national monument outside the nation's capital. "We spend a lot of time and effort trying to create a sense of Canadian identity and national unity and a lot of other clichés," Mr. Asper, the founder of CanWest Global Communications, said yesterday. "But we don't do the things that are needed to create that cohesion." Construction of the museum, which is expected to cost $270-million, could begin as early as next year. The idea for the historic facility can be traced back to 1983, when Mr. Asper first suggested the idea to then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, but efforts to transform the vision into reality did not begin in earnest until three years ago. After exhaustive consultations with architects, engineers, economic experts and all levels of government, the Asper Foundation, Mr. Asper's charitable foundation, has created a working model for a facility that is expected to rival most other Canadian landmarks.

An architect has yet to be chosen, but preliminary sketches of the 18,500-square-metre museum include a 21-storey Tower of Hope, a dormitory for visiting students, and a wide array of interactive exhibits dedicated to examining racial, religious and sexist intolerance. "It will tell the country's human rights story with its warts as well as its beauty marks," said Mr. Asper, who is scheduled to officially announce the plans for the museum at a news conference today with Sheila Copps, the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Mr. Asper said the facility was inspired by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. However, while the Canadian museum will have a wing dedicated to the atrocities of the Holocaust, the facility in Winnipeg will examine all types of human rights issues, from the works of Nelly McClung to the case of Aylin Otano-Garcia, a Cuban-born girl who was lured from her Montreal-area home to a remote sand pit and bludgeoned to death because of her ethnic heritage.

During a conference call yesterday, Mr. Asper tried to quell concerns by critics who contend tax dollars are being funnelled into an institution that will mark the suffering of one race at the expense of others. "This museum will be totally apolitical and antiseptic in terms of trying to preach a message of one kind of inhumanity over another," said Mr. Asper, adding that numerous lobby groups, from aboriginal organizations to gay and lesbian groups, have thrown their support behind the project. "One is going to have to be very, very careful to prevent it from becoming a propaganda device for a particular political point of view. And remember, we're not dealing with current politics. We're dealing with the history and the evolution of Canadian human rights." When asked whether Palestinian organizations would have an opportunity to submit proposals for exhibits, Mr. Asper stressed that everyone would have a chance to provide input. "Let's say the Palestinians want to make a case and their case is the refugees," he said. "And then you would say: 'That's fine, there were 650,000 Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948 and there were 850,000 Jewish expulsions from Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc. So we'll tell both stories."

The museum is to be built on 4.9 hectares of vacant land along the Forks, which connect the Red and Assiniboine rivers. On top of Ottawa's $30-million -- which is expected to be only a first instalment -- the Manitoba government and Winnipeg city council will each donate $20-million builders, including Frank Gehry, who is most famous for the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, are expected to submit proposals.

Apart from its cultural significance, the museum is also expected to boost the local economy. During the construction phase, the project will generate 3,600 jobs and total tax revenues of $39.1-million. When it is built, the museum will create 220 full-time equivalent jobs in the fields of education and visitor service while generating $6.3-million worth of annual tax revenues. But for Mr. Asper, the museum is about more than just dollar signs. It is a way to ensure Canadians have a place to learn about the origins of the rights they enjoy every day. Guests, who will be given Palm Pilots to help record their tours, will begin their visit in a sculpture garden before moving on to the museum's Grand Hall. The epicentre of the museum, the hall is expected to include lecture theatres, cinemas and an exhibit honouring the winners of the Pierre E. Trudeau Award for Human Rights, which are being awarded annually by the museum's board of directors. Patrons will then be encouraged to watch a short documentary film that outlines "the world's history of intolerance and injustice" before continuing on to the Causes Gallery, where a virtual narrator will explore the origins of "hatred and conflict and enduring desire for justice and dignity."

The next exhibit, entitled Hall of Fame/Walk of Shame, will highlight historic figures in the fight to both improve and suppress human rights. The Holocaust Gallery will be followed by an exhibit entitled Responses, which profiles such human rights champions as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Canadian Stories, another permanent exhibit, will provide visitors with a synopsis of Canada's human rights failures and accomplishments, from aboriginal ghettoization to the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was signed into law 21 years ago today. The tour will end with a journey up the Tower of Hope, where visitors can study replicas of different charters and constitutions from around the world.
©National Post

There has been a 600% increase in the number of racial discrimination claims referred to the Equality Tribunal.
Quarterly figures, published yesterday, show that for the first time, discrimination claims on race grounds topped the number of gender discrimination claims. Between January and March this year, 33 race claims were referred to the Tribunal, compared to just five for the same period last year, accounting for almost one third of all claims referred under the Employment Equality Act. Unions leaders have expressed concern at the growing levels of workplace racism. SIPTU general secretary Joe O'Flynn said his union was making a conscious effort to stamp it out. "That level of increase is disconcerting and would certainly be a cause of concern to all of us. We've become a more culturally diverse society and there's a need for people to show greater sensitivity in comment and attitude. Within our own union we've developed a very strong campaign to create awareness of what constitutes racial discrimination in the workplace, but we must redouble our efforts to stamp it out."

The Tribunal recorded a 50% increase in the number of workplace discrimination claims referred to it in the first quarter, up from 49 to 72. Disability and age discrimination continued to be the most frequently cited grounds under employment equality legislation. Director of the Equality Tribunal, Melanie Pine, attributed the jump in the number of employment equality claims to a growing awareness of equality rights. "While it is early in the year to identify long-term trends, the jump in the number of employment equality claims in the first three months of this year is very striking. It is clear that people are becoming more familiar with the new equality rights, particularly on the new grounds," she said. Thirteen decisions covering 57 claims under employment equality legislation were published during the first three months of the year. Of these, 27% were upheld (3 decisions, of which one included a group of 44 complainants), compared to 41% in the same period last year (which included no group claims). The total amount awarded was down from 73,470 to 6,000 (this includes the group decision where the redress awarded comprised a direction for action rather than compensation).

Under the Equal Status Act 2002 there was no real change in the number of claims received by the Equality Tribunal, but there was a noticeable drop in the number of claims from the Traveller community, down 20%, from 167 to 138, compared to the same period last year. In this period 212 claims were referred, compared to 206 in the same period last year.
©Irish Examiner

Dissertation suggests awarding points to immigrants based on work prospects

A few years from now, Finland should no longer select immigrants based on their country of origin. Once the baby-boom generation retires, Finland will need labour from wherever it can get it. However, the borders should not be thrown open, but immigrants should be selected based on the needs of the labour market. According to the doctoral thesis of researcher Arno Tanner from the Directorate of Immigration, these measures will be necessary if Finland wishes to use immigration to solve the labour shortage problem that looms at the end of this decade. Tanner has compared the immigration policies of Switzerland, Canada, and New Zealand, all of which have plenty of foreign residents. He suggests using the points system of Canada and New Zealand as an example. In this system, points are awarded based on the likelihood of finding work and adapting to the new country. The country of origin would not affect the points, but education, age, and language skills would. The more an applicant 's professional skills are in demand, the more points he or she would receive. Tanner observes that at the moment, Finland chooses most of its immigrants from neighbouring regions as well as India and China. Finland's neighbouring regions will not provide enough labour over the coming years to fulfil the growing need. According to Tanner's dissertation, Finland would need to decrease racism and promote the acceptance of multiculturalism before the limitations on the country of origin of immigrants could be lifted.
©Helsingin Sanomat

Brussels has been acting hypocritically by pressing incoming members from eastern Europe to adopt minority protection rules which do not apply in several western European Union countries, a study concluded yesterday. As eight east European countries gathered beneath the Acropolis to sign their EU accession treaties ahead of membership next year, the Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) accused the EU of applying double standards to the newcomers. Under pressure from Brussels, all the newcomers, bar Latvia, have ratified a Council of Europe convention on protecting minorities, while five EU states including Greece, yesterday's summit host, have not. The charge that the east Europeans are being held to stiffer criteria than EU members when negotiating their entry was also levelled a few months ago, when a year-long study of the accession process found that Brussels was insisting on tougher anti-corruption rules in eastern Europe.

Another Council of Europe convention on tackling corruption had been ratified by all the east European candidates, while the convention applied in only three of the 15 current member countries. The European commission was demanding "anti-corruption policies from candidate states that it is unable to enforce on member states", the Budapest-based Open Society Institute concluded. There was "a justified perception that candidate countries are being held to different standards from those that currently obtain within the EU". France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece have not ratified the minority rights convention. "These states continue to fail to embrace pluralism and to protect minorities," MRGI charged. "In EU countries there continues to be intolerance and prejudice towards immigrants, asylum seekers and ethnic minorities such as the Roma."
©The Guardian

In the EU Italy is not isolated concerning racism and xenophobia, according to the Minister of Justice, Roberto Castelli, who yesterday spoke in the Senate of the centre-left's motion concerning Italy's position in the fight against racism and xenophobia. He stated that, contrary to what was written in the document, Italy did not have any form of perplexity concerning an anti-racism law discussed in the EU Ministers' Council. The law was not discussed in the Council but is still being examined by a technical committee. Castelli also stated that the law is contained in a bill which is presently being discussed in Brussels . Italy only intervened because even opinions were to be considered crimes and no matter how unpleasant they can be this type of law "is dangerous, illiberal and absolutely against our Constitution and the freedom of individuals". Thanks to Italy this definition was changed. The debate continues in Brussels because other countries have some doubts. The Minister of Justice finished off by saying : "I must point out that according to the original text Oriana Fallaci's books were considered illegal. One might agree or not with the writer but it is not up to us to judge her".

When the anti-abortion group, the Center for Bioethical Reform, brought its controversial Genocide Awareness Project photo exhibit to the Ohio University campus yesterday, students passing through the Howard Hall site stumbled upon some disturbing images they may not have been expecting.The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) erected a series of large photo panels depicting images of aborted fetuses juxtaposed against pictures of lynched African Americans, Jewish Holocaust victims, and other victims of genocide. The panels featured captions such as "Butchered Children" and "Insanity of Choice." The group, which is based in Columbus, was invited to campus by the OU Pro-Life Club. The purpose of the exhibit, which will be on display again today, is to get students to equate the United States' abortion laws to the policies that resulted in some of the world's worst hate-motivated massacres, explained Mark Harrington, director of the Center for Bioethical Reform's Midwest chapter. "We want people to see that the perpetrators of these acts of violence made a choice to do so, and that the choice to have an abortion isn't any different," Harrington said. Many of the students who passed the GAP exhibit said they were disturbed by the images they saw, but the display didn't change the way they felt about abortion. "This doesn't change how I feel about a woman's right to choose at all," senior James DeWine said. "I'm offended by the things I'm seeing, but I'm extremely offended that they're trying to equate abortion with Nazis and racism. That comparison is atrocious." DeWine was one of a number of students who engaged the GAP volunteers in lively but respectful debate. Other students also said they didn't see the logic of comparing abortion to genocide. "It's anti-Semitic (to make this comparison). I find it very offensive," senior Lauren Ketcham said.

While most of the students who voiced opinions about GAP's message seemed to be against it, junior Matthew Balogh, a member of the OU Pro-Life Club, said he received a lot of good feedback from students, and many of them signed up for his group's mailing list. "What I've seen so far has been very positive," Balogh said. "People have been stopping and having good conversations with me and the GAP volunteers." Asked if they knew of any pro-choice OU students who changed their views because of viewing the display, GAP volunteers said their program does change people's minds, but it takes time. "Some people will change their minds immediately, but when people see these images of the reality of abortion, that makes a difference over time," said Fletcher Armstrong, a GAP volunteer from Tennessee, who added that nine pregnant women who were planning to have abortions changed their minds after GAP's last visit to the University of Tennessee. Students at campuses around the country have reacted in different ways to the GAP display, Harrington said. While the interactions between students and GAP volunteers are usually tame, some students have reacted violently or angrily to the images of aborted fetuses, Holocaust victims and other victims of violence.

During past GAP visits to Ohio State University, students have engaged in heated shouting matches with GAP volunteers and attempted to destroy the display, Harrington said. At one university, a student even tried to drive his vehicle over the large picture panels. For these reasons, the huge photo panels and volunteers were separated behind metal barriers. OU student who opposed GAP's message and methods avoided confrontation with the volunteers and behaved themselves for the most part. The OU College Democrats and students from feminist, anti-sexism and LGBT groups organized a joint protest, which involved offering their own views to students without interacting with the GAP volunteers. "We want to be here for the students," Open Doors Co-Chair Ashley Randall said of th the-subject argument, and they're not really facing the issue. We're not saying women's choices should be taken away. Killing a baby shouldn't be a choice in the first place." Richard Carpinelli, assistant vice president for student affairs, said the OU administration didn't expect any violence or big problems to result from allowing the Genocide Awareness people and protesters to assemble at OU, but wanted to make sure the opposing groups complied with OU policy. "I'm very pleased with the way (the university community) has been reacting," Carpinelli said. "Things have been very civil, and people are expressing their views on this issue of choice. That's what a college campus is all about." While many students said they were offended by what they saw and felt the GAP display was inappropriate, most said they respected the group's First Amendment right to display the anti-abortion exhibit.
©Athens News

Switzerland has blocked access to government archives relating to the country's ties with apartheid-era South Africa.

The head of the Swiss research programme into apartheid-era links says the move will limit his ability to properly probe Switzerland's relationship with the white regime in Pretoria. A finance ministry statement, issued on Thursday, said the temporary decision had been taken in order to protect Swiss companies facing class action suits in the United States. Last November, suits were filed in the US against 20 banks and multinationals from Switzerland and other countries on behalf of the victims of apartheid. As well as Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and UBS, firms such as the oil companies Exxon and Shell, and carmakers Ford and General Motors were named in the lawsuit. "There is the particular risk that Swiss firms, due to easier access to information, could be singled out and face exaggerated accusations," said the finance ministry in a statement. The ministry said no other country had offered comparable open access to such information.

No surprise
The archives were opened in May 2000 as part of a national research programme into relations between Switzerland and South Africa during the apartheid era. Georg Kreis, the head of the research programme, said he wasn't surprised by the decision. "I, of course, very much regret that the framework conditions have been changed while we are in the process of research," he told swissinfo. "On the other hand, I do have a certain understanding that when historical research encroaches on the present then there's a risk that conditions will change and affect the conditions under which we can carry out our research," he added. Kreis said he doubted that his team would get to the bottom of the matter as his research period was due to end in October. He expects to present his findings in 2004.

He said he had already been facing limitations - such as problems in gaining access to private files, especially from companies - and that the new restrictions would further hinder his work. "It'll be our task to present what we have been able to find out based on limited information and statements," Kreis said. He said that he would be making clear the conditions under which the research was conducted. "One must particularly avoid giving the impression that we have had access to everything and that it will be a final report. We want in no way to offer a whitewash," he added.

The non-governmental organisation, the Swiss Campaign for Apartheid Caused Debt Cancellation and Reparations, criticised Switzerland's decision. "We ask ourselves what the finance ministry has to hide from the public," the group said in a statement issued on Thursday. There was also reaction from the political parties. The rightwing Swiss People's Party and the centre-right Radicals and Christian Democrats welcomed the move as defending the interests of Swiss firms. The centre-left Social Democrats and the Green Party said they were shocked and would be asking parliament to help uncover the full extent of the links between Switzerland and apartheid-era South Africa.
©NZZ Online

The language of human rights flows smoothly from the lips of the leaders of France and Germany. But continuing Franco-German hegemony in Europe is bad news for human rights, especially for victims whose oppressors are European Union partners. Take, for example, the victims of the Sudanese government's genocidal jihad. In the words of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, there is ''no greater tragedy on the face of the earth than the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan.'' For the past 20 years, the regime in Khartoum has bombed, starved, and enslaved black Southern Sudanese with impunity in an effort to subject them to Islamic rule. As a result, over two million black non-Muslims have perished. A further five million have been driven off their land. Sudanese slaves -- mainly women and children -- are routinely beaten, raped, genitally mutilated, forced to convert to Islam and racially abused. The scale of this ''crime against humanity'' -- as slavery is identified in international law -- is enormous. Credible estimates of the number of Sudan's slaves range from tens of thousands to over 200,000.

For years, these atrocities were largely ignored by the international community. Only in the mid-1990s did the Clinton administration finally wake up to mounting evidence of Khartoum's sponsorship of international and domestic terrorism. The response was robust. The US government declared Sudan to be a terrorist state. It sponsored strong resolutions at the UN Commission for Human Rights condemning Khartoum for slavery and a host of other crimes. Strict US economic sanctions were imposed. What did the Franco-German duo do? It led the EU in the opposite direction. France provided Khartoum with military intelligence for the prosecution of the jihad, while French and German helicopters have been used for ethnic cleansing in southern Sudan's oil fields. Driving black, non-Muslims out of their homes creates greater security for the investments of oil firms like Total Fina (France/Belgium) and the German engineering giant Mannesmann. The Sudanese government's role in the revival of the country's once-dormant slave trade formed the greatest single political obstacle to legitimizing the EU's appeasement policy. France and Germany therefore spearheaded a UN whitewash of this crime against humanity. With the rest of the EU and their new East European satellite states in tow, they overcame American objections and easily persuaded the UN Commission on Human Rights to censor any use of the word ''slavery'' from official documents on Sudan and replace it with the euphemism ''abduction'' -- a lesser offense.

Why work against American policy? By the mid-1990s, Paris and Berlin had already laid the foundations for the cultural and economic integration of the EU with the Islamic states of North Africa and the Middle East. The expansion of Franco-German hegemony over an area that approximates the bounds of the Roman Empire would fulfill the ambition to counter America, the only remaining superpower. What little hope there is for Sudan's slaves comes mainly from New World democracy, not from the failed powers of the Old Europe. A broad left-right, black-white coalition, including such polar opposites as the conservative former Senator Jesse Helms and liberal US Representative Donald Payne -- a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has pushed the Bush administration to invest significant financial and political capital in the first credible Sudan peace initiative. The Bush peace plan is underpinned by the tough language of the Sudan Peace Act, passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress. It identifies slavery as one of the government of Sudan's many acts of ''genocide.'' This powerful legislation also combines the threat of prosecutions for slavery and other crimes against humanity with the possibility of massive US financial support for the armed opposition to Sudan's Islamist regime.

But ©Boston Globe

Football violence raised its ugly head again when England played Turkey to highlight the depressing fact that this is a battle for which the authorities have so far not found a successful strategy

There will be no battle for hearts and minds in England's football wars. What would be the point? Hearts can be won easily enough when you deal efficiently with a team of Turkey's reputation. To win minds, however, you first have to establish that an adequate supply of such things exists. There was little enough evidence of that in Sunderland the other night. Though police, the Home Office and the host club each decided that the security operation was a success, you were left to wonder what they might consider a failure. Two pitch invasions, 106 arrests -- all English -- and an attempted attack on a Turkish player: for this celebration of the spirit of sport the English Football Association required the services of 1,000 coppers and 400 stewards. If a security 'failure' should ever occur someone will have to call up the marines. The plain, supremely depressing fact is that the English game is right back where it started in the 1970s, complete with racist chanting and Nazi salutes. Trouble in Zurich and Liechtenstein -- Liechtenstein, of all places -- has now been followed by trouble at a Premiership ground. Turks, mischievous indeed given their own record, are demanding that England should not be allowed to play their next match, against Slovakia, at home. But the dark shadow cast over the Stadium of Light gave witness to a malady that defies token sanctions.

Leeds fans, out for revenge after the stabbing to death of two of their own in Turkey three years ago, formed the bulk of those arrested. Others were Sunderland casuals trying to settle scores with Newcastle casuals. Others still, it seems, were of the species of far-right creep seen leafleting in Vaduz last weekend. And in the face of all this the Home Office is pleased. In the face of this Uefa will impose their usual token fine. In the face of this the FA dither over whether England fans should travel to Turkey for the return game. Let's state the obvious, nevertheless: this is not a purely English problem. Galatasary's Ali Sami Yen stadium did not acquire its fearsome reputation by accident. Racism is a running scar in the Italian game, the Dutch game and the German game. The racist chanting in Sunderland, meanwhile, was merely an echo of the chants hurled by Slovakian fans -- and condemned by the FA -- at English players. Football may be the global game, but its spirit of internationalism is a fragile thing, despite the number of black players now performing in Europe.

How many anti-racism campaigns have we had? How often have the police, the FA and the government improved their intelligence, refined the law, imposed their banning orders? How often have the authorities complained that this is all society's problem? Wednesday night suggested that intelligence and sanctions are no real defence. It suggested, further, that society's problem is still being passed from generation to generation. And it may even have persuaded the non-aligned that football no longer deserves protection from itself. One thousand officers at a time when, we are told, there is a war being waged against genuine terrorism? How would the public have reacted to that if, God forbid, some separate, serious incident had taken place in Sunderland on Wednesday? Indeed, how does the public as a whole feel about the resources that are devoted to a game in which the veneer of self-control is wafer-thin? Football fans probably shouldn't ask: they might not care for the answer.

It is obvious, in any case, that England's support must be prevented from travelling to Turkey. It is not even clear, at least to this writer, that the England team should play Turkey at anything other than a neutral venue. The Turks would com ©Sunday Herald

The Football Association has vowed to clear its name after the UEFA charge of racist abuse from fans.England face the threat of playing their next Euro 2004 qualifier behind closed doors after being charged for supporters' behaviour in the recent win over Turkey. The Turkish FA lodged an official complaint and a decision will be made on May 1, but the FA is determined to prove that it has everything in its power to stop racism among supporters. "We are disappointed that UEFA have felt it necessary to bring the charges against us but clearly we will co-operate fully with any UEFA inquiry, and we are already in the process of our own internal investigation and report into this match," said marketing and communications chief Paul Barber. "We totally condemn any racist chanting whatsoever. It's unnecessary and it's totally unacceptable. This is particularly disappointing as we have worked very hard for several years with successful campaigns, particularly Kick it Out, to rid the English game of any form of racism.

"We have been focussed in the build-up to the game, planning with the local police, with the club, various supporters groups, the local community and of course the Turkish FA to ensure that this game passed off as smoothly and safely as possible for everybody both on and off the pitch. "We condemn and will not tolerate any form of racist behaviour in the game at any level." UEFA is refusing to speculate on the outcome of the inquiry, but Slovakia had to play their last Euro 2004 match behind closed doors after their supporters were found guilty of racist chanting in their defeat by England - following a complaint from the FA. They have already been charged over the pitch invasions after both England goals, while police made more than 90 arrests as troubled flared outside the Stadium of Light before and after the 2-0 win that took Sven Goran Eriksson's side top of Group Seven. Disciplinary proceedings have also been instigated against the Turkish FA for the improper conduct of players in the tunnel after the match and they will also be dealt with on May 1.
©Sky News

David Baker remembers the upheaval in his hometown of Anniston in the 1990s when many residents realized their health and property had been contaminated by toxic PCBs from a nearby chemical plant. The experience spurred Baker and others in predominantly poor, black west Anniston to form Community Against Pollution to fight for damages and clean up the contamination. Today, most of the group's members have been involved in lawsuits against the chemical company. "It was just something you could not believe in these days and times to see the people who suffered behind this," Baker recalled. Like Baker, citizens in many poor, black communities around Alabama and the South in recent years have fought companies who have located pollution-spewing industrial plants, hazardous landfills and waste incinerators near homes and schools. Known as "environmental racism," the practice of locating such toxic operations near politically powerless blacks has been stymied by the emerging citizen groups.

"Companies now don't just bully in," said Robert Bullard, sociology professor at Clark Atlanta University. "When they do, they're in for a rude awakening. There is no path of least resistance any more." Bullard, author of "Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality," said many members of watchdog groups are involved in lawsuits seeking massive damage judgments. Over time, as low-income neighborhoods in Southern towns became more racially mixed, poor people, white and black, joined in the fight, Bullard said. They often run up against business and civic leaders working to develop communities economically. To the developers, such projects often bring in badly needed jobs and revenues for areas that sometimes have little of either. Larry Lee, a spokesman for a company that reopened a landfill in east Alabama last year, said many supported the project, which brought about 35 jobs to a rural community in Tallapoosa County. But in 2000, a company that planned to build Alabama's biggest solid waste landfill withdrew its proposal after the Rev. Jesse Jackson joined residents to oppose the dump in predominantly black and poor Macon County. The landfill would have covered 700 to 800 acres near the town of Shorter and accepted up to 5,000 tons of trash a day from around the South. But Milton McGregor, a white who is a dog track magnate and property owner, withdrew the application after meeting with Jackson and other leaders, and a day before the county commission was to vote on it.

Bullard said environmental racism has its roots in the segregationist era in the South when racially segregated schools were legal and building paved roads or parks in black communities was optional. As the New South began to take shape following World War II, politicians in many Southern towns wanted to create jobs and bring in tax revenues to grow local economies. "In many cases (the South) would accept things that other regions would say no to," Bullard said. "Race was a major player in determining where these facilities went in and how they were operated." Many companies moved projects such as waste incinerators and petrochemical plants out of the crowded Northeast. Typical was Sumter County in Alabama, where the nation's largest hazardous waste landfill was built at Emelle in 1978. The 3,200-acre waste treatment, storage and disposal facility came to the predominantly black county during a period when few blacks held public office there. The disposal site, run by Waste Management Inc., created jobs in the area, but it received some of the most hazardous wastes from Superfund sites in the United States and from foreign countries. It handled nearly 800,000 tons of hazardous waste at its peak in 1989 until state officials began to see its negative impact. The state imposed higher taxes on waste shipments and fewer PCB-contaminated materials were sent as tonnage dropped.

In the early near the highways where marchers helped inspire the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The case is making its way through the courts. The mainly black county residents had support from the mainly white residents of Lowndesboro. "Twelve jobs -- come on," said Barbara Evans, who heads the community group. "Twelve jobs for a dump on the ... historic civil rights trial." Evans said with roughly 250 types of landfills in the state, including 29 that take in more than 32,000 tons of waste daily, Alabama doesn't need new landfills to handle its trash. "I think Alabama is being targeted and I think especially the communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are being targeted," she said.
©Cable News Network

The international community's High Representative to Bosnia and Hercegovina, Paddy - Lord - Ashdown, has introduced sweeping changes to the constitution of one of Bosnia's two entities, the Serb Republic. He has abolished the republic's Supreme Defence Council and removed all references to statehood from its constitution. The changes were imposed on the same day - Wednesday - that the Bosnian Serbs' representative on Bosnia's three-member presidency, Mirko Sarovic, resigned ahead of his expected sacking by Lord Ashdown over his alleged involvement in an arms-for-Iraq sanctions-busting scandal. But how will the changes affect Bosnia's Serbs - and the chances of accelerating Bosnia's re-integration?

Separatists 'rewarded'
The Dayton peace accords of 1995 left Bosnia divided - in effect - into two semi-independent, ethnically-based entities, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. It was an arrangement that was bitterly criticised at the time by supporters of a multi-ethnic, integrated Bosnia. They argued that the deal rewarded the separatists - primarily the Bosnian Serbs - who had set out to establish their own state on the ruins of Bosnia, and who ended up with something that was like a state in everything but name. Under the Dayton arrangements, each of the two entities has had its own president, government, parliament, police - and even its own army. Each entity has been allowed to establish special relations with Bosnia's neighbours - in the Serb Republic's case with Yugoslavia, now known as Serbia and Montenegro. Now Lord Ashdown has launched a fresh series of measures to reduce the powers - real and symbolic - of the Bosnian Serb Republic. He has been able to exploit two scandals that have involved the Bosnian Serb military and their political masters.

The first of these was the arms-for-Iraq business deal that has cast a shadow over the Bosnian Serbs' Orao aviation company. That was a clear case of sanctions-busting. The second, more recent incident, came with the discovery of a sustained espionage operation the Bosnian Serb military have carried out against the international organisations involved in implementing the Bosnian peace process. Spying on these organisations is a violation of the Dayton accords which require co-operation with, and not obstruction of, the peace process. Lord Ashdown has responded by abolishing the Bosnian Serbs' Supreme Defence Council, which has been implicated in both scandals. Removing the council weakens one of the political-military centres of ethnic Serb nationalism.

Central command
Lord Ashdown and his predecessors have been trying to shift the emphasis in military and other matters from the level of the two entities to that of the state. After years of debate, the state-level government formed after October's elections now has a minister in charge of security - though the word "defence" is still not being used. Among the measures now announced, a commission is to be formed to work out command and control over the armed forces for the whole of Bosnia. Lord Ashdown has also removed all references to the "state", "independence" and "sovereignty" from the Bosnian Serb constitution. In a sense, this has been long overdue. Neither of Bosnia's two entities is a state, but the Bosnian Serbs have for long been trying to maintain that fiction - against the provisions of the Dayton accords. The latest measures are part of a long-running process of building up in Bosnia a single state worthy of its name and to dilute the ethnic legacy of the war.

War of attrition
Major changes introduced in time for last year's elections included giving all three ethnic groups a proportional role in government and other state institutions in each entity. That means that the Bosnian Serb Republic is required to have a specified number of Muslims (Bosniacs) and Croa For the first time, perhaps, since the war, "Balkans fatigue" poses a greater danger than the hardline nationalists.
©BBC News

Speech by Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe has made migration one of its priority areas of concern, stated the Deputy Secretary General in her speech on 4 April during the ''Reflection Tables on Immigration and Human Rights'' organised in Athens at the initiative of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles. It actively pursues the implementation of a comprehensive migration management strategy that combines policies on both integration and migration flows, she said, and combats trafficking of human beings. The Organisation is now considering the negotiation of a European convention that would clearly define trafficking as being a violation of human rights.

Full Speech:
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The history (and pre-history) of humankind proves that migration is as natural to the human being as birth, reproduction or death. In this sense, we do not differ that much from most of the other animals. Our species, what we call homo sapiens, likes nevertheless to distinguish itself from the rest as we are "endowed with reason and conscience". Indeed, Article 1 of the UDHR states : "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood". Why is it then that immigration can provoke such strong emotions, and often-irrational debate?

Europeans, like other peoples, we are almost all the descendants of migration; whether peaceful or by force. It is something that we find surprisingly easy to forget, particularly if we limit ourselves to looking at the numbers of foreign nationals. But even this is a salutary: the total stock of foreign populations living in European countries is about 22.22 million people, around 2.6% of the aggregate population. The international legal order contains remarkable lacunae: the rights to freedom of movement and residence are well established and recognised. However, there is no corresponding general obligation on states to admit migrants. Migrants must rely on the demand of countries for foreign labour, privileged treatment for nationals of states linked by multi-lateral or bi-lateral agreements, family reunification or in particular cases, the humanitarian protection afforded to refugees. What happens to those who cannot enter through these doors? They are probably forced into using other dangerous channels leading to misery, distress and sometimes much worse. Many are forced into irregular migration, become victims of smuggling rackets or trafficking.

In the Council of Europe we necessarily stress the human rights approach to migration. But it is worth bearing in mind the more utilitarian arguments. European societies are built on the contribution of migrants and they need them. However, demographic trends suggest that even a significant increase in immigration will not of itself be able to meet future labour market demands. Attention must be drawn to making more effective use of existing human resources through measures to combat discrimination and obstacles to labour market integration of migrants. Immigration is a very sensitive political issue. It is also a very important issue of human rights. Respect for the individual, the right to migrate, the right not to be discriminated against, and the right to respect for one's cultural identity, language and history. The Council of Europe devotes considerable efforts to promoting co-operation between the member States on issues of migration, integration, non-discrimination, equal opportunities and protection of minorities. Many different parts of the Organisation have specific responsibilities in this respect. In particular, we have actively encouraged our member States to improve the protection of migrants and their families. We services.
We also have a specialist body of international experts - the European Committee on Migration. For many years, this committee has worked on developing integration policy and practice in favour of migrants.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Any reflection on the subject of immigration and human rights must of necessity encompass a reflection on issues of racism and xenophobia. This reflection should cover two main areas of concern. Firstly, there is a need to reflect on the possible links between immigration policy and racism. This includes the way in which immigration regulations and policy are formulated and implemented, and the way in which they are used, notably as a tool of political discourse. Special care should be taken when articulating and subsequently explaining to the public the philosophy behind immigration policies. (In particular, the arguments used to justify the choice of policies should not convey the impression that immigration is something to be feared; that immigrants are inherently a danger, a threat to public order, economic stability and social peace.

However, increasingly today, and perhaps even more so since the events of 11 September 2001, such arguments seem to hold sway in the public imagination, and it is the responsibility of political leaders to avoid the temptation to capitalise on such erroneous connections.) Secondly, one must consider the way in which immigrants are treated once they have entered and settled in a country, in terms of policies and strategies aimed at combating racism and racial discrimination and at ensuring an integrated society, in which persons of immigrant background are given the opportunity to participate on an equal footing. It is noteworthy that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe has stressed in its work that the concept of racism includes today behaviours and attitudes targeting persons not only on the basis of their ethnic origin, but also on the basis of their nationality, language and religion.

In this context, it has not hesitated to deal with sometimes-sensitive issues relating to immigration policy and its implementation, as well as the general climate of opinion within European societies towards immigrants and persons of immigrant origin. In September 2002, the European Ministers responsible for migration affairs of the Council of Europe member States met in Helsinki and discussed in detail the challenges facing our societies in connection with integration policies and the management of migration flows. They made a number of important undertakings. The Council of Europe has taken them very seriously and has made migration one of its priority areas of concern. I would like to mention two initiatives:

The first one addresses the wish to pursue actively the implementation of a comprehensive migration management strategy that combines policies on both integration and migration flows. My colleague, Ms Battaini-Dragoni will certainly give further details on this issue. I will just mention that only last month (21 March) the Greek authorities have written to the Secretary General, supporting this work and offering to host an Agency on Migration entrusted with the responsibility of implementing such a strategy.

The second initiative concerns the need to combat trafficking of human beings. The importance of this issue deserves a few minutes of our attention. Trafficking in human beings has become a major problem in Europe. Every year, a large number of people, the majority of whom are women and children, are trafficked within and over borders and submitted to sexual or other exploitation. This phenomenon has now reached such an unprecedented level that it is possible to speak about a new form of slavery.

As a pan-European organisation, the Council of Europe regroups, among its 45 member States, countries of origin, transit and destination of the victims of trafficking. Trafficking constitutes a blatant and terrible violation of human ri field of trafficking in human beings in South-Eastern European countries. During the 5th European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men (Skopje, 22-23 January 2003) the Ministers agreed that the activities undertaken by the Council of Europe to protect and promote the human rights of women should aim, among other things, to prevent and combat violence against women and trafficking in human beings. The Council of Europe is now considering the negotiation of a European Convention on the action against trafficking in human beings. The idea is to adopt an international legal binding instrument which covers all aspects and all forms of trafficking as well as all persons victims of the trafficking is needed.

A European convention on action against trafficking in human beings would pursue the United Nations achievements in this field in a European context and be based on the definition agreed upon in the Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against transnational organised crime. As a complement to and development of the United Nations Protocol, which emphasises the crime prevention aspect of trafficking, a European Convention would clearly define trafficking as being first and foremost an issue of violation of human rights.

Therefore the added value would be, among other things :
- Recognising trafficking as a serious violation of human rights;

- Contributing to the harmonisation of legislation in this area throughout the European continent;

- Enhancing co-operation among European States against trafficking;

- Designing a comprehensive framework for victim and witness protection;

- Setting up an efficient monitoring mechanism: Experience has proved that, in areas where such independent monitoring systems exist (e.g. torture and minorities), they have high credibility with the States parties, and the co-operative nature of such mechanisms is fully understood and recognised.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Rather than being wolves to our co-citizens (homo homini lupus) by indulging in intolerance, discrimination, racism, xenophobia or trafficking, we should show that our species deserves the honourable double qualification of "homo sapiens sapiens". Let us prove to ourselves that wisdom, conscience and reason can prevail over basic instincts and irrationality.

Thank you for your attention.
©Council of Europe

Refugees from Chechnya cannot get residence in a neighbouring republic - even though the law is on their side.
By Kazbek Kushkhov in Nalchik, Kazbek Kushkhov is the pseudonym of a newspaper journalist working in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria.

Chechen refugees trying to settle in Kabardino-Balkaria cannot get registered in the republic, despite backing from the highest court in the land. Last month, the court, for the third time in just over two years, ruled that new regulations restricting the rights of immigrants were illegal under Russian law. In most cases the incomers are Chechens taking refuge from the conflict in their native republic. They maintain that it is almost impossible to get legal residence in Kabardino-Balkaria, which lies just to the west of Chechnya. Around 4,500 immigrants have registered officially, while at least 12,000 are continuing to live illegally, and pay regular fines to the law enforcement authorities.

Alamat Umalatov, head of a family of seven, has just paid another 50 rouble (1.65 US dollar) fine for being unregistered. "I come from Grozny and I will go back to Chechnya as soon as there is a normal life there," he told IWPR. "I've lived in Kabarda with my family two years now and tried more than once to get formal residency - but without any luck." When this journalist, seeking some explanations for this situation, went down to Nalchik's visa and registration department, OVIR, in the local interior ministry, there were scenes of chaos in the building. The corridors were full of Chechens complaining that they were being asked for a whole series of documents, which it was almost impossible for them to obtain. Yet there is no legal reason why they should be put through such an ordeal. The old "propiska" compulsory registration system was scrapped in Russia in 1997, and a Russian citizen now only has to inform the local authorities that he intends to live at a certain address. Officials at OVIR said that the tougher registration laws came from an act passed by the local parliament on December 26 last year.

The new legislation does not allow immigrants to register permanently. It instead orders the local authorities "to halt the registration of marriages if a person getting married is not permanently registered on the territory of the republic", and also decrees that a child born to parents living in the area unofficially cannot be registered either. Magazali Endreyev, a local parliamentary deputy and former deputy interior minister in the republic said that the new measures were adopted under duress as Kabardino-Balkaria could not cope with the flood of migrants. He told IWPR that they had initially received thousands of Chechens, but now parliament was getting dozens of letters complaining that immigrants were taking local jobs and increasing the crime rate. Endreyev blamed Moscow for the situation, saying it had not anticipated that its so-called "anti-terrorist campaign" in Chechnya would cause a tide of refugees in neighbouring regions. "Someone has to give these people accommodation, work, education and medicine. But they simply abandoned them here. If this issue had been resolved sensibly at a federal level we would not be taking these extreme measures to defend the interests of our voters." He admits that the trouble started when the parliamentary acts were declared illegal on March 13, when the republican Supreme Court ruled that the most recent law contradicted federal legislation.

This was not the first time the court has struck down legislation which has been voted through parliament. A previous bill restricting immigration was annulled in November 2000 and another law restricting the right to be registered was cancelled in July last year. The parliamentarians are unapologetic. "We knew that this act contradicts existing legislation and we all unanimously voted to adopt it, so as to stop, if is."
©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

The Netherlands' Humanitarian Tradition Erodes

Critical aspects of Dutch asylum policy violate international refugee standards, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch urged the new Dutch government being formed to prioritize reforms to bring asylum policy back in line with international standards. The 33-page report, Fleeting Refuge: The Triumph of Efficiency Over Protection in Dutch Asylum Policy', raises concern about recent policies adopted to hasten the processing of asylum claims at the expense of the protection needs of refugees. "In its efforts to control immigration, the Dutch government cannot violate fundamental rights," said Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "The new government in formation should prioritize asylum reform and return the Netherlands to its traditional role as a leader in the defense of human rights and refugee protection in Europe."

The Human Rights Watch report is based on three months of research involving review of dozens of transcripts and decisions in asylum cases and extensive interviews with asylum lawyers, humanitarian and human rights organizations, and representatives of the Dutch immigration agency. The report highlights Human Rights Watch concerns in three areas:

  • violations of the right to seek asylum in a routinely-used accelerated determination procedure;

  • the improper treatment of migrant children;

  • and restrictions on asylum seekers' rights to basic material support, including food and adequate housing.

  • Human Rights Watch reports that the Dutch accelerated "AC Procedure" is being used to process cases for which it is inappropriate. The 48-hour procedure was originally designed to screen out clearly unfounded cases, but is now used to process 60 percent of asylum claims, with government officials aiming to process 80 percent through this accelerated review. Human Rights Watch said the process gives applicants little opportunity to document their need for protection, receive meaningful advice from a lawyer, or effectively challenge a negative decision on appeal. Particularly for cases involving humanitarian concerns or complex legal or factual questions, Human Rights Watch said the AC procedures are inadequate. "The accelerated determination procedures are regularly used to assess the claims of people suffering trauma or fleeing countries torn by war or repression," said Andersen. "Under these circumstances, the authorities run a very real risk of sending people back to face persecution."

    The Human Rights Watch report also charges that certain aspects of Dutch immigration policy fail to serve the best interests of migrant children as required under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Specifically, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that more than 30 percent of child asylum seekers have their claims reviewed in the cursory AC procedure. Human Rights Watch found that interviews of children are often conducted in a manner inappropriate for their age and maturity and without the benefit of consistent assistance from a lawyer or guardian. Human Rights Watch also concluded that Dutch government determinations that a child is "accompanied" by a relative in the Netherlands do not sufficiently assess whether those relatives are willing or able to provide children with long-term care.

    In a third area of concern, Human Rights Watch criticized Dutch policy to deny basic material support, including food and housing, to asylum seekers still in various stages of the asylum process. Human Rights Watch says this policy leaves asylum seekers, including families with children, homeless and dependent on charity for basic survival while awaiting a final determination on appeal from the AC procedure. In one case reported by Human Rights Watch, a family from Rwanda was evicted Read the full report
    ©Human Rights Watch

    Roma Nation Day this year will be marked by the lighting of up to a million candles in Romani communities across sixty countries around the globe, a collective-event of growing solidarity and a message of peace in troubled times.

    Torch-lit processions and candle-lighting gatherings in ancient motherland India, across Europe, in North and South America, and for the first time in countries of the Middle East, including Turkey, Iran, Jordan and Israel, promise to make this by far the biggest yet celebration of "8 April". Already major Roma Nation Day events have the endorsement of the International Romani Union, members of the Roma National Congress, the newly-formed Association of Roma in the CIS and Baltic States, the All India Banjara Seva Sangh, the Trans-European Roma Federation and hundreds of smaller organizations and groups.

    Nation building
    The process of nation-building, started 70 years ago, depends upon increase utilization and expansion of the institutions created todate; chief among them Roma Nation Day, the World Romani Congress, and the flag and anthem, and our international NGOs and single-state assemblies, to be crowned soon by the establishment of the Council of Europe-sponsored European Roma Forum. The combination of leadership-endorsement and mass grass-roots participation will hopefully prove a powerful prelude to next year's scheduled meeting of the World Romani Congress, on which many activists are focusing their aspirations for new common purpose and renewed unity within the Romani movement. The sixth Congress since l971, which could be hosted in London, is already being billed as a much-needed "unification congress".

    As manifest by the 33rd Roma Nation Day, the movement has grown wider and more diverse over the decades. But key aims and aspirations have remained steady and unaltered. The original London Congress proclaimed the right of Roma to recognition as a national minority of Indian ancestory - a demand targeted at the then communist states of Eastern Europe. At the same time, delegates at that Congress expressed a conviction that Roma were now set on the path towards "nationhood". In the currency of Slav-terms prelevant at the time, leading spokesman from Jugoslavia and Czechoslovakia spoke of their desire to see Roma move progressively up the ladder from "etnicka grupa" to "narodnost" (national minority) and eventually "narod" or nation status. Today, numbers alone require that Roma, an entity of eight million in Europe and perhaps l5 million outside India, be awarded something more than "national minority" recognition. The V World Romani Congress in Prague sought status for the Romani people as a "nation without territory. The IRU, headed by Emil Scuka, has pursued this aim with consistency and scored some diplomatic successes while doing so, notably his meeting with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan.

    Durban, where some 60 Roma delegates attended the UN conference against racism, was an achievement for the movement as a whole. Despite eventual frustration on the issue of slavery, caused primarly by the US and other western delegations, much was gained and learnt about the need - and the way - to operate collectively on the international stage. The involvement this year in Roma Nation Day by the All India Banjara Seva Sangh, as well as participation in Chandigarh and Delhi by friends and colleagues of the late Dr W.R.Rishi, brings us back once more to our roots and starting point - India. Last year, Dr Rishi inaugurated the "One Thousand Year Jubilee" of the departure of Romani ancestors from North India with the casting of flowers into the Punjab's Ghaghar river - a ceremony duplicted on the banks of 40 rivers around the world, from the mighty Volga to the Danube, from the fast flowing Vardar to the placid Rio de la Plata in Argentina.

    But what can be achieved by our Congress-mandated spokesmen dep Add to these the still-scarcely vailed policies which deliver inferior education, poor housing and medical care and almost no jobs, to bitterly excluded Romani ghettoes, and you have a of a mounting crisis.In Britain, activists see no difference between eviction from roadside camps and privately-purchased land and mass deportations of recently-arrived Roma refugees. Covered only by the figleaf of one of set of regulations or another, all are experienced as acts of ethnic-cleansing which, short of genocide, is a brutal form of persecution surpassed only by forced and deception-led sterilization, as now suffered in Slovakia. In consequence of all this brutality and deprivation, 8 April will witness more demonstrations and "strikes" this year by refugees and asylum-seekers; and the tens of thousands "displaced" from Kosovo, who are unable to return to their homes - looted and burned by racially-motivated neighbours.

    Perhaps the candle is but a feeble "weapon" to seize upon in these highly provocative circumstances. But let us see if the flames of a million candles combined, starting at dawn with a jumbo rally of our brothers and sisters of the Banjara tandras and taken up country by country, in one continent after another, across the globe, will inspire new recognition and greater concern for our situation. And let us be encouraged by the sure knowledge that such a manifestation, the greatest yet, will bring with it the prize of a truly multi-million mandate and >YES VOTE< for increased Romani activism and political participation as the means and way forward towards national and individual emancipation. We know that no rights, however well written and chartered, will be handed to us on a plate; and that the plate will remain ever empty if displayed only as a begging bowl. This year, we are urged to set a candle upon it and light that candle so that it can shine on the road ahead.

    From the 'March of 100,00', that marked the first Ustiben on the occasion of the 30-year Jubilee of the First World Romani Congress in 2001, through last year's River Ceremonies, Roma Nation Day has grown and matured as the defining event of the world Romani movement. Both protest and message of peace, this year's "8 April" will again serve to set down a marker - nudging history another step along the road in the direction the Roma nation is choosing to go.

    The Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, has encouraged the continent's many Roma populations to "take control of their own destiny" by spearheading moves to improve their living conditions. Speaking on International Roma Day (8 April), the Deputy Secretary General welcomed and expressed her support for on-going national and international efforts to promote and protect Europe's Roma populations, but stressed that the Roma people themselves must play an active part in determining their own futures. "There are up to 10 million Roma people in Europe, spread across many of the Council of Europe's 45 member states," said Mrs de Boer-Buquicchio. "In some central and eastern European countries Roma groups represent over 5% of the total population, and yet due to centuries of rejection and discrimination there are still serious problems regarding access to education, housing, employment and healthcare, and participation in decisionmaking."

    The Deputy Secretary General pointed out that considerable progress has been made over the last ten years or so, with the full support of the Council of Europe. "Our Parliamentary Assembly has been particularly active in this area, leading to the creation in 1995 of a Group of Specialists to study Roma issues," she said. "The Organisation is also fully involved in on-going efforts to examine the possibility of establishing a European Roma Forum." "A fundamental principle of the Council of Europe's approach is to encourage the full participation of the groups concerned. Without this no lasting progress will be accomplished, and it is for this reason that I appeal directly to the Roma people of Europe to adopt a 'Don't tell us - ask us!' attitude and to fully involve themselves in discussions regarding their own future," she added.

    The date of the annual International Roma Day (8 April) commemorates the release of Roma people from the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of World War II. It is also the anniversary of the First International Roma Congress, which took place in London in 1971 and is seen as the beginning of a co-ordinated effort to promote the rights and interests of Roma people at an international level.
    Also see:
    ©Council of Europe

    In connection with International Gypsies Day on Tuesday, the St. Petersburg chapter of the Memorial human-rights organization held a round-table session to publicize the recent opening of the Northwest Center for Social and Legal Assistance to Roma. Roma is the proper name for people commonly referred to as Gypsies or, in Russian, as tsygani.

    The goal of the center, which was opened in January but hasn't been functioning at full capacity, is to help inform Roma of their civil rights in Russia, and to provide somewhere to turn for help for an ethnic group that is often the target of abuse from law-enforcement agencies and racist groups. Listening to the stories told by Roma about their experiences here - stories of victimization in the form of extortion by law-enforcement officials, racially motivated verbal abuse, violence and, in extreme cases, murder - it was clear that the new center has a large task ahead of it. "In the past three years, the number of racially motivated attacks on gypsies has skyrocketed. The attacks are not only more frequent, but also more violent," said Stefanya Kulayeva, the project leader at the new center. "It is common for groups of youngsters to wait for gypsies outside areas with a large Gypsy population and to assault them physically." But although the danger from street thugs is significant, many Roma have an even greater fear of the police. Kulayeva said that the police prey on the Roma, often taking advantage of their poor educational background and uncertainty about their position in Russia to extort money from them.

    The ethnic stereotype that portrays Roma as thieves and drug dealers makes them a particularly vulnerable group, Kulayeva said. "Police officers constantly extort money from Gypsies, taking advantage of their low level of education and familiarity with their legal rights. They often plant drugs on them and then force them to hand over money to avoid prosecution," Kulayeva said. "These cases never go to court," she said. "Gypsies would rather sell everything they have than face going to prison." The legal help offered through the center is targeted at helping Roma bring individual cases to the attention of the authorities in a situation where the police regularly refuse to register complaints of assault or theft. The new center already employs one lawyer on a full-time basis to help Roma with filling complaints, and provide them with police forms and the addresses and telephone numbers of the proper people to contact in the event that the police refuses to register a complaint. Kulayeva said the legal advice will be available for Roma in the entire Northwest Region, and that assistance in the form of a lawyer will be sent anywhere in the region to advise Roma who find themselves in particularly difficult situations. "When these incidents occur, the victim is usually in shock and is not always able to deal with legal questions, Kulayeva said. "Memorial can help them take care of these questions."

    Alexander Klein, a young Roma from Pskov, in the Northwest Region, is tragically familiar with the dangers his people face, having lost a wife and her unborn child, whom he said were murdered by police. In May 2002, his 22-year old wife, Fatima Alexandrovich, was arrested while riding a crowded bus after police alleged that she had attempted to steal another passenger's wallet. The wallet was discovered lying on the floor of the bus, but a police officer on the bus detained Alexandrovich and took her to the narcotics-squad department at a local station. Although, according to Klein, the police said Alexandrovich would be released half an hour later, she was later found on the ground outside the police station after having fallen from its second-floor window. She died from injuries related to the fall after spending four days in a coma and, while the police say that she jumped out the window during questioning, h and other Roma often face particular brutality at the hands of the police, the situation grows out of a larger, political injustice. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Klein and his family moved to Russia from Latvia. But although they had held full Soviet citizenship before 1991, they have no legal right to live in Russia. "[Then President Boris] Yeltsin promised that all holders of Soviet passports in Russia could exchange them for Russian passports," Kulayeva said. "But a large number of Gypsies have been denied passports, being told that they are foreigners." Even when they carry Russian passports, Roma still run into institutional roadblocks here. Margarita Marshinnikova, the head of school No. 462 on the outskirts of the St. Petersburg suburb of Pushkin, an area with a relatively large Roma population, said that many schools in St. Petersburg refuse to teach Roma children, considering it to be a waste of time. As a result, rates of illiteracy among Roma in Russia are rising rapidly. With the aid of Memorial, Marshinnikova set up special Roma language and culture classes to attract Roma children back to school. The absence of a Russian passport also means that many Roma have no access to health care. Alexander Chuprevich, a Roma from Pskov, said Sunday that his pregnant wife was refused treatment in a hospital there. She was told that she was a foreigner, as she had no Russian passport. Alexander and Vera Klein are among the Roma in Russia who are technically stateless and, therefore, are not entitled to any benefits from the Russian state.

    "I don't have a Russian passport because, when I applied, I was told I was a foreigner. The only passport I have is the old Soviet one," Vera said. "I am a citizen of a country that doesn't even exist anymore," she said. "Because I don't have a Russian passport, I'm not legally registered as a resident, which means that I can't get a job, I can't receive child benefits as a single mother of two, and I can't send my children to school." To survive, Vera stands at the market every day, where she sells various goods. She said that she earns about 150 rubles a day. Some Roma, like Vera, said that they have little hope for the future and no longer have the energy to try to improve their legal situation. "Officials treat us with such contempt that I don't even want to go back and apply for a passport again," she said. "I don't know what I'm going to do - this can't go on like this forever. One day I will really have to go and steal or sell drugs, just as people think all Gypsies do." The increasing anti-Roma feelings in Russia have even brought some to lie about their ethnicity. "I usually say that I'm Belarussian" Chuprevich said. "I am afraid to admit that I'm a Gypsy."
    ©The St. Petersburg Times

    WORLD ROMA DAY(Serbia and Montenegro)
    On the occasion of 8 April, World Roma Day, the Humanitarian Law Centers notes that there has been no improvement in the position of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro although the community was recognized as a national minority under the Law on Protection of the Rights and Liberties of National Minorities enacted last year.

    The laws of Serbia and Montenegro proclaim the equality of all. Nonetheless, persons belonging to the Roma community are discriminated against in access to public places, education, employment, housing, social welfare. The discrimination is often hidden and hard to prove in court. In some cases, Roma were even unable to exercise their right to be issued with personal papers and several were insulted by clerks and officials when they applied for ID cards and similar papers.

    Police in Serbia commonly believe that Roma are predisposed to delinquent behavior, insult them on ethnic grounds, and fail to protect them when they are attacked by private citizens. Roma suspects are often subjected to police brutality in an effort to extract confessions from them. The authorities of Serbia and Montenegro have not formulated a clear strategy with respect to Roma who are deported from west European countries. Once in this country, these people, many of whom do not speak Serbian and have no papers, are on the whole left to their own devices. Because they have no papers, they cannot exercise their right to health care and social welfare. Roma are barred from many nightclubs, sports centers and other public places. The excuse given by nightclubs such as Trezor, Mondo and Bombo in Belgrade is usually that private parties are taking place on their premises. Courts too fail to protect victims of discrimination or unduly prolong the proceedings. Acting on behalf of Roma denied admission to the Trezor nightclub, the HLC turned to the UN Committee on Discrimination after all domestic legal remedy was exhausted and the state failed to take measures to prevent such acts of discrimination.

    The overwhelming majority of Roma in Serbia live in illegal settlements on the outskirts of cities, without running water, power or drainage. A year ago, evictions started even from such settlements, without any alternative housing being provided. These Roma have no other option than to erect illegal shanties at other locations and, as a rule, are again evicted. The protests staged by residents of Zemun Polje on the outskirts of Belgrade, where the authorities planned to building a housing complex for Roma, show the deep prejudice of the majority population against this ethnic group. The local authorities tacitly approved these racially motivated protests.

    Roma displaced from Kosovo to Montenegro are frequently victims of discrimination in the field of housing. Very few of the almost 7,000 Kosovo Roma in that republic have proper homes. Most families live in communal centers (Konik, Vrela Ribnicka) where water and/or power cuts are a major problem, and some have moved into the settlements of Montenegrin Roma (Cetinje, Budva, Nikšic). Those who live on city landfills (Lovanja, Pljevlja) are the in the worst position. The Charter on Human and Minority Rights, which is an integral part of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro, prohibits any form of discrimination and guarantees the equality of all before the law. Serbia and Montenegro has an obligation to comply with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Under Article 16 of the Constitutional Charter, the Convention has primacy over national legislation, and Article 10 envisages the direct application of international human rights treaties in both republics making up the state-union. Since 1993, the Council of Europe has given priority to combating racism and protecting ethnic minorities as a precondition for social stability.
    ©Humanitarian Law Center

    On April 10, 2003, The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Slovak Helsinki Committee (SHC) will address a meeting on Roma and Sinti Issues organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) with their concerns about evidence that Romani women in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary have been sterilized in the absence of full and informed consent. The text of the Joint Statement of the ERRC, IHF and SHC follows:

    Joint Statement on the Issue of Coercive Sterilizations of Romani Women, on the Occasion of the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Roma and Sinti
    Early 2003 has been marked by widespread public debate surrounding the issue of coercive sterilizations and other extreme human rights abuses in relation to Romani women's health, following the publication of Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia, a report by the New York-based non-governmental organisation Center for Reproductive Rights and the Kosice-based Centre for Civil and Human Rights. In recent weeks, U.S government officials have stated that they have raised the issue "at the highest levels" with the Slovak government. In response to questions by the members of the European Parliament on the issue, European Union Commissioner responsible for the Enlargement of the European Union Mr. Gunter Verheugen stated, on behalf of the European Commission:
    "The Member of the Commission responsible for Enlargement has immediately addressed this issue in a letter to Slovak Prime Minister Dzurinda, underlining that these allegations are a matter of serious concern and if proved to be true, would constitute a serious breach of human rights. He has asked the Slovak authorities to vigorously carry out the necessary investigations, remedy possible discriminatory measures and keep the Commission informed about the proceedings."
    Slovak officials have stated that they have opened criminal investigation into the matter.

    Field research by the European Roma Rights Center conducted in 2002 and 2003 indicates that there is serious cause for concern with respect to allegations that sterilizations have in the recent past been performed on Romani women in Slovakia absent full and informed consent, as well as in relation to a number of other issues related to Romani women's health in Slovakia. Preliminary research undertaken with respect to Romani women's health issues in the Czech Republic and Hungary indicate that a number of the concerns raised in recent weeks with respect to Slovakia appear to be prevalent also in those countries. In a number of cases, we have established a failure to secure full and informed consent where sterilization or other invasive gynaecological procedure has been at issue. In some cases, women were simply told, after the operation, that they had been sterilized.

    With respect to Slovakia, on the basis of research conducted throughout Autumn 2002 and in the early months of 2003, the ERRC believes that sterilizations absent full and informed consent continue to be performed on Romani women. The majority of the approximately 200 women whom ERRC interviewed have not been provided with key information of relevance to sterilization procedures to which they have been subjected. In most cases, some form of consent to sterilisation has been registered, but consent has not been to the standard of "informed":
    misinformation, manipulative information, and pressure have been applied by medical authorities. In many cases, no effort has been made to present clear and understandable explanation to patients referred for sterilization. The high levels of racist animosity documented generally in Slovakia -- and in particular anti-Romani sentiment -- appear to have played a role in preliminary results in the Czech Republic, with the possible exception being that public discourse on the necessity of curbing Romani birth rates appears to be less pronounced. During preliminary field research, ERRC interviewed thirty-six Roma ni women and documented twenty-seven cases of sterilisation, out of which, twenty-four cases seem to be cases of sterilisation conducted without proper, full and informed consent. Most of the women interviewed were sterilised in 1990s. The ERRC pilot research indicates further that there is significant cause for concern in the Czech Republic regarding other forms of abusive treatment of women by doctors and nurses on grounds of race.

    ERRC field research in Hungary in recent weeks has documented a range of issues inclu ding sterilizations of Romani women absent full and informed consent, racial segregation in hospitals, and racially motivated physical and verbal abuse of Romani women in health care. In March alone, the ERRC interviewed forty-four Romani women and documented nine cases of sterilisation, out of which, four such operations appear to have been performed absent proper, full and informed consent. The ERRC, together with the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), is currently involved in litigation on behalf of one Romani woman who was sterilized after having been provided with misleading and/or incomplete information.

    At the 1999 Istanbul Summit, the OSCE Heads of State declared that:
    "We deplore violence and other manifestations of racism and discrimination against minorities, including Roma and Sinti. We commit ourselves to ensure that laws and policies fully respect the rights of Roma and Sinti and, where necessary, to promote anti-discrimination legislation to this effect."
    In addition, in the Charter for European Security adopted at the same Istanbul Summit the OSCE participating States declared:
    "We recognise the particular difficulties faced by Roma and Sinti and the need to undertake effective measures in order to achieve full equality of opportunity, consistent with OSCE commitments, for persons belonging to Roma and Sinti. We will enforce our efforts to ensure that Roma and Sinti are able to play a full and equal part in our societies, and to eradicate discrimination against them." In the 1992 Helsinki Document the CSCE participating States "express[ed] their concern over recent and flagrant manifestati ons of intolerance, discrimination, aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and racism" and "reaffirm[ed], in this context, the need to develop appropriate programmes addressing problems of their respective nationals belonging to Roma and other groups traditi onally identified as Gypsies and to create conditions for them to have equal opportunities to participate fully in the life of society, and will consider how to co-operate to this end."

    In line with these commitments and in connection with the issues of coercive sterilizations in Slovakia, a first and most important step is for Slovak government officials to acknowledge the existence of widespread practices of coercive sterilizations of Romani women, and to establish an independent commission of inquiry into the issue. In this undertaking, Slovak officials would be able to draw on experience from other participating OSCE states. Any commission established should include international experts, Roma, and NGOs along with Slovak governmental officials, and its work should be based on the principles of independen ce, professionalism, and transparency. In the Czech Republic and Hungary, authorities should thoroughly investigate reported cases of coercive sterilization, and make widely available -- and widely publicised -- procedures for women who believe they may have been abusively sterilized to report the issue. These procedures should ensure privacy rights, as well as rights related to effective remedy.

    The ERRC, IHF and SHC are of the view that while the criminal investigations opened by Slovak authorities are nece measures are also required in all three countries to:

  • Establish, in accordance with international human rights standards, adequate safeguards against abuses of the patient's right to informed consent, particularly with regard to medical procedures which may have grave human rights implications;

  • Promote rights culture in health care, among medical practitioners as well as among the public at large.

  • In the contexts of the recent publicity on the issue of coercive sterilizations in Slovakia, the ERRC, IHF and SCH are also concerned about the role of civil society in documenting and protecting Roma rights. On January 23, 2003, the Office of Human Rights and Minorities in Slovakia filed a criminal complaint under Articles 221-224 of the Slovak Criminal Code (offences against health) to investigate the coercive sterilization of Romani women. The complaint was based on the allegations contained in the report Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia, published by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Centre for Civil and Human Rights, and included a conditional clause to investigate the possible "spreading of false rumours" (an offence under Article 199 of the Criminal Code). Although no formal charges have been brought against the authors of this report, this threat against human rights defenders, whether followed by actual prosecution or not, is wholly unacceptable and puts at risk the exercise of fundamental rights such as that of freedom of expression.

    The space for political debate and the voice of civil society are both placed under threat when a government acts to silence its critics. As an OSCE member state, Slovakia is committed to "respect the right of everyone, individually or in association with others, to seek, receive and impart freely views and information on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights to disseminate and publish such views and information and respect the rights of everyo ne, individually or in association with others, to study and discuss the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to develop and discuss ideas for improved protection of human rights and better means for ensuring compliance with international human rights standards" (Copenhagen 1990). This commitment is also in line with the Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In addition, in Istanbul in 1999 OSCE member states pledged themselves to enhance the ability of NGOs to make their full contribution to the further development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    We urge the Slovak government to publicly ensure that the authors of the report will not be criminally prosecuted in relation to the publication of Body and Soul, and in so doing demon strate its commitment to respecting the voice of civil society and the contributions of civil society to identifying and ending human rights violations and seeking justice for victims. By the nature of their work, human rights defenders encounter highly sensitive information that could put themselves, victims or witnesses of abuse or others at risk. Efforts to employ effective safeguards in the handling and dissemination of this information are legitimate and form part of professional conduct of human rights field research. Research of human rights violations is based on the ethical rule that victims' names will not be released without their consent, and that human rights defenders will protect the victims' right to privacy. Victims and witnesses should be protected, as far as possible, from threats and intimidation that could result from disclosure of their names.

    Since the release of the report Body and Soul, Slovak government officials have allegedly urged the authors of the report to provide the names of the victims and witnesses whose testimony is included in the report. However, a including Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, racism and paternalism interact to produce outcomes wherein Roma are treated by medical practitioners as individuals not fully capable or deserving of taking meaningful decisions about their own lives. Romani women's reproductive rights are affected in particular. Given the entrenched and systemic nature of anti-Romani bias in Europe, it falls to the governments of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary to undertake rigorous, thorough-going and proactive policy measures to end the legacies of intense paternalism and racism in health care, and in particular to stop and redress coercive sterilization practices.

    European Roma Rights Center
    International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
    the Slovak Helsinki Committee

    Commercial channel TV2 stirred up a serious controversy last week with a prime-time entertainment program that was meant to be funny.

    The show, produced by the TV2-backed comedy group Irigy Hónaljmirigy, bore the title "My Big Fat Roma Wedding." Aping the popular U.S. comedy movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," it presented the comic preparations for a fictional Roma wedding. The program proved the most successful television program of the week of March 2430 among viewers aged four years or older, with a total of 2.7 million people tuning in to watch the show, according to media polling firm AGB Hungary. But it led to Roma organizations voicing sharp criticism and making a flurry of protests to government officials. The Gypsies portrayed in the program stole cars, beat each other up, shunned school and smoked pot, among other things.

    On Tuesday, the government official in charge of Roma affairs issued a statement condemning the program and requesting that TV2's executives apologize for its content. "The program presents a one-sided, negative picture about the Roma living in Hungary, portraying them as slackers and criminals. This violates their human rights and self-esteem, and is liable to generate hatred against them," said László Teleki, political state secretary at the Prime Minister's Office. "We expect the managers of TV2 to distance themselves from the views represented by the program and apologize publicly to the Roma community," he added. TV2's official comment on the affair and its apology arrived in the form of a statement issued last Wednesday, declaring that the station did not intend to offend anyone or to generate hostile feelings.

    "We deeply regret if we have unwittingly offended anyone," said the statement, signed by TV2's Chairman Dezsô Pintér, General Manager Gábor Kereszty and Managing Director David Stogel. "[TV2] will continue to do its utmost to eliminate prejudices, help the Roma exercise their rights and facilitate their integration into society," the statement added. The day before that statement was issued, TV2 Programming Director Lóránt Poich made a proposal to the National Gypsy Minority Authority (OCÖ) to present a factual program on the channel about the Roma and their lifestyle. This would take up the same amount of airtime as the satirical show. Aladár Horváth, chairman of OCÖ, rejected the offer. Last Monday, Horváth wrote a letter to TV2 chairman Pintér, expressing his dismay over the show. He also suggested modifying the legislation which currently does not allow a group of people such as a minority to act as a legal entity and sue for damages. Tamás Sipos, the leader of Irigy Hónaljmirigy, said the parody walked a fine line between the humorous and the offensive. "It's possible that we crossed this line, and if so, we apologize," he said. "We had no harmful intentions. We meant the program to be humorous. You won't find any racism or hate-mongering in it." TV2 has been spearheading the media's attempts to tap into the growing but so far largely unexplored Roma viewer and consumer segment in Hungary. The station has aired several programs targeting that community and featuring Roma participants  including the second season of its reality show "Big Brother." While TV2 and the artists were quick to apologize, the waves of controversy created by the show have not yet subsided.

    Education Minister Bálint Magyar publicly condemned the show. "TV2's program insulted the Roma and their children for 45 minutes on a Sunday evening by continuously using negative stereotypes," Magyar said. "What happened Sunday night cannot be considered an internal matter for the station," Magyar continued, adding that he is against the editorial practice of "openly playing on latent anti-Roma sentiments" in order to boost ratings. Jenô Kaltenbach, the government commissioner in charge of minority aff ©Budapest Business Journal

    States can ban cross burnings carried out with intent to intimidate, the U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday, ruling that such laws do not violate constitutional free-speech rights. The 6-3 decision involved a Virginia law adopted in 1952 to combat bigotry and racism after a spate of Ku Klux Klan cross burnings in the South. It makes it a crime to set ablaze a cross on public or private property "with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons." Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said for the majority that the First Amendment allowed Virginia to outlaw cross burnings done with the intent to intimidate because burning a cross is a particularly virulent form of intimidation. Virginia and the U.S. Justice Department defended the law, arguing it targets actual threatening conduct and not mere "hate speech." The law was challenged by three men convicted in two cross-burning incidents. In one incident, Richard Elliott and Jonathan O'Mara were convicted of attempted cross burning after they put a cross in the yard of a black neighbor in Virginia Beach and tried to set it on fire in 1998. They were sentenced to 90 days in jail. The other incident involved Barry Black, the organizer of a 1998 Klan rally in Carroll County, where a cross was burned on private property with the owner's permission. Black was fined $2,500.

    Increased efforts against hate crimes
    The ruling occurred at a time of increased efforts by the federal and state governments to crack down on so-called "hate crimes" and acts of intimidation rooted in prejudice. O'Connor said burning a cross in the United States was intertwined with the history of the Klan, which imposed a reign of terror in the South by whipping, threatening and murdering blacks, southern whites who disagreed with them and "carpetbagger" northern whites. She added that the protections the First Amendment afforded speech and expressive conduct were not absolute. The decision revisited an issue the Supreme Court last addressed 11 years ago.

    In 1992, the court declared unconstitutional a "hate crime" law adopted by St. Paul, Minnesota, that banned racially offensive displays of certain symbols, such as a burning cross or Nazi swastika. The court said it was unconstitutional discrimination against speech based on its content. The three dissenters -- Justices David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- cited the 1992 decision in saying they would find the Virginia law unconstitutional. Four justices said they would hold unconstitutional a provision of the Virginia law that specifies any cross burning shall be evidence on its face of intent to intimidate. Justice Antonin Scalia concurred that the case should be sent back to the Virginia Supreme Court to consider this provision. Justice Clarence Thomas, the only black on the court, issued a separate opinion saying he would uphold the law in its entirety, even the provision that allows a jury to draw an inference of intent to intimidate from the cross burning itself. "Considering the horrific effect cross burning has on its victims, it is also reasonable to presume intent to intimidate from the act itself," he wrote.

    How are teachers handling the war? Does the stance of Muslim and mainstream schools differ, asks Phil Revell

    Three weeks into the war and an incessant diet of TV death and destruction is taking its toll on pro and anti camps alike. Doves who vowed to hold their tongues whilst British lives were at risk are reappraising that stance and dusting off the placards. Hawks are conceding the possibility of a limit to the amount of carnage they are willing to stomach. But what are kids in schools being told about this war? What of the sizable population of Muslims in the school system? Where is their voice? These were the issues addressed by a rapidly convened round-table meeting held at the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) in Nottingham last week. The heads and education advisers, from a range of multi-ethnic and Muslim schools, found that their approaches differed widely, but were agreed on one thing - that this was not an issue schools could afford to ignore.

    "Most Muslim kids can't articulate what they feel, there's no outlet," says Ibraham Lawson, head of Nottingham's independent Islamia school. "They feel as though they don't exist, that they are invisible." In Lawson's school, Muslim pupils have been allowed a voice. The school has taken a moral stance and teachers and students have been on local peace marches and the Hyde Park demonstration in London. "In London, we made a video and played it back in tutorial lessons," says English teacher Javid Khan. "We also went to a peace march, where we met with Christians and walked from the mosque to a local church." But the response in mainstream schools has been much more neutral. Many attempted to prevent students attending the peace demonstrations that took place at the war's outset. Media coverage of the student demos was largely tongue in cheek, an approach that infuriated Verity Marriott, a 16-year-old who helped to organise the Downing Street demo on March 5. "They stereotyped teenagers as apathetic, or just out for a good time," says the year 11 student at Muswell Hill's Portishead school. "It really annoyed me; we are doing this for something we really believe in."

    The next student protest is this Thursday in Parliament Square, with a "Party for Peace". Organisers have set a 4pm start and are hoping to avoid accusations of inciting younger pupils to truant. Heads will heave a sigh of relief if this pattern is repeated across the country. Most were happy to see students demonstrate, but they drew the line at the involvement of younger pupils and could see no reason why student demos had to happen in school time. "My only concern was that this was during the school day," says Peter Slough, head of the largely Muslim Small Heath technology college in Birmingham. He'd written to parents saying that students who wanted to go on the city's demo should do so with parents' permission - and take the whole day off school. "We had three viewpoints. Some wanted to go because they felt it was the right thing to do. They took the time off. Others wanted to come to school, and did so. And for some it was a nice sunny day and they wanted some time out of lessons. "The move towards after-school demonstrations is a step in the right direction," he adds. "It would be even more powerful if they went at the weekend with their parents."

    Within Small Heath there have been assemblies on the issue and opportunities for informal discussion with teachers. "They do talk about it," says Slough. "We haven't held open debates in lessons; the issues have been addressed in assemblies. I put forward an overview, the reasons for and the reasons against. As a school we put forward a strong moral case against war full-stop. We have talked about the horrors of war - the waste, the tragedy." At Coombe Girls' school, Surrey, headteacher Carol Campbell was also opposed to ad hoc demos involving younger pupils. "It was an issue I wasn't prepared to compromise on," she sa 18-year-old Muslim is a Coombe sixth-former and one of the student organisers with the Stop the War coalition. "The school is trying to be helpful,' she says. "I've shown anti-war videos. We had a peace vigil and we are arranging a school debate. Some schools have reacted very badly; kids have been suspended." The controversial nature of the issue has clearly worried many schools and the experience of Nial Hunter in Brighton will give headteachers no comfort in their approach to the problem. Hunter is head of the Blatchington Mill school in Hove and suspended a number of year 11 students after the March 5 demonstrations. He was reported as describing the demonstration's ringleaders as "mindless idiots". Hunter has since been the subject of a virulent campaign in the local press. Letters in the Brighton Argus have attacked his reported comments and the suspensions. But he denies giving any statement to reporters and says the exclusions "were the culmination of a process and not solely related to the demonstration". "I'm genuinely proud of our students," he says. "We agreed to a petition and invited a reporter into school to talk to some older students about their feelings. Sixth-formers are making a video about young people's reactions to the war and we will send that to Tony Blair."

    School reputations are fragile things and the Blatchington experience is one few heads would care to repeat. At the NCSL round-table seminar, hardly any heads would speak on record about their approach to the conflict. They felt that schools had to be neutral. "No head is going to express an opinion that might alienate part of their community," says one. "Leadership in this context is not about expressing a moral opinion," says another secondary head. "It's about ensuring that the schools offer space for the issues to be discussed fully." But moral neutrality is a difficult path to tread. Sooner or later students are going to ask for the teacher's own view. Refusing to answer - or even worse, pretending not to have a viewpoint - can discredit the balanced approach teachers are trying to adopt. "It's not worth talking about this at school," says one Muslim boy at a largely white school. "No one will say what they really think." At Nottingham's Islamia school the year 10 and 11 girls the Guardian spoke to were absolutely clear about where they stood. "I don't see it as a war against Muslims," says 16-year-old Nabeela Hussain. "It's about oil and about controlling the Arabs.

    "I feel angry, really angry, that we can't do anything about it. You go out on a protest, but that doesn't stop George Bush or Tony Blair. Before the war I was proud to be British, but what is there in this to be proud of? It's embarrassing. We are mass murdering innocent Iraqis who haven't done anything to us." "It's a crying shame that schools don't have a standpoint on this," says teacher Javid Khan. "If deep down they know that it is unjust, they should say so. If Iraq were bombing America or Britain, would schools have a neutral standpoint? I doubt it."
    ©The Guardian

    Lecture by Tariq Ramadan on the Antisemitismconference organised by the Anne Frank Foundation April 8 2003 in Amsterdam
    Tariq Ramadan is professor of philosophy and Islamic studies at Fribourg University in Switzerland.

    The responsibility of the Muslims and the Jews in the West is tremendous : living together, both citizens of the same countries, they should raise their voices in the name of justice and mutual respect. In France, for example, one finds a unique situation; namely, the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe living together. In America, we find the same situation with two important religious communities sharing the same citizenship. That in itself should be an ideal opportunity for people to learn to live in harmony. However, the reality is, that problems are on the rise. While tensions have been incidental in the past, the situation has been exacerbated during the second intifada, and more recently, during the upsurge of violence in the Middle East. The trend appears to be that the Muslim immigrants as well as native European and American Muslims are becoming extremely sensitive to the events occurring in Palestine and are demonstrating their frustration quite overtly.

    Malicious words, cries of "down with the Jews" shouted during protest demonstrations, and in a few cities in France, reports of synagogues being vandalized. One also hears ambiguous statements about Jews, their "occult-like" power, their insidious role within the media and their nefarious plans. After September 11th, the false rumor that 4,000 Jews did not show up for work the morning of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade center, was relayed throughout predominantly Muslim areas.

    It is very rare to hear Muslim voices that set themselves apart from this kind of discourse and attitude. Often, one will try to explain away this phenomena being a result of extreme frustration and humiliation. That may be true, but one must be honest and analyze the situation deeply. Much like the situation across the Muslim world, there exists in the West today a discourse, which is anti-Semitic, seeking legitimacy in certain Islamic texts and support in the present situation in Palestine. This is the attitude of not only marginalized youth, but also of intellectuals and Imams, who see the manipulative hand of the "Jewish lobby" at each turn or every political setback.

    The situation is far too serious for one to be satisfied by simple explanations based on current frustrations. In the name of their faith and their conscience, Muslims must take a clear position so that a pernicious atmosphere does not take hold in the Western countries. Nothing in Islam can legitimize xenophobia or the rejection of a human being due to his/her religious creed or ethnicity. One must say unequivocally, with force, that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and indefensible. The message of Islam requires respect of Jewish faith and spirituality as noble expressions of "The People of the Book".

    During the initial phase of the Prophet's settlement in Medina, prior to the conflicts of alliances, the Prophet Muhammad sternly admonished: "He who is unjust with a contractor (Christians and Jews of Medina), I shall bear witness against him on the Day of Judgment". Later, during a period of extreme conflict [between Jews and Muslims], eight Qur'anic verses were revealed to absolve a Jew who had falsely been accused of a crime by a Muslim. Mohamed constantly taught respect for all human beings, with all their differences. One day, he stood up out of respect when he saw a funeral procession nearby. When told it was that of a Jew, he replied "Is it not human soul?"

    One cannot simultaneously neglect these teachings and continue to feed a tainted portrayal concerning Jews. It is the responsibility of Islamic organizations and Imams to send an unambiguous message about the profound link be authorities, it is important that they encourage concrete actions, which break the cycle of economic ghettos and encourage reform of social and urban politics at a local level. Whether we like it or not, unemployment and discrimination are one of the major roots of racism.

    At another level, there is urgency for Jewish and Muslim representatives to start communicating and establish an honest dialogue in order to avoid knee-jerk, reflexive community responses that may undermine the principle of living together in harmony. Self-criticism must become a mutual exercise.

    If it is necessary to condemn anti-Semitic language of some Muslims, it is also the responsibility of Jewish intellectuals, religious or secular, not to confuse the different spheres. An extreme right-wing Prime Minister, Jewish or otherwise, supports an ideology that must be denounced precisely for what it is. Criticism of Sharon for his atrocious past crimes and his current policy is not a sign of disrespect for Judaism, in the same way that criticism of dictators of some Muslim countries, one by one, is not an attack on Islam.

    The respect that we have towards Judaism should not be subject to suspicion once we denounce the unjust policies of the state of Israel. To foster this type of amalgams, we will finish by creating chasms between communities and that is certainly to empty the ethical content of our common Western citizenship based on the values of justice and equality.

    Muslims and Jews alike should stop feeding sentiments of victimization, and reconsider the discourse that one is creating towards the other. In the name of a common ethics of citizenship, our dignity will be based upon our ability to know how to criticize, transcending one's creed, a state, or an organization without considering that it is "clearly" a manifestation of anti Semitism or Islamophobia. It is exactly this type of intellectual requirement which one must teach and which will help all Jews and Muslims to offer to their faith, and to their respective belonging, the magnitude of a self-conscience based on universal principals, and not a closed-minded ghetto identity.

    In Europe and in America, the conditions are right to bring these challenges to light. What remains is the mutual commitment to a constructive self-analysis and to refuse the destructive temptation of selective condemnations.
    ©Anne Frank House

    Graffiti include swastika. 'Death to Arabs is not just swearing at people, it is a threat,' principal says

    Students attending a local Muslim high school will have to look at a hateful piece of graffiti scrawled on the front of their school for the next few days. The school will be removing the message "Mort aux Arabes" and an accompanying swastika as soon as possible, principal Samer Majzoub said yesterday. But until then, the message serves as a constant reminder to a student body and a principal extremely upset by the act. "This is a school and the students are all young children who are already terrified by what's going on abroad," Majzoub said. "Death to Arabs is not just swearing at people, it is a threat that is much more than that." The roughly 100 students who attend Muslim Schools of Montreal's secondary campus returned to classes Monday to find the spray-painted message. The building on Cavendish Blvd., south of Sherbrooke St., was targeted sometime over the weekend. Montreal police have no suspects, Constable Caroline Courteau said yesterday. In the meantime, counsellors were called in to talk with the students and teachers.

    It wasn't the first time this school has been targeted. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the school received threats and students were harassed as they travelled to and from Vendôme métro station. Round-the-clock police protection was provided for a few days as a result. Many in the Muslim community say biased and unbalanced news coverage has done more to tarnish the image of Arabs and Muslims than anything else - whether journalists are doing it intentionally or not. "Ignorance is never an excuse," Majzoub said. "Especially when it comes to reporters who are supposed to be well educated and are writing for the public." While there was some concern the war in Iraq would cause a spike in the number of anti-Arab acts, Riad Saloojee of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Ottawa has not seen an increase in the reports they've received since the number of reported hate crimes started to decline about six months after Sept. 11, 2001. "As a precaution we sent out a community safety kit, which is a bunch of measures to educate the community, because we anticipated there might be a backlash after the war started," Saloojee said. "We have not fielded anything substantial other than a number of cases of verbal abuse." Saloojee, the Ottawa council's executive director, called for a thorough investigation and for law enforcement and elected officials to say publicly that intimidation will not be tolerated.

    But the act came as a surprise to Majzoub since Quebec has been a leader in anti-war and pro-peace movements. What was most surprising was the comment was written in French, Majzoub said. Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Montreal Muslim Council, said Quebec "may be the heartland of the anti-war movement in this country, but bigots are bigots. "You don't need too many bigots to disturb the social atmosphere." Elmenyawi is part of a special hate crimes task force developed by the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, hoping to encourage federal and provincial officials to follow their lead. "Hate crimes are a serious problem in our society, whether the victims are Jews, Christians, Muslims or anyone else," Elmenyawi said. "I don't believe it's taken seriously because too many things in this country are taken for granted."
    ©Montreal Gazette

    Scarcity of support groups for Britain's gay, lesbian and other non-heterosexual Muslims is highlighted in a new report sponsored by the ESRC which gives unique insight into the religious and social pressures on their lives. Help groups offer a safe environment to explore the thorny issue of Islam and non-heterosexuality (particularly homosexuality) which the wider gay and lesbian community rarely provides, says Dr. Andrew Yip of the Nottingham Trent University. Current efforts to provide support groups are embryonic and in great need of encouragement.

    In the first study of its kind into the lives of British gay, lesbian and bisexual Muslims of Asian descent, most of those questioned were young, highly educated, in full-time employment and living in Greater London. Dr. Yip found that how they managed their identities and lifestyles was very much influenced and shaped by their religious and cultural background, family and friends. Religious censure of homosexuality pressurises many to compartmentalise their sexuality and religion. Being gay is widely perceived within their community as a 'western disease' and a natural outcome of secularity, individualism and permissiveness, they told the research team. To express their sexuality was not merely to defile their own moral character but the religious and cultural purity of the entire community. Whilst some did not consider themselves practising Muslims, most accepted the importance of Islam in their lives. The women in particular recognised the significance of the 'Muslim' label as members of a religious and ethnic minority in British society. Some Muslims gave in to the perceived incompatibility of their religion with their sexual orientation by ending the practice of their faith. Others managed to hold on to their religion by underplaying it. Almost all argued that their sexuality was intrinsic and God-created. Trusting that God is compassionate and loving to all people, they saw their struggle as a 'test of life'. Religious and cultural traits affect significantly their lives as non-heterosexuals, particularly the expectation and pressure to get married and concern about family honour.

    Said Dr Yip:" Clearly, a non-heterosexual identity and lifestyle undermines these expectations and often complicates family relations. "Some give in to pressure to get married, and having distanced themselves from the 'parental gaze' they get the space to explore their sexuality outside wedlock." The study reveals that some try to re-frame Islamic teaching by distinguishing between traditional cultural practice based on heterosexuality and the inclusive principles of their faith, or by trying to reinterpret religious texts in the light of present day realities. The non-heterosexual community is predominantly white, secular and male-oriented, says the report, particularly in places such as pubs and clubs. Though the vast majority of those surveyed lived close to such venues, fewer than 30 per cent were active or regular participants. Cultural differences, such as levels of alcohol consumption and smoking, often complicated their experiences of these places. Though few complained of racism, most were seen as exotic and different. Some found this an advantage, whilst others thought it off-putting to be looked at and considered sexually appealing because of their ethnic origin. Some were put off by questioning from white gays who, assuming that Islam and non-heterosexuality are strictly incompatible, appeared to be amazed by their sheer presence. Said Dr. Yip: "While there are signs of a support network for these Muslims there is much room for expansion."

    Homosexuals in Slovakia say they were concerned about the future of an anti-discrimination law after one ruling-party MP said gays were not suited to certain jobs. Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) MP Anna Záborská said recently that although her party was against discrimination of all kinds, she thought that it was "questionable whether [homosexuals] are able to fulfil all occupations", such as teachers. Her party's boss, Pavol Hruaovský, who is also the speaker of parliament, later said that his party continued to oppose the passage of an anti-discrimination law that would expressly ban discrimination on grounds of race, gender, physical handicaps, religion, or sexual orientation. Such legislation, however, is required of Slovakia as a future EU member. Western officials have repeatedly reminded all EU candidate countries that by the scheduled May 2004 entry date, all of them should have adopted anti-discrimination legislation.

    The KDH has argued that a special anti-discrimination law is not necessary because the Slovak constitution already secures non-discrimination for all of its citizens. "We insist that a special law is not necessary," Hruaovský said. Záborská said that her party saw homosexuality as a physiological defect, and although she added that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against, she thought people who identified themselves with groups that take part in love parades could not be trusted working with children. "If a person identifies with a group that organises such events, he cannot be responsible for children," Záborská said. Responding to those statements, Slovak homosexual groups said they were not going to give up their fight for the anti-discrimination legislation. Mariana `ípoaová, spokeswoman for the Inakost (Otherness) organization that represents Slovak gays and lesbians told The Slovak Spectator: "We consider such statements to be misleading and unacceptable. Certainly we will not remain passive and we will fight for the law." `ípoaová also said that the community was "very concerned, yet not surprised, that a high-standing representative from the KDH, is in fact saying that discrimination based on sexual orientation is grounded".

    The KDH has a record of expressing anti-homosexual rhetoric, which observers attribute to the political nature and the voter base of this conservative Christian party. The anti-discrimination legislation was blocked from reaching parliament once before, under the last cabinet when the draft was rejected by the KDH. The KDH's then-justice minister, Ján Carnogurský, said that as long as he was leading the justice system, homosexual partnerships were not going to be put on the same level as marriages between heterosexuals. The Justice Ministry continues to be in KDH hands, and is now led by Daniel Lipaic. But homosexuals insist that the law is needed and say that many gays are subject to workplace discrimination. "The law is necessary. The [negative] experiences of Slovak homosexuals can be seen in last year's [Inakost] survey, which clearly showed that the sexual minority is subject to discrimination," `ípoaová said. In October 2002 Inakost conducted a survey of 251 homosexual respondents, of which 65 per cent were men and 35 were women. Nearly half of them said that they kept their sexual orientation secret from their parents. Seven per cent said they suspected they were refused jobs because of their sexual orientation and 6 per cent thought they had been fired for that reason. As much as 55 per cent said that they felt they had to keep their sexual orientation secret in their workplace. `ípoaová added that there was a threat that if the law is not passed, some young homosexuals would consider leaving the country.

    "There is always a risk that minorities who feel their rights are not sufficiently represented at home will move to live somewhere where th again," Vašecka said.

    Deputy prime minister for minorities Pál Csáky has recently sent the draft to ministries to collect their comments, and a senior political body, the coalition council, agreed on March 25 to create a commission composed of representatives from all the ruling parties to see whether agreement on the legislation can be reached. Some ruling parties, such as the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), has already said it will back the anti-discrimination law. In addition, opposition MP Sergej Kozlík from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) told Slovak daily Pravda recently that he could imagine himself supporting the law once it reached parliament. The KDH, however, reiterated that no special laws were necessary and said that if mistakes are found in existing laws the party was prepared to fix them rather than approving the anti-discrimination bill. Hrušovský said: "If we find an element of discrimination [in existing laws], we are prepared to approve changes to eliminate it."
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    French President Jacques Chirac called on Wednesday for a crackdown on racism following recent anti-Semitic attacks and signs that war in Iraq has heightened tension between France's Jews and Muslims. Chirac made the appeal at a cabinet meeting, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said, three weeks after two French Jews were assaulted during an anti-war protest. France has been at the forefront of opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. "The Republic guarantees everyone the right to respect their religious convictions," the spokesman quoted Chirac as saying. "That is why I ask the government to exercise the greatest vigilance and the greatest firmness towards all acts liable to endanger security and the respect of people, property and religious symbols."

    Recorded acts of racial violence in France leapt more than four times to 313 last year, with more than half of them anti-Semitic, according to a report by the National Consultative Commission of Human Rights released last month. A survey in the daily Le Figaro on Wednesday found that racism and anti-Semitism were on the wane in France but the minority of racists was becoming more violent. The poll, which questioned 1,000 people on April 2, found that nine percent were hostile to Jews, down slightly from 10 percent in a similar poll conducted in 2002. Anti-Semitic feelings ran highest among the 18-24 age group, with 14 percent declaring mild or strong hostility towards Jews. Pollster Jerome Fourquet told the newspaper this may be due to a higher proportion of Muslims among young people. Relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities, each the largest of its kind in Europe, have been strained because of conflict in the Middle East and the outbreak of war in Iraq.

    58% fear terrorist attack

    A large majority -- 73% -- of Canadians want tougher immigration and refugee policies, and support the United States' strict new anti-terrorism laws, according to a National Post/ Global National poll. More than half of Canadians -- 58% -- fear terrorist attacks on Canadian soil, while 61% are concerned about U.S. safety. A smaller number, 43%, believes Canada will become a target for terrorists if the government is too supportive of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The COMPAS survey found more than 70% of Canadians agree the United States has a right to track the entry and exit of all visitors, including Canadians. The U.S. government is discussing how to implement the 2001 Patriot Act, which calls for the tracking of all visitors inside the United States by 2005. Congress is weighing the use of fingerprint and retina scanning. Conrad Winn, chief executive of COMPAS Inc., said Jean Chrétien's Liberal government likely misjudged the sentiments of Canadians by refusing to support the United States, Britain and Australia at the start of the war.

    A poll released on Monday found 72% of people believe Canada should have supported its allies, although a only slim majority, 56%, agreed with the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "If you look at the history of public opinion and war, democracies have a long history of jumping on the war bandwagon very late,'' said Mr. Winn. "The general feeling is to hope for peace.'' Mr. Winn said people continue to fear the possibility of biological and chemical terrorist attacks against Canadian targets, sentiments bolstered by anti-Western statements from Osama bin Laden and other Islamic radicals. He also suggested Canadian perspectives are being influenced by the U.S. media. Slightly more than 30% of Canadians cited CNN as their principal source of information on the war in Iraq -- roughly the same number who cited CBC television. The COMPAS survey found 65% of Canadians support the harmonization of border security between the United States and Canada as the most effective way of protecting Canada from terrorists, compared with 76% who agreed with the policy in the weeks following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

    Canadian desire to impose stricter standards on immigrants and refugees has also fallen since that time, when more than 90% wanted tougher laws. However, 61% of Canadians support harmonized border security for financial reasons -- to protect the economy, which is heavily dependent on the rapid flow of trade with the United States. On Monday, Members of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives proposed a North American security perimeter in a Washington meeting with John Manley, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Tom Ridge, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. Canadians are right to be nervous about terrorism, but the answer is not to adopt U.S. border controls, said security expert Leslie Green, University of Alberta professor emeritus. "We should be stricter than we are about letting people in and letting them wander around while we inquire about them, but to go as far as the Americans have done is ridiculous,'' said "I think we have different standards and different beliefs than the Americans. I think they overdo it when they stop a woman of 80 who has lived in Canada for 20 or 30 years because she was born in India or Pakistan. That's ridiculous,'' said Dr. Green. The poll of 500 people was conducted from April 4-6 and is considered accurate within 4.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
    ©National Post

    Opening the Malta Conference on migration in the Mediterranean today, the Council of Europe's Deputy Secretary General spoke of the need for ''orderly migration, social cohesion and respect for the individual''. She called for dialogue between countries of origin, transit and destination, so that migrants could enjoy proper legal protection for their basic rights, and said that the conference would discuss the establishment of a political forum for countries of migrant origin and destination and an agency to implement the Council of Europe's migration management strategy.

    Speech by Mrs Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Malta, 10 April 2003

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    Migration is a subject that leaves few of us indifferent, when often the heart overcomes the mind and clouds the debate. I hope that this forum will be one of many, leading to sustained co-operation between the states and societies that form the Mediterranean region, and share its shores. At this time of grave international conflict, I would like to thank all of you for participating, notwithstanding the uncertainties created by the war in Iraq, and for demonstrating your belief and commitment in the value of international co-operation. I welcome in particular the many participants from North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya).

    Why have we invited you to this conference ?
    The Council of Europe has almost since its very inception in the aftermath of the Second World War held the issues of migration close to its priorities. Internal freedom of movement and the right to emigrate are enshrined in 1963 Protocol 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The rights of migrants are protected in the European Convention on Estabishment of 1955; the European Social Charter of 1961 and 1996; the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers of 1977; the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level of 1992; and there are many others. The Council of Europe Development Bank was also established, partly, to help finance projects for refugees and migrants; and this sector remains one of its priority areas of activity to this day. (Indeed, the role of the international financial community is the topic of this afternoon's session.)

    However, migration has changed fundamentally over the last decade or so; and the challenges that it presents for all of us here today are very different. Europe has changed with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the Council of Europe now unites 45 countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and sharing the common values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Our World has changed, and migration has become globalised in just the same way as trade, communication, politics, and business. And with it the need for Europe to co-operate more actively with countries of origin and transit. In response to these challenges, the Ministers of the Council of Europe member States responsible for Migration Affairs met in Helsinki last September to discuss the theme: Migrants in our societies: policy choices in the 21st Century. They took note of the complex nature of the challenges: the rise in irregular migration, the exploitation of migrants by traffickers, the persistence of xenophobia, racism and discrimination, the important social and economic impact of migrants on both their countries of origin and destination.

    At the end of their discussions, the Ministers recommended that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe implement a plan of action, one of the pillars of which concerns the promotion of regional and international co-operation and, in particular, the strengthening of dialogue and partnership between member and non-mem of temporary immigration and seasonal migration based on co-operation with neighbouring countries of origin. As a result, Greece has been able to reconcile equality and human dignity for the migrant with the national economic needs. The Secretary General for Greeks Abroad of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Demetri Dollis, may say a few more words about this today or tomorrow. This is the basis of the Council of Europe's migration management strategy: to develop and implement policies on migration and integration that are founded on the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, thereby ensuring orderly migration, social cohesion and respect for the individual. It also means taking into account the development needs of countries of origin and transit.

    Unfortunately, some governments continue to adopt an ambiguous attitude to migrants: on the one hand, exploiting their labour; whilst on the other hand refusing to recognise theirs social rights. If governments continue to approach migration in a fragmented manner, dealing separately and on their own with issues such as asylum, undocumented migrants, informal labour, countries of destination and origin alike will be confronted with serious threats to democracy and human rights. Let us not forget the recent rise in extremist parties and xenophobic feelings in several European countries. An unstable political context and a large ratio of informal to formal labour are also major obstacles to sustainable development. A concerted implementation of the Council of Europe migration strategy in all member States would be a significant step to overcoming this compromise on human rights.

    What will happen after Malta ?
    We are committed to promoting regional co-operation, and this will continue. This conference in Malta is part of a continuing process. In October 2001 we organised with the Greek authorities a conference on Irregular migration and the dignity of migrants: Co-operation in the Mediterranean region in Athens; Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia took part in the Helsinki conference; a regional Round Table meeting on Labour Migration In Europe: An Alternative To Irregular Migration? was held in Sofia in October 2002, and another round table meeting is planned for Kyiv in the autumn. More importantly, there are structural proposals to create a political platform with countries of origin and of destination that would meet twice a year for one day after each meeting of the European Committee on Migration; and in addition to this a Migration Agency to implement the Council of Europe's Migration Management Strategy. This proposal for a migration management structure, in which the Parliamentary Assembly is also actively interested, could result in a regional forum uniting North and South, East and West. The Greek Government has already confirmed its support for such an agency, and offered to host it in Athens.

    The discussions over the next two days will provide an opportunity to discuss these proposals and the form that they should take. Other aspects of regional and international co-operation, identified in the Helsinki plan of action, will also be given full attention. Namely, the development of closer and sustained co-operation with both international organisations and NGOs co-operation agreements between countries of origin and destination with a view to the recognition of migrants' skills, and development of programmes of co-operation with third countries to protect the rights of migrants. The proposed European Migration Agency would play an important role in these subjects. Our North-South Centre, the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity in Lisbon will also play an important role in promoting regional co-operation. I should say, continue to, as it already has a trans-Mediterranean programme. It is represented today by Mr Hans-Peter Furrer and Ms Fifi Benaboud. Indeed, Mr Furrer has agreed to be the moderator for our conference.

    The last few weeks have been dominated by the war in I ©Council of Europe

    The European Parliament on Wednesday backed a non-binding resolution giving non-EU nationals the right to bring spouses, parents, registered and unmarried partners, into the EU - irrespective of gender. Not only spouses but also registered and unmarried partners, irrespective of sex, are eligible for family reunification, if the host Member State treats unmarried or registered partners in the same manner as married couples. Member States should also authorise the entry of parents of applicants if they are unable to look after themselves and have no other means of support. Furthermore, MEPs not only want refugees, but also people who are entitled to stay in the Union on the basis of the less favourable "subsidiary protection" status to be entitled to family reunification.

    Not in my back yard
    Most parliamentarians agreed that the new rules are an important step in the right direction, however questions have been raised about ‘partners' intent on making false entries, under the guise of bogus relationships. A member of European People's Party group, Eva Klamt, said during the debate that she could not accept the amendments at a time when there were already far too many "bogus asylum seekers". Adding to the current numbers of illegal immigrants would make effective monitoring far too difficult – particularly if same sex partners, were, in fact, partners. Vice-Chair of the European Parliament, Jean Lambert, pointed out that employees and employers often consider the right to family reunification among their top priorities when choosing who to employ and where to take up employment. Furthermore, if the EU is serious about the labour market flexibility and wants to attract top specialists, it should not make family reunification too complicated, Ms Lambert added. The new directive does not lead to a lower level of protection than what is currently provided by individual EU member states. MEPs want the member states to be allowed to uphold existing national provisions which are considered more favourable to applicants than those set in the EU directive.

    Black and ethnic minority workers are still being passed over for promotion and are still the targets of racist language, it is being claimed. Employers should be required by law to promote race equality because persistent racism remains in the workplace, the TUC is urging. Real progress has been made over the past decade in combating race discrimination but it still exists, often in disguised forms, it says in a new report. It insists the Government should extend race relations laws to make firms promote equality, and employers should take race discrimination more seriously.

    Senior managers should have responsibility for equal opportunities policies and they should treat racial discrimination, including the expression of racist views, as a serious disciplinary offence, said the trade union organisation. Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary-elect, said: "Anti racist laws and campaigning have brought real benefits to large numbers of workers. "Now the Government must legislate to force all employers to rid our workplaces of racism." The report, was published ahead of the TUC Black Workers' Conference in Liverpool.
    ©Sky News

    Prime Minister Jean Chretien had lunch in a Chinese restaurant Thursday to deliver a message of tolerance in the wake of the SARS health emergency, lending his support to businesses hurt by the scare. ``I thought it was the right thing to do,'' Chretien, accompanied by a number of Toronto-area Liberal MPs, said outside a restaurant in one of the city's Chinatowns. ``There is no danger, all precautions have been taken. I wanted to give an example.'' Although public health officials stress that SARS is not a disease of ethnicity, Chinese-Canadian groups have complained that they are the target of racism and stereotyping - and the Chinese business community has said the stigma surrounding SARS has led to fewer people frequenting the restaurants and shops of Chinatown. Earlier Thursday, as he left Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter's funeral, Chretien said: ``This is a great community in Toronto and I saw on the news that very often there is nobody in the restaurants and so on, and there is no reason for that.'' The number of suspected and probable cases of SARS rose from 195 to 206 in Ontario on Thursday, and a total of 54 people have been discharged from hospital since the outbreak began. Chretien has promised that the federal government would do all it could to ensure the necessary resources to contain SARS - which is believed to have spread to Canada from China - and support research into the disease.
    ©The Guardian

    Guests from the Far East have had their invitations to an Italian film festival cancelled because of the deadly Sars virus. The Far East Film Festival is a showcase for Asian films, but plans for this year's event have been thrown into turmoil by the disease. Authorities in the north-eastern Italian region have asked the Far East Film Festival to withdraw invitations to about 22 delegates from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan including actors, producers and directors. Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche (CEC), which organises the festival, says it has no choice but to comply with the regulations. But it has sent its apologies to the guests saying the situation was beyond its control. One of the main problems has been the perceived threat of local people in the small town of Udine, where the festival is held, about the Sars virus. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has killed more than 90 people and infected 2,700 worldwide. CEC said there had been widespread panic in the town over fears that people from the Far East would bring the virus to Italian soil. Although there are no travel restrictions on people from the Far East, the World Health Organisation has warned about large gatherings of people from Eastern Asian areas.

    Although CEC said it was saddened by the news of the enforced cancellations, it said it was convinced there would be a large number of guests at the festival who would have been thinking twice about attending screenings where they thought there might be a risk. A spokesman for CEC had said one hotel in Udine had cancelled reservations from all guests involved in the festival, including those from Asian countries which have not been affected by Sars. The organisation said while it regretted the tough decision that has been made it looked forward to welcoming everyone to the event in 2004. CEC said it would not cancel the festival because of the amount of preparation that has gone in to it, and that film prints have already arrived in Udine. The festival is to held in the northern Italian town of Udine from 24 April to 1 May.
    ©BBC News

    Worried about an outbreak of a deadly respiratory disease, the Swiss government has banned Asian exhibitors from showing their wares at a clock and jewelry trade fair set to open Thursday. However, the Swiss Federal Council said it would not ban visitors from China, Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong from visiting the 86yearold World Watch and Jewelry Show in Basel and Zurich. Zurich, which hosts a "No Brands" fair, was hit the hardest by the ban. Of the 650 stands registered for the fair, 400 have been closed because the employees of the stand, most of whom are already in Switzerland, will not be allowed to work there. Officials at the fair estimate that 5,000 to 7,000 people are affected by the ban. The economic effect of the ban is not yet known. Officials from the Basel fair, which highlights all the major brand names, said nine of the 1,300 registered companies were closed. Asian exhibitors make up 24 percent of the show and Hong Kong manufacturers an additional 15 percent. But organizers of the Basel event said arrangements had been made earlier for Swiss employees to staff most of the booths there. The Federal Council said it did not want anyone who had recently been to a country with a massive outbreak of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, to work at the trade fairs. In an apparent contradiction, Bern said it would allow tourists from affected areas to visit the fair.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    A top EU court Thursday backed a decision by the European Parliament to strip French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen of his seat for slapping a rival politician. The European Court of First Instance ruled that the then parliamentary president, Nicole Fontaine, was justified in withdrawing Le Pen's mandate in October 2000. The National Front leader had appealed against the decision, arguing the parliament should have voted in a plenary session on any sanction. The European Union court suspended the decision in January 2001, allowing Le Pen -- who stunned France by coming second in last year's presidential election -- to continue attending parliamentary sessions. He can appeal to the European Court of Justice, the EU's supreme court, but in the meantime he remains barred from the parliament, which has buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg. "The European Parliament considers that as from today, Mr Le Pen is no longer a member of the parliament," the legislature said in a statement. "Mr Le Pen has the right now to appeal to the Court of Justice, but any such appeal will not cause today's judgement to be suspended." The parliament added that the judgement did not call into question any of the votes that Le Pen participated in from January 2001 until today. His seat will be offered to Marie-France Stirbois, who was next on Le Pen's National Front party list in the 1999 election for the European Parliament.

    But Bruno Gollnisch, another National Front MEP, said the court's ruling "has no effect on the personal situation" of Le Pen. The far-right leader was convicted in France in April 1998 of assaulting Socialist candidate Annette Peulvast-Bergeal during campaigning for French national elections the year before. He was sentenced to two years ineligibility for public office, which was reduced to one year on appeal. But Le Pen took his case to France's Council of State, which confirmed the sentence in October 2000, prompting Fontaine's decision. Le Pen, a fierce eurosceptic who has been a member of the European Parliament since 1984, came second in a presidential election last year, eventually losing to President Jacques Chirac.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    A convicted racist has accepted a Ł1,500 cheque from the BNP - just months after promising to keep clear of the right-wing group. David Wilson took the "gift" after serving just half of a four-month jail term for posting hate-fuelled leaflets to residents in Glasgow's Pollokshields. The party launched a website appeal after Wilson became the first man in Scotland to be imprisoned for inciting racial hatred. They have since been "swamped" with cash pledges from sympathisers across the UK. Wilson claimed he had severed all links with the BNP after an eight-year association but one party source confirmed he had taken the money after being released from Barlinnie Prison in February. The insider said: "He's done time for the BNP, so now he is being paid for the crime. Clearly a lot of people felt he had been harshly dealt with. "Almost every day another donation was being made, so it was only right Davie got the money when he came out. He is no longer a member, but he was delighted with the support."

    The father-of-two was jailed last year at Glasgow Sheriff Court for handing out racist leaflets in Pollokshields, which houses the country's largest Muslim community. The Crown had successfully proved he had targeted one particular nationality, with 90 per cent of people in the area confirmed as Pakistani. He had joined fellow BNP activists in forming a group called Families Against Immigrant Racism, alleging that whites were being subjected to a series of violent attacks. The leaflet warned it would get "far worse" if the "militants" were not stopped, as police were "doing nothing to stop these Muslims". Residents feared Pollokshields would witness race riots similar to those in Oldham and Bradford. Wilson, 31, had admitted posting the leaflets but denied stirring up hatred. But, after finding him guilty, Sheriff Linda Ruxton branded them "insulting, abusive and threatening", adding he had "struck in the heart of a peaceful community".
    ©The Scotsman

    British plans under which asylum-seekers could be deported to special centres outside the European Union were given a lukewarm reception by justice ministers yesterday. Officials have been asked to study the proposals but Germany voiced its opposition, arguing that they could make the asylum crisis worse. The blueprint, put forward by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, would allow for reception centres to be set up in countries such as Albania or the Ukraine, and would mean that only those asylum-seekers whose applications were successful would be allowed to enter the EU. The plans also foresee the establishment of safe havens where refugees would stay until they could safely return to their homes. With UK asylum claims exceeding 100,000 last year, the Government has promised to halve the number of applications by September. But the plans, which have already been criticised by human rights campaigners, were attacked yesterday by Otto Schily, the German Interior Minister, who argued that they could make the asylum problem worse by drawing would-be refugees to the reception centres. "I don't think such [detention] centres are able to reduce the number of refugees coming to Germany. A question mark hangs over whether this is a useful measure," Mr Schily said, adding: "I am also of the opinion a quota system cannot function either."

    Mr Blunkett received support from Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Italy, but other nations, including Portugal, were sceptical of the detail and France did not indicate its position. The Home Secretary described the plan as "ideas for the future" and not an "instant policy, something that could be introduced overnight". Britain wants the centres to be run by the International Organisation for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The European Commission made clear yesterday that it would have no role in managing them. Julia Purcell, head of the Refugee Council, was also "extremely concerned", adding that "these proposals amount to a shifting, rather than a sharing, of responsibilities" and would leave the poorest countries carrying an ever-growing proportion of the world's refugees.
    © Independent Digital

    Recorded acts of racial violence in France leapt more than four times last year, with over half of them anti-Semitic, a top consultative body said today.
    The National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (CNCDH) said in a report that authorities recorded 313 acts of racial violence last year against 71 in 2001. There were 193 anti-Semitic acts last year, 62 per cent of the total. "The 2002 total shows a record increase in racist incidents of all forms which have reached levels not seen in 10 years," said CNCDH president Joel Thoraval, presenting the report to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. "It is more urgent than ever that the government reaffirms its political determination to fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia," he said.

    Anecdotal evidence abounds of rising tensions between France's Jewish and Muslim communities -- each the largest of its kind in Europe -- since the second "intifada", or Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule and, more recently, the Iraqi crisis. But statistical proof of this spilling over into violence has until now been thin on the ground, and anti-racist groups advised treating the figures with caution. "We do not contest these figures. But reasons for the rise could well include a growing willingness by victims to report the crimes and increased awareness among police and judicial authorities of racist violence," Mouloud Aounit, head of the MRAP anti-racist group, told Reuters. Aounit added the problem had been neglected for years and was still probably understated. "This is probably only the tip of the iceberg. And what the figures cannot reflect is the deeper reality of institutional racism," he said of subtler forms of discrimination encountered across society.

    The report by the CNCDH, which is made up of members of non-governmental organisations, trade unionists, parliament deputies and independent experts, said racial violence caused one death and 38 cases of serious injury in 2002. The report said racial violence was sharply increasing in the school playground and it testified to a growing acceptance of racist and anti-Semitic behaviour and insults. France's nine-month-old conservative government has vowed to confront the problem head on and not play it down like the previous left-wing administration, whose slow response won sharp criticism from Jewish groups in France and the United States. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy strongly condemned on Tuesday a weekend attack on two Jews by demonstrators marching against the US-led war in Iraq. Sarkozy also warned disaffected Muslim youths not to use the war, which France has steadfastly opposed, as a pretext for raising tensions at home.

    Deputy Prime Minister Pál Csáky has promised to raise awareness of family planning among Roma communities, and to intensify training of health workers in reproductive health. This would require Sk2.5 million (60,000 euro), to be provided under the 2002-2003 action plan for the prevention of all forms of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. Two foreign NGOs alleged earlier this year that upward of 100 Roma women in Slovakia had been forcibly sterilised.
    Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom. The government says the reports were untrue. Csáky's project for the protection of reproductive health of Roma minority members is focused on around 300 Roma settlements in the Prešov, Košice, and Banská Bystrica regions. It will aim to remove barriers to health care, and encourage Roma girls and women to visit gynaecologists and receive information on reproductive health.
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    Home Office figures spark fears of American-style penal system

    One in every 100 black British adults is now in prison, according to the latest Home Office figures. A recent crackdown on guns, drugs and street crime has led to an explosion in the number of prisoners from an Afro-Caribbean background, who now account for one in six of all inmates. The figures have sparked fears of an American-style penal system, where black men are 10 times more likely to go to prison than whites and one in 20 over the age of 18 is in jail. The number of black prisoners in Britain's jails has risen 54% from 7,585 to 11,710 since Labour came to power. The figures are likely to reopen the debate about violence and crime in black street culture. Prison reform organisations last night warned the police and the courts not to target young black men in the battle against street crime. At 16% of all those in jail, the number of black prisoners is hugely disproportionate to the general population, where African and Caribbean people make up just 2% of the total. Recent initiatives to tackle drugs and street crime are thought to have driven this rise.

    Experts believe a shift in focus in the criminal justice system from domestic burglary to street crime has combined with targeted gun and drug crime policies to alter the ethnic balance of convictions. Traditionally, white males carry out a far higher proportion of burglaries, whereas police often believe street crime to be the preserve of young black men. The policy of releasing short-term prisoners on tags, which is thought to favour white prisoners, may also partly explain the figures. The findings will raise fears of racial unrest in the prison system. The Prison Service has been sitting on a report from the Commission for Racial Equality on racism in prisons since last December and is yet to announce a date for its publication. The report is thought to uncover systematic prejudice in the system, where black prisoners from inner-city areas are often moved to parts of the country where there are no black prison officers.

    Parliamentary answers to Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes showed that the black prison population had risen to more than 11,000 by last June, a rise of 1,800 on the previous year. Since then the rise has continued unabated and is likely to top 12,000 by the end of the year. Hughes said: "This is a hugely worrying trend which should be ringing very loud alarm bells. Down this road lies the American failure where there are significant numbers of the black community spending lengthy periods in prison. "In this country, higher numbers excluded from school and out of work are bad enough. A massively high proportion of black adults in prison and disconnected from mainstream society is both prejudicial and dangerous." Oona King, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: "Given that my father is African American, I am very conscious of the fact that a quarter of all black men under the age of 26 are in jail. We are nowhere near that in Britain, but I hope these figures will force people to reflect on the effect of the level of school exclusions, low academic achievement and increasing drug abuse on black communities. At the same time we need to develop a penal system that rehabilitates rather than just punishes."

    Last year's rise coincides with a street crime initiative launched in March by Home Secretary David Blunkett, which focused on the 10 police areas that accounted for more than 80% of street crime. The Government claimed the initiative led to a 16% drop in offences in the target areas - but it also led to a 10% rise in the number of people remanded in custody. Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "There is a growing perception that street crime is a black people's crime, when it may simply be that they a ©The Observer

    Speaking following a European Round Table on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on 20 March, European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou commented on the dangers of the conflict in the Gulf for communities in Europe. "We saw during the last Gulf War a dramatic increase in attacks on Muslims and people of Arab origin. And more recently, we have witnessed violent anti-Semitism as a reaction to tensions in Israel and Palestine. We must do everything we can to avoid a repetition of those excesses in response to the new conflict in the Gulf."

    She went on: "the Round Table has shown that we can tackle these problems if we have the will to do so. Political leaders, religious leaders and community leaders must accept their responsibility and take action now to promote co-operation and understanding between the different groups in society. The Round Table concluded that we must promote "a culture of healing". A culture is the result of thousands of small acts, apparently insignificant in isolation, but powerful in combination. Leaders at all levels and in all walks of life must have the courage now more than ever to challenge racism and to promote the culture of healing."

    Warning that racial discrimination and intolerance are still "extremely serious problems," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the international community at large to adopt broad national action plans to eliminate racism. In a message marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Mr. Annan said prejudice is deeply embedded in the economic, social and political structures of many societies, and has been among the root causes of a number of violent conflicts. The International Day commemorates the victims of the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960, in which 69 peaceful demonstrators against apartheid were killed by South African police forces, marking an important watershed in the fight against racism. "But the fight is not yet won," Mr. Annan warned. "More than 40 years later, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are still extremely serious problems," he said. "Indeed, discrimination is deeply embedded in the economic, social and political structures of many societies, and has been among the root causes of a number of violent conflicts."

    Mr. Annan stressed the centrality of the UN at the heart of efforts to address the plight of migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and other victims, and the need for education to inculcate values of equality and respect for human rights. "For this process to be successful, however, both governments and civil society need to take ownership of it," he said. "Governments should provide clear policy direction by adopting broad national action plans against racism. This should be complemented by the efforts of civil society to build inclusive societies, in which diversity is seen as an asset and not a threat."

    General Assembly President Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic stressed the link between racism and poverty in his message marking the Day, and called on all governments to punish the perpetrators of racist crimes. "Poverty, underdevelopment, social exclusion and economic disparities are closely associated with racism and related intolerance," he said. "The persistence of racist attitudes and practices in turn generates more poverty." Stressing that the prohibition of racial discrimination is an incontrovertible norm of international law, Mr. Kavan regretted that it is a norm that is not always respected. "I call upon all Member States to resolutely bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia," he said.
    ©UN News Centre

    Gene experts have declared race to be no more than an accident of geography - and predict the future of black and white South Africa will probably be more shades of brown. Racism is scientifically unfounded, confirmed Professor Trefor Jenkins, Professor Emeritus at Wits University, and Dr Himla Soodyall, director of the Human Genomic Research Unit. The genetic pool in the country was already so mixed that supremacists had no hope of a pure lineage, they said during a series of workshops at the National Festival of Science, Engineering and Technology in Grahamstown this week. Soodyall said that, genetically, all modern humans were African - and could be described as either "Africans" or "African exiles".

    Her research on the African genome, based on blood tests from more than 1 000 volunteers, showed South Africans from different races shared "recent" blood relatives. For instance, a quarter of the South African "Europeans" tested had the same individual male ancestor - who lived not more than 30 000 years ago - as a large number of Nama Khoisan people who were tested. "Given greater social acceptance of mixed marriage in future, we're likely to see a much higher proportion of skin shades lighter than dark and darker than light," Soodyall said. Her research also found that the majority of all Southern Africa's nine "Bantu-speaking" communities descended from the same man, making most Xhosas and Zulus, for instance, "genetically unusually close ". She said that gene tests showed that different physical characteristics between cultural groups were the result of adaptations to differing conditions and minor gene mutations. Jenkins emphasised that modern "race" groups did not evolve separately, as was once widely believed by Western scientists. He said: "Racism has been shown to have no basis in science . . . We all started off black and brown, and we'll all end up black and brown."
    ©All Africa

    An office against racism will be constituted at the Ministry for Equal Opportunities. The decision was made this morning by the Cabinet, on a proposal by the Minister of Welfare and Equal Opportunities. "Its creation assume particular importance in consideration of the transformation taking place in Italian society, which is becoming multi-ethnic, and finds itself, and will find itself in the future, facing problems of social integration. Problems that other European countries, with older migration phenomena, lived in the past, and which today can be seen in the Italian social panorama," said Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo. The institution of this office, explained the Minister, is part "of a program of reinforcement of protection against discrimination, defined on a European basis, and which each state implements through the creation of structures in single orders. Equal treatment will also be promoted, even in indirect discrimination, such as harassment. It will also concern access to work, training, social protection, health services, education, and access to goods and services." The office will gather reports and denouncements.

    Tackling rising hate crime in Staffordshire is about to take top priority with the launch of a new campaign tomorrow. For the first time Staffordshire Police will be investigating race and religious crimes separately under the hate crime banner. This covers crime based on race, religion, sexuality, gender, disability and vulnerability as well as domestic violence. Officers will also investigate reports of bullying, forced marriage and same sex domestic violence. The force is one of the first in the country to take the step of separating out race and faith crimes following a rise in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Officers across the county are urging people to report relevant crime - whether it be graffiti, verbal abuse or physical assault. Victims will also be able to report hate crime anonymously on the force's website thanks to a pilot scheme which could pave the way for future crime reporting. Police will be recording crime committed against and by asylum seekers and against the disabled. Although hate crime figures are rising in Staffordshire, the police see this as a being a result of more victims being prepared to report them. There were 567 race hate crimes reported in the period April to December 2002, compared with 716 reported in the same period in 2001 - which were inflated by specific incidents in Stoke-on-Trent and reactions to September 11. But both were significantly higher than in 1995 when just 253 race hate crimes were reported.

    As the force's Hate Crime Officer, Detective Constable Pete Rigby's job is to look at the strategic ways to deal with these crimes and people's concerns and is kept informed of hate crime by designated officers in each division. "We are one of the first forces to be recording racism and religious crime separately, but it will be seen as the way forward," he said. "Sometimes a window smashed at a mosque is more to do with religion and not to do with culture and skin colour. This is the same for Christian churches. "Anyone can be a victim of a racist crime regardless of cultural background. Anyone can be a victim of religious crime regardless of their faith. "The reason we are separating up crime is to get a better and more accurate picture of what is going on - and how best to prevent and reduce the crime." Dc Rigby said 15 years ago these crimes may have been reported, but perhaps not recorded, and people still do not report some crimes for particular reasons - including fear of reprisals. "Hate crime is very much like domestic violence," he said, "the reporting of it is very few and far between. "Perhaps seven or ten incidents have occurred to that person before they have the courage to report it. "When that person comes to us we realise what it has taken for them to come to us, and the effect it has had on them. The majority of hate crime is nasty in some way, there is always a worry of what is going to happen next? "It is an unknown crime, everyone knows about burglary and theft, not many know about hate crime." Incidents against gay people, which also falls under the hate crime banner, are also up.

    But Dc Rigby said: "I am worried people are not coming forward. We are concerned, we believe there is a massive under-reporting of homophobic crime. "I cannot begin to predict how many crimes are committed - we just do not know." Police are working with support agencies such as the Racial Equality Council, Citizens Advice Bureau and other specialist organisations in their fight against hate crime. They also plan to increase awareness among schoolchildren through education. Dc Rigby said people must not be afraid to report hate crime - it was the only way to prevent it happening again. And he stressed: "Staffordshire Police will not tolerate any hate crime and this is supported right through to the Chief Constable." He urged anyone who wants to report a hate crime to contact thei ©Express & Star

    Norway's immigration agency, struggling to accommodate a record number of refugees housed at state asylum centers, wants to evict those whose applications are turned down. The agency also hopes evictions will discourage others from trying their luck in Norway. Never before have so many people been living at Norway's asylum centers. The country now ranks as Europe's next most popular destination in relation to its population size. The Norwegian centers are filled to capacity, and officials at the state immigration agency (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) are worried. UDI director Trygve Nordby needs to make room for refugees who really need a place to stay. He wants to cut off food and lodging to those whose cases have been processed by the authorities and found to have groundless claims for asylum.

    "There is no doubt that many bet on the chance the police won't come to deport them, so they stay where they are even when their applications have been rejected," Nordby told newspaper Aftenposten. "We want more of them to leave the country and thus also send a clear signal that people don't get a free ride here." The Norwegian government will, however, continue to offer a return ticket and pocket money to those whose applications were rejected. Nearly 17,500 asylum seekers arrived in Norway last year, up 18 percent over 2001, which also was a record year. Only Austria receives more refugees per capita than Norway. As of this week, 16,379 refugees were living at asylum centers in Norway, which were filled to 98 percent of total capacity.

    Cabinet minister Erna Solberg wants to clip the wings of Norway's immigration agency. She says politicians, not bureaucrats, should evaluate whether the situation in various countries yields grounds for asylum.

    Solberg, whose ministry has the state immigration agency (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) under its purview, said work is beginning on efforts to restructure management of immigration and asylum cases. "We hope to come to Stortinget (parliament) with a concrete proposal in the next session (autumn or winter)," Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten Friday. Solberg's hope is to shift, for example, responsibility for the evaluation of conditions in asylum seekers' homelands to the political level. Individual cases would continue to be handled by UDI workers. Politicians, she stressed, still shouldn't be able to decide any individual cases. But they should have more control over the evaluation of the political situation in countries producing refugees. Since 2001, UDI has had full responsibilty for both the broad picture in individual countries and for individual cases. But Solberg thinks that's caused conflict, with wide variation in how cases are handled. She objects to a system where various bureaucrats can have varying views on conditions within the same country. Evaluations also have varied as to who qualifies for family reunification and who doesn't. Solberg also said there are "limits" to how many asylum seekers Norway can accept. Asylum centers around the country are currently full to capacity, and local communities are having a hard time financing their welfare.

    The Greek Presidency of the EU has launched a new e-Vote questionnaire on the controversial issues of immigration and asylum. Immigration and asylum will be debated at the Thessaloniki European Council on 20-21 June 2003, and the results of this e-Vote will be announced there to the Heads of State and Government to feed into the discussions. In the new e-Vote, citizens are asked to voice their opinion on questions such as:

  • How do you rate the impact of immigrants on the European Union as a whole?

  • When an immigrant arrives in your country and their immigration status is uncertain, what should be done with them?

  • e-Vote is an experiment in e-democracy by the Greek Presidency asking the views of European citizens and using the Internet and new technology to get more people involved in the discussions and decision-making process of the EU. More than 130.000 people have participated in the e-Vote, so far. Other topics already open for voting are "The EU's Role in the World", "The Future of the European Union" and "The Iraq Crisis".

    British citizenship can be revoked from immigrants who "seriously prejudice" the UK's interests, under new laws coming into force on Tuesday. There is widespread speculation that the measures will be used against controversial Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza. He was banned from preaching at Finsbury Park mosque in north London this year because of "inflammatory" remarks. The new powers come under section four of the Asylum, Immigration and Nationality Act 2002. Applying only to those with dual nationality, they could lead to undesirables being deported from the UK. Home Secretary David Blunkett said British citizenship was a "privilege" which should not be acquired by deception or abused by people "acting against the UK's vital interests". He would thus "prepare a case" under the new laws to take action against anyone who had acted in a way which was deemed incompatible with holding British citizenship. Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said last month that Mr Hamza and others were "being very, very closely monitored".

    Other measures
    Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, called for the radical cleric to be deported under the new powers. "I think Abu Hamza should be a prime candidate under these new powers, if not at the very top of the list," he said. "He has done nothing but run down Britain ever since he got his nationality. "Why does he want to stay here if Britain is such a horrible place to live? "He wants to turn Britain into a Taleban-style state and has no place in this country. "He fulfils the criteria of this legislation for his nationality to be removed and then for him to be removed." The Egyptian-born Mr Hamza came to Britain in 1980 and was granted British citizenship after marrying an English national. If the authorities decided to take action against him under the new powers he would have a right to appeal against being removed from Britain. Other measures coming into effect on Tuesday are designed to stop failed asylum seekers delaying their removal from Britain by "abusing" the appeal system. They also crack down on illegal working by giving immigration officers new powers to enter and search business premises.
    ©BBC News

    The District Court of Warsaw has finally granted the newly formed Refugee Association of Poland the right to exist. The final approval came last week after over a year of dragging since the application was tabled before the court commission. From a European perspective, the decision is viewed as a significant step in Poland's aspiration to join the European Union, as the refugee phenomenon is a sensitive subject. It is being used to judge most of the applicant countries' readiness to integrate with the EU and their readiness to take up responsibilities in accommodating incoming refugees who flee to Europe seeking safe haven. Until recently, most refugees have viewed Poland as a strategic stopping-off point to the West. Many refugees from Asia often paid astronomical sums of money to human trafficking networks to assure their passage to the West through Poland. After reaching Poland, they would often apply for asylum in an attempt to buy time and secure free accommodation at some of the refugee centers in the country, only to continue their journey at a later convenient time.

    More refugees are now trying to settle in Poland and-with EU membership close at hand-the country is currently witnessing an increasing number of refugees opting to stay here and start life afresh. Hence, the establishment of the Refugee Association could not have come at a better time. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to Poland, Jaime Ruiz de Santiago-while addressing members of the newly formed association in his office-said, "Poland is increasingly becoming a significant location in both European and global geopolitics, as events in recent times testify. For one thing, its eastern borders will soon become EU borders as well. At our own level, we are already feeling the impact of this and most of our work is geared towards the eastern frontier, which is also the main point of entry for incoming refugees. Thus, your association could not have come at a better time. The association is going to relieve us and the government by playing an important role in helping your colleagues-especially the new ones who are granted asylum-by helping them to integrate into society."

    The main task of the association will be to act as an effective bridge between their host country and the refugee community. They hope to explore and utilize available channels to help refugees through education and cultural and informational exchanges. "Now it is up to you to show your hosts that you too have significant contributions to make in nation building, and that within your ranks there are also intellectuals and gifted individuals," the representative told the group. In reply, the interim president of the association, Zuu Emmanuel Dahngbay from Liberia (pictured), says that the association is well aware of its task and is ready to assume its responsibilities. A general assembly of all refugees in Poland is expected soon, during which an executive board will be elected.
    ©The Warsaw Voice

    By Jeroen Bosch

    Dutch fascists are using a squat at an ex-military base as a springboard for activity and recruitment. The huge "De Kazerne" military installation, in a forest at the outskirts of Eindhoven, has been an organising centre for the extreme-right ever since a group of young activists, belonging to the fascist organisation, Voorpost, occupied it in December 2000. Having consolidated their occupation, they now use the complex for a wide range of activities and it has become the stronghold of a new movement called Nationale Beweging (NB ­ National Movement) that has succeeded Voorpost. The Dutch wing of Voorpost, an organisation that originated from across the border in Belgium, has declined rapidly, organising hardly any activity and no longer contributing to Voorpost's magazine Revolte. Its chairman, former CP'86 strategist Marcel Rüter, is also not very active, confining himself to delivering lectures in Belgium or surfacing occasionally at summer schools of the French New Right movement. Voorpost's top action man Tim Mudde, another former CP'86 activist, has also failed to breathe any life into the organisation's decaying structures. Realising that he was faced with an impossible task, Mudde quit Voorpost at the end of 2001 and launched the NB. His successor, Michel Hubert, did not last long either and walked out to join Mudde and become a key figure at "De Kazerne". Both defectors were, however, able to take some of the youth activists from Voorpost's student organisation with them.

    The NB's organisation and presence around "De Kazerne" has had serious consequences in Eindhoven, not least because it has led to an increase of fascist propaganda and intimidation of left-wingers on the city's streets. Despite visits from the police, who ordered them to end the intimidation, the fascists are still carrying out propaganda activity. The NB's central political focus is on building cooperation between independent nationalists and so- called "comradeship" groups modelled on those found in neighbouring Germany. The NB is anti-parliamentary and advocates direct action, its supporters calling themselves "national anarchists". The NB, again following German nazi examples, organised itself in loose structures around the nazi hate music band Brigade M., held meetings to stage pagan commemorations and organised monthly gatherings called the "nationalist discussion circle". It also has set up a football team and distributes CDs, T-shirts and Celtic symbols. A particular feature of the NB's local activity is its campaigning against multinationals, capitalism and "globalism", these tactics an attempt to win ground amongst any left-wingers confused enough or daft enough to believe the fascists. So far, however, these moves have been a flop. The NB has also launched a new magazine, called Vooraan (Upfront) which carries the same slogan as the Flemish eco-fascist organisation Vrijbuiter, "Not left, not right, but upfront!" The magazine is printed on glossy paper and has, for a fascist rag, achieved a relatively high circulation.

    For NB, Vooraan is, together with "De Kazerne" pivotal to its structure because Mudde and his playmates have grasped that without communications and a venue for meetings and concerts, it would impossible for them to build a movement. "De Kazerne" has evolved from a squat into a fascist barracks that plays host to the NB's activists. Indeed, this is spelled out in an NB strategy document: "Living together strengthens the tie between activists and you will take action more easily". Besides providing living accommodation and an "action preparation" centre, the fascists have built a bar and a concert hall with the aim of attracting youth from Eindhoven and the surrounding area, slowly mobilising them for activity and raking in cash from concerts.

    Anti-fascists warned of these however. In the summer of 2001, the bar and concert hall at "De Kazerne" were mysteriously destroyed, either by political opponents or by boneheads who at been refused admission to a "De Kazerne" concert. The NB, of course, blamed Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) for the damage and started a web site called "Stop political violence". It also handed in a petition to an Eindhoven city councillor demanding "a halt to violence". During the past year, "De Kazerne" has operated frenetically. In some months, weekly "ideological" meeting have taken place and social gatherings and gigs have become more frequent and with more international input. In August 2002 last year, for example, the NB staged a gig with two German bands, Oidoxie and Sleipnir. Oidoxie's activities have attracted considerable interest from the German justice authorities, because it is not just a hate music band, but a component part of the structures of the violent Freie Kameradschaften around Dortmund. In this role, Oidoxie has organised demonstrations, distributed videos of its concerts and has become part of the worldwide nazi Blood & Honour network. The band also played songs ­ lyrics included "Give Adolf Hitler the Nobel Prize, raise the red flag with the swastika" ­ at a Freie Kameradschaften demonstration calling for "freedom of speech". In November 2002 last year, the NB tightened up its German links by holding a benefit gig for the "nazi bard" Frank Rennicke and sending him Ł1,100 from the proceeds. Rennicke, who was convicted in Germany for spreading racial hatred and fined Ł46,000, is member of the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands and was defended by the notorious nazi lawyer, Horst Mahler.

    Not everything has gone the fascists' way, however. In the summer of 2001, the bar and concert hall at "De Kazerne" were mysteriously destroyed, either by political opponents or by boneheads who at been refused admission to a "De Kazerne" concert. The NB, of course, blamed Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) for the damage and started a web site called "Stop political violence". It also handed in a petition to an Eindhoven city councillor demanding "a halt to violence". During the past year, "De Kazerne" has operated frenetically. In some months, weekly "ideological" meeting have taken place and social gatherings and gigs have become more frequent and with more international input. In August 2002 last year, for example, the NB staged a gig with two German bands, Oidoxie and Sleipnir. Oidoxie's activities have attracted considerable interest from the German justice authorities, because it is not just a hate music band, but a component part of the structures of the violent Freie Kameradschaften around Dortmund. In this role, Oidoxie has organised demonstrations, distributed videos of its concerts and has become part of the worldwide nazi Blood & Honour network. The band also played songs ­ lyrics included "Give Adolf Hitler the Nobel Prize, raise the red flag with the swastika" ­ at a Freie Kameradschaften demonstration calling for "freedom of speech". In November 2002 last year, the NB tightened up its German links by holding a benefit gig for the "nazi bard" Frank Rennicke and sending him Ł1,100 from the proceeds. Rennicke, who was convicted in Germany for spreading racial hatred and fined Ł46,000, is member of the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands and was defended by the notorious nazi lawyer, Horst Mahler.

    Challenged by this mounting activity, anti-fascists are fighting back. In January, AFA kicked off a campaign urging "De Kazerne's" real owner, the Eindhoven city council to evict the fascists on the grounds of Dutch anti-racism laws, which specifically outlaw the provision of facilities to groups that spread racial hatred. In February, Eindhoven was plastered with posters exposing the key wire pullers at "De Kazerne". Many local people responded with shock to the fact that nazis were busy in their city. This campaign was followed with a speaking tour of several Dutch and Belgian cities cities to mobilise anti-fascists for a big demonstr ©Alert!

    A meeting organised by Kent County Council (KCC) to discuss the gipsy community has been condemned as "institutional racism at its worst". Charles Smith, chairman of the Gypsy Council, made the claim after taking part in a conference at County Hall. Council literature said the event aimed to "share information and ideas and to forge closer links between the agencies". But Mr Smith said: "I think it was a conference on how to avoid providing accommodation for gipsies. It was institutional racism at its worse. "They had a solicitor there, telling people how to avoid getting in trouble with the Human Rights Act and planning officers saying it is regrettable 57 per cent of gipsy planning applications get passed." Council leader Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: "These claims are totally untrue. We're relaxed about people having different lifestyles as long as they stick within the law. Last summer, in parts of north Kent we had a state of unacceptable lawlessness because of large groups of gipsies and I said that at the conference. "Part of the conference was having people working together so we don't have that state of lawlessness this summer. If there are genuine gipsies who want to travel, that is fine, as they respect the law."

    Gravesham councillor Mike Snelling, Conservative group leader, who was at the conference, said: "I think it was certainly well-intentioned and a good discussion of the complex issues surrounding the problems we have experienced in Kent, and especially in Gravesend and Dartford. "I am disappointed Charles Smith has said this and I don't believe he has any grounds for saying so. The conference was a genuine attempt to understand the various elements of this issue." The conference was attended by KCC, district councils, Kent police, health services as well as Mr Smith. Issues discussed included illegal stopping sites and camps, the high cost of clean-up operations and securing land and the concerns of effected residents. Concern was raised over the number of gipsies buying land, moving onto it and applying for planning permission, which is often granted at appeal. The conference agreed to request clearer guidelines from Government on planning, a more robust approach to appeals, as well as looking at the option of creating more sites.
    ©News Shopper

    Greenwich plays host to the capital's biggest anti-racist festival this July when more than 80,000 people are expected to attend the third Respect Festival at the Dome. The annual event, started by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, is coming to the borough after long negotiations with Greenwich Council, which felt it appropriate to locate the festival in Greenwich in the 10th anniversary year of Stephen Lawrence's racist murder. The festival is being dedicated to the memory of the 18-year-old who was stabbed at an Eltham bus stop in 1993. Stephen's mum Doreen Lawrence said: "I hope that dedicating this year's Respect Festival to the memory of my son, and it taking place here in the borough where he was killed, will encourage more Londoners to stand up and actively challenge racism."

    The council's own Anti-Racist Festival - first held in 1991 - will be incorporated into this year's Respect Festival and groups wanting to get involved can call the Respect hotline on 020-7983 6554. The joint Respect/Anti-Racist Festival on Saturday, July 19, will feature exhibition stalls by campaign groups, charities and community groups. There'll be music, dance, food, crafts and a children's area. The focus of the day will be a main stage with music, theatre and comedy by international performers such as US hip hop trio De La Soul, who topped the bill at last year s festival in neighbouring Tower Hamlets. The week running up to the big event will include dozens of activities for Respect Week from July 12-19. There's the second Respect poetry slam, and photographers of all ages and standards are invited to enter the Mayor of London's Respect Week Photographic Competition. Photos based on the theme of Respect - the diversity of Londoners and their communities - should be submitted by May 30. Selected entries will feature in a Respect Week exhibition, website and magazine with the winners picking up digital cameras and equipment supplied by competition sponsors Dixons and Fuji.
    For further information about the poetry and photographic competitions:
    e-mail or visit the Respect festival website

    Speaking at the launch of the festival last month the Mayor said: "The 10th anniversary of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence is a stark reminder that racism has not yet been eradicated and that families continue to suffer at the hands of racist thugs. "I have been working with Greenwich Council and English Partnerships to secure a suitable location in the borough and I am delighted that the Greenwich Dome will play host to an event that really matters to London."
    ©ic Southlondon

    The authorities in Krasnodar are planning tough new measures against south Caucasian immigrants.
    By Mikael Nersesian in Sochi, journalist with Nash Dom newspaper

    The Krasnodar regional authorities plan to open a new centre in the Black Sea port of Sochi to enable them to deport hundreds of foreigners as part of an ongoing crackdown on immigrants in southern Russia. Alexander Sidorenko, deputy governor of Krasnodar, said in an interview that 15 million roubles (around half a million US dollars) had been allocated to build a new centre to house around 100 "illegal immigrants" - most of whom arrive from the South Caucasus - prior to their deportation. While declining to name an actual date, Sidorenko said he hoped the new centre would start operating "within the next two months, at the end of April or the beginning of May", adding that the centre's inmates would be given "acceptable living conditions". The authorities in Krasnodar, taking their lead from outspoken governor Alexander Tkachev, frequently lash out at the tens of thousands of foreigners who have settled in the southern Russian region, claiming that they pose a political and economic threat. "Around one million people have arrived in our region between 1990 and today," Tkachev told regional television viewers last December. "In some places there will soon be more migrants than native inhabitants and we are beginning to face the prospect of Krasnodar becoming the Russian Kosovo."

    These remarks have worried representatives of the dozens of different ethnic communities living in the region, although they refuse to comment publicly on the issue for fear of antagonising the authorities. Immigration control has now become a national priority. Moscow's federal migration service announced recently that between three and a half and five million migrants enter the country every year. The head of the migration service Andrei Chernenko said that while Russia has more than 500 border crossings, only 114 of them have strict immigration controls. "In some areas illegal immigration has risen to alarming levels," Chernenko said recently. "Migrants are taking jobs which Russian citizens could be holding." Taking his cue from Moscow, deputy governor Sidorenko announced that, "The most effective way of solving the problem is deportation. And by building a deportation centre in Sochi we confirm our firm intention to impose order." A campaign of deportation will hit hundreds of unregistered immigrants in the Krasnodar region, many of whom have fled the conflicts of the south Caucasus, very hard. In Sochi they are several thousand Georgians from Abkhazia, most of whom have nowhere to go back to until a political settlement is reached between Tbilisi and Sukhumi.

    The Shengelaya family fled Abkhazia in October 1993 at the end of the war. In Soviet times they were well off, owning a two-storey house and a citrus orchard, which gave them a good income. Nowadays Revaz Shengelaya cooks Georgian food for a tiny café in Sochi market. "My tangerine orchard used to produce a harvest of 25 tonnes," Shengelaya recalled. "We had enough money to buy a new car and live well to the next season. "And now we're just vagrants. At every step the police ask us to show our passport with the Sochi stamp or temporary registration. It's impossible to get citizenship or get registered without any money because of corruption - and where can we find the cash?" Asked if he fears deportation, Shengelaya's nostalgia turns to anger. "Where will they send me? Georgia? But I'm not a citizen of that country as I still have my old Soviet passport. To my old address in Abhazia? My house has been burned down and they will shoot me for fighting against the Abkhaz during the war. "It won't be easy to deport me - but let them try! I'd rather be in a Russian jail than in my grave!"

    However, the Krasnodar authorities are indeed ta have. Nabi Suleimanov from Azerbaijan is one of the luckier ones. His brother, who lives in Dagestan, has registered him there and he also has a document saying that he is in the process of receiving Russian citizenship. "It means I am half a citizen of the Russian Federation," he joked. Sochi remains a popular location for foreigners partly because they can easily slip across the border into Abkhazia and re-enter Russia. In this way they get round the regulations which forbid them from staying on Russian territory for more than six months at a time. The border with Abkhazia on the Psou River is just south of Sochi and it is easy for a foreigner whose temporary registration documents are due to expire to make the trip across. He can then return within one hour, receiving a stamp in his passport that he is entering the Russian Federation and re-apply for registration. But for many, even this short trip is too much. Official statistics suggest that around 40 per cent of foreigners registered in Sochi stay on in the city illegally when their registration runs out.
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    By Stephen Henderson

    An unusually animated Supreme Court grappled Tuesday for the first time in a generation with the constitutionality of racial preferences in college and law-school admissions. All nine justices had comments and questions during arguments on one of the most divisive issues in American society. By the end of the two-hour session, it became increasingly apparent that a sweeping and absolute ruling rejecting race-based policies would not likely emerge. Two of the centrist justices emerged as the most conflicted members of the court. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor expressed consternation about the role affirmative action should play in American life. Both expressed strong doubts about the assertions -- made by white students who were rejected by the University of Michigan -- that race is an impermissible factor for colleges to consider. But Kennedy and O'Connor also asked pointed questions of the university's attorneys about whether Michigan's programs go beyond the law and how long they might need to be in place. O'Connor's varying points of view on the issue have been discussed almost since the lawsuits were filed, and many have considered her to be the key vote in the court's decision. Kennedy's past opinions suggest that he might be less on the fence about these issues but also open to changing his mind.

    Many think the court's opinion might unfold around the pair's middle-ground positions, because the other justices are so starkly divided. Some court watchers said Tuesday that Kennedy and O'Connor's struggle reflected a deeper tension on the court in its desire to deal with race discrimination, to ensure academic freedom and to practice judicial restraint. "They've got to look at all of those principles and try to balance them in this decision," said Victor Bolden, a New Haven, Conn., lawyer who filed a brief supporting the university on behalf of several black mayors. "They need a way to be able to look at these policies without getting too entangled in the educational process or to be second-guessing decisions made by educators." Kennedy also seemed to be searching for a way to balance those interests late in the arguments. If the justices struck down Michigan's policies, he asked, would the responsibility for devising a better plan fall to the courts or the university?

    The cases, which separately challenge Michigan's use of race in its undergraduate and law school admissions, marked the first time since 1978 that the high court considered such an important affirmative action case. A decision was expected by July. Kirk Kolbo, an attorney for plaintiffs Barbara Grutter and Jennifer Gratz, didn't get through more than a few paragraphs in his argument before O'Connor jumped in with several questions. She first challenged Kolbo to establish how he could prove that race -- and not some other factor -- prevented his clients from being accepted to the university, and then moved to his claim that race can never be used in admissions. "You have some precedents out there that you have to come to grips with, because the court obviously has upheld the use of race" in certain contexts, O'Connor said. "You're speaking in absolutes, and it isn't quite that." Kennedy then broke in with several inquiries regarding whether a small number of minorities on campus was something universities ought to try to correct. "So if year after year after year there's an under-representation, there is no cause for the state or the government or its educational experts to be concerned?" Kennedy asked incredulously. "I should think that's a very legitimate concern on the part of the state."

    Kennedy was equally hard on Maureen Mahoney and John Payton, the attorneys for the university. Kennedy suggested several times that there was a reasonable debate over whether Michigan's stereotypes. Michigan has created a separate path for minorities to enter the university, and "their door is always open," he said. Kolbo said the university's goal of achieving a critical mass of minority students was "too amorphous, too undefined," to support the use of race in admissions.

    The university's attorneys were equally forceful in their defense of the policies, saying they were necessary to produce a diverse educational setting that would expose students to people they had not encountered while growing up in America's segregated communities. They also said the admission policy wasn't a disguised quota, because it entailed no fixed minimums. Mahoney said the university might want 10 percent to 17 percent of its students to be minorities, but that was an aspiration rather than a hard guideline. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas focused on the idea that the university might solve its problem by easing its academic standards. "If Michigan really cares enough about that racial imbalance, why doesn't it do as many other state law schools do: lower standards, and not have a flagship school?" Scalia asked. Mahoney said that was a false choice for the school. "Your honor, I don't think there's anything in this court's cases that suggests the school has to make an election between academic excellence and racial diversity," she replied.

    Outside the court, people gathered from around the country. Police kept the opposing sides separate. Signs read: "We need affirmative action to combat affirmative racism," and "400 years of slavery is worth 20 points." University of Michigan students rallied separately with political leaders from Michigan, including Reps. John Dingell, John Conyers and Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick; Sen. Debbie Stabenow; and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Most wore T-shirts that said: "I support affirmative action -- race must be a factor because racism is a factor."

  • The cases are Grutter v. Bollinger, 02-241, and Gratz v. Bollinger, 02-516.

  • ©Kansas City Star

    On April 2, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) jointly filed an application against Serbia and Montenegro with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on behalf of Dragan Durmic, a young Romani man who was denied entry into a local discotheque because of his ethnicity. Although the incident occurred over three years ago, Serbian authorities have never conducted an appropriate investigation nor responded to either the criminal complaint or the constitutional court petition lodged by the victim. Article 60 of the Serbian Criminal Code prohibits the denial or restriction of citizens' rights based on race or ethnicity, with punishment ranging from three months' to five years' imprisonment.

    The HLC, along with the Democratic Union of Roma, in February 2000 responded to numerous complaints about the widespread denial of access to Roma to clubs, discotheques, restaurants, cafes and swimming pools solely on the basis of their race by conducting "tests" of several establishments. One such establishment was a local discotheque, "Trezor", located in downtown Belgrade. The HLC sent one Romani couple, one non-Romani couple, and one non-Romani man as testers to Trezor. All of the testers were neatly dressed and well-behaved -- thus the only apparent difference was the color of their skin. The Romani testers, including Dragan Durmic, tried to enter the club but were stopped by the bouncer. The bouncer told them there was a private party in progress and that they could not enter without an invitation. The non-Romani male tester stood close enough to hear the conversation. He explained to the bouncer that he did not have an invitation and asked whether he could enter. He was allowed in without any problems. Similarly, the other non-Romani testers were allowed to enter with no questions asked, no mention of a private party, and no need for invitations. Mr Durmic filed a criminal complaint, to no avail, and a petition with the constitutional court, which has been ignored.

    The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Serbia and Montenegro has violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, requests a comprehensive criminal investigation into the incident, seeks just compensation for the victim for humiliation and degradation suffered from the discrimination, and requests Serbian authorities to take effective measures to ensure an end to racial discrimination in admission to the discotheque.

    More information on the situation of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro
    ©European Roma Rights Center

    A group of skinheads brutally attacked popular singer John Kabamba, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the centre of Sofia on Monday. At least seven men followed Kabamba, who has refugee status in Bulgaria, on his way to change money at a kiosk close to the National Palace of Culture (NDK) on Vitosha Boulevard. They attacked him from behind as he crossed the street at about 8pm. "I saw nothing," said Kabamba. "The first thing I heard and felt was a bottle being smashed over my head." As he lifted his hands to protect himself, a baseball bat was swung in his face before the men began kicking and punching him. He managed to push them away for a moment and then ran towards a taxi on the other side of the street. "I felt they wanted to kill me," he said. "They were shouting things like "Blacks out!" and "Black son of a bitch - we're going to show you!"

    Though one skinhead blocked his path as he ran for the taxi, and another threw a bottle that missed him, he covered the 30 metres to the car and got inside. The skinheads followed and began hitting the car windows, momentarily stalling the driver, who took Kabamba to Pirogov Hospital. The taxi driver, possibly the only witness of the attack as the street was nearly empty when it happened, told Kabamba "they are crazy people". At Pirogov the driver spoke to a policeman, but Kabamba was taken for treatment and failed to get the driver's details. In Wednesday's Noshten Trud newspaper, which had reported the attack on Tuesday, a follow-up article asked the taxi driver to come forward as a witness. The same edition carried a report that on Tuesday evening, close to where Kabamba was attacked, a group of 10 skinheads beat up several Chinese students.

    The police at Fourth Police Station in Lozenets commented that the area around NDK was known to be frequented by skinheads. They advised Kabamba to avoid it. He has now filed a complaint, and is waiting for them to contact him. Kabamba, who recently featured in The Sofia Echo as Expat of the Week, is recovering at home, his shoulder was dislocated, his forehead was badly bruised, and he is feeling very angry. "I'm not a trouble maker," he said, "but I feel that I want some kind of revenge." There is already talk among his associates in the music industry of starting an anti-racism campaign in the city. "It's incredible that something like this can happen in the centre of Sofia," one of his friends said.
    ©Sofia Echo

    SHAME - Editorial (Bulgaria)
    Time and again, people of African descent who have appeared in The Sofia Echo's Expat of the Week column have complained of experiencing racism in this country. No interview of a black African expat published in recent months has passed without a reference to being at the receiving end of this intolerable scourge. This week, John Kabamba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was our Expat of the Week on March 14 - at the time complaining that he felt racism to be strong in Bulgaria - was beaten up by a group of skinheads in Sofia. Probably, many Europeans, Bulgarians included, look upon Africa as a mass of intolerance and savagery, not least Kabamba's own country, whose people have endured grave excesses in recent decades, and continue to do so. In turn, Africans and other people not of European descent might believe or hope that this continent is a refuge safer than in their own countries, where colonialism and the master-race mindset associated with it have left deep scars.

    Bulgaria boasts of its tolerance, and it may be true that its record in some respects is more honourable than that of other European countries which already are members of the club this country aspires to join. Yet it seems that foreigners who do not have white skins are not accorded the respect given those who do. And in domestic terms, the outside world has not failed to notice that for some Bulgarians, to be a Roma is not the same as being a Bulgarian. In the time since the interview with Kabamba, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination passed on March 21, and was marked in Bulgaria.

    Let Bulgaria honour the spirit of that day, and its aspirations to the stated human rights values of Europe, by authorities and citizens stepping forward to find and prosecute Kabamba's attackers, to ensure such incidents do not happen again, and by so doing to eradicate the shame this episode has meant.
    ©Sofia Echo

    The far-right British National Party is to contest more than 20 seats in the West Midlands in the local elections. The party will have a record 23 candidates standing in council polls across the region – 18 more than last year. Anti-fascist campaigners and politicians yesterday urged voters not to back the BNP in a bid to stop them gaining any power in local politics.

    At least 219 BNP candidates across the country had been declared by the close of nominations on Tuesday. Simon Derby, BNP spokesman for the Midlands, said the war in Iraq could benefit the party as traditional Labour voters opposed to the conflict would stay away from the polls. "We have more candidates than ever before and by fighting the election with policies against asylum seekers, drugs, rises in crime and extortionate council tax we think we can attract large numbers of voters," he said. "We want this to be a breakthrough year for the BNP so when the local elections come around next year, when the boundary changes mean every seat is up for grabs, we shall be on a roll."

    Sandwell, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent will each have five BNP candidates contesting seats in the elections on May 1. Birmingham, which had only one candidate in last year's city election, will have BNP representatives standing in Longbridge, Northfield, Oscott, Weoley and Yardley. It will also have two National Front candidates. Dudley has four BNP candidates while Coventry, Walsall, Worcester and Oswestry in Shropshire have one each.

    The Coalition Against Racism, which brings together the National Assembly Against Racism, the TUC and local community organisations, will distribute leaflets across the country in coming weeks, asking people to vote against the BNP. Sher Khan, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the BNP aimed to divide the ethnic community. "I urge everyone in ethnic communities, and in particular the Muslim community, to make sure, through their participation, the BNP are excluded from gaining any political power," he said. The BNP will field a full slate of candidates in Sunderland, where the party is fighting every seat. It will also fight 13 out of 15 wards in Burnley, where it won three seats last year and is aiming to become the third largest grouping on the council. BNP chairman Nick Griffin will stand in a ward in Oldham, where he took 16.4 per cent of the vote in the 2001 General Election. Eight candidates will stand in Bradford, scene of race riots two years ago, and five in Calderdale, Yorkshire, where the BNP won a council by-election in January. But the party is also moving outside areas where it has recently won support, fielding 17 candidates in the South West, where it had none last year.

    Speaking at a press conference organised by the Coalition Against Racism, the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said: "In September 1993, the BNP managed to sneak in in a byelection in Tower Hamlets. "Fortunately a big mobilisation by all political parties defeated them. But we need to remember that in the months between September 1993 and May 1994 there was a 300 per cent increase in racist attacks in the area."
    ©Birmingham Post

    Dyab Abu Jahjah stresses the goal of "Arab unity"

    As tensions increase due to the war in Iraq, Crossing Continents meets a controversial Belgian politician with a mission to shake up disaffected Arabs. At just 31, he has all the confidence, charisma and good looks of a rock star. His stage appearances, flanked by crophaired bodyguards, are greeted with cheers and chanting from his fans. Giggling young women queue outside his dressing room for autographs. But Dyab Abou Jahjah is no light entertainer. A radical campaigner for the rights of Europe's disenchanted Arab communities, he is one of the most provocative figures in Belgian politics. Next month he will stand in Belgium's parliamentary elections. "He is actually our voice," says Rabhah, a 20 year old from a Moroccan immigrant family in Antwerp. "What we think, he thinks."

    Although Dyab Abou Jahjah is of Lebanese origin, it is among people like Rabhah, the second generation of Belgium's large Moroccan immigrant community, that he finds most support. Technically they have full Belgian citizenship. But many feel their status is really secondclass. "On television, when somebody is killed, they say... It was a Moroccan... a Moroccan Belgian did that crime," says 18 year old Zaynab. "Why do they not just say it was a Belgian? Because they do not see us as Belgians." Part of Abou Jahjah's appeal is that he does not mince his words. He demands more jobs, better schools and housing for Belgium's Arab and other Moslem communities.

    Culture and language
    He travels to neighbouring countries to drum up support for the Arab European League, which he founded in 2000 to represent the interests of Arabs across Europe. He dismisses integration and assimilation. He sees it as degrading. "Assimilation is giving up your language, giving up your culture, and just keeping some kind of folklore that is irrelevant, " he says. "I could still eat certain dishes from the Middle East, but I cannot have certain thoughts that are based on ideologies and ideas from the Middle East." Far from shying away from Middle East issues, Abou Jahjah pushes them onto Belgium's political agenda. But many feel he goes too far.

    Abou Jahjah's website is openly antiIsraeli and makes jibes at Antwerp's longestablished Jewish community, which for centuries has worked in the city's world famous diamond industry. One entry states, "In Antwerp the power is in the hands of the Zionist lobby and the farright racists." Abou Jahjah denies this is antiSemitic. "Zionism is just a political ideology like any other ideology," he says. "It might sound offensive, but this is the reality of Antwerp." Certainly the far right is a reality in Antwerp. The anti immigration Vlaams Blok party won a staggering 33% there in the last elections.

    The case against Sharon
    While Abou Jahjah's supporters say he is a vital counter-balance to Vlaams Blok, his critics accuse him of putting personal ambition before the wider goals he claims to represent. They point to his involvement or interference in a groundbreaking legal case against the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for his alleged role in a massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon 20 years ago. While Abou Jahjah insists he helped initiate the case, Lebanese lawyers and Belgian politicians accuse him of hijacking it for his own political ends. "It is not good for him to say that his organisation filed the lawsuit because it is not true," says Senator Vincent Van Quickenbourne. "Politicising the case as he does makes it more difficult for the victims and lawyers to go ahead." How long Dyab Abou Jahjah will last in Belgian politics is hard to tell.

    But what is clear is that he has exposed grievances which are widespread amongst many of Europe's Moslem communities, as they feel increasi ©BBC News

    Members of one of the most socially deprived communities in Europe, the Roma, are being deported in large numbers and at huge expense, even though in a year's time, when their home countries become EU members, they will be able to legally reside in the UK. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roma Affairs in Stage One Accession Countries launched a disturbing report last month on the plight of Roma people in eastern European countries where, though the governments eager to join the EU have been enacting laws to outlaw discrimination in order to meet the criteria set by the European Council, the actual life of Roma is still one of prejudice, violence and discrimination.

    White list
    From 1990 to 1999, 7,000 Roma asylum seekers from eastern Europe were granted refugee status in the EU. However, a recent amendment to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in the UK has facilitated the deportation of Roma to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Slovak Republic on the grounds that these countries (the so-called 'white list') are safe and governed by the 'rule of law', and appeals against deportation decisions have been curtailed. Even before there has been any time to assess the impact of the government's 'white-list' policy, the Home Office has proposed that the original list of ten countries, from which asylum applicants' claims will be deemed 'manifestly unfounded' and their appeal rights restricted, is to be extended. Now other countries with Roma populations - Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania - are also to be added to the 'white list'. Applicants from any of these countries will most probably be detained at Oakington reception centre, where their claims will be 'processed' within 10 days. In such conditions, detainees will have little chance of rebutting the presumption that their claims are unfounded.

    The report on the Roma
    Launching the report on Roma in eastern Europe, Lord Avebury, involved in supporting and advising the research, pointed out that attempts to prevent Roma asylum seekers from entering the country are pointless and wasteful. 'After 1 May 2004, all these people will be coming here legally. Why spend all this money turning Romani asylum seekers back?', he asked. He suggested that EU member states should help attack the root causes of asylum claims. 'People should connect the influx of Romani asylum seekers with the failure of states concerned to eliminate inequality. If countries eliminated violence and discrimination, people wouldn't be asking for asylum.' Paul Mercer, the chairman of the Roma Rights and Access to Justice in European organisations said: 'Roma are consistently bottom of the pile. Unless their situation improves, these states should not be accepted into the EU. The human rights record of the EU is at stake.'

    Examples from four of the accession countries include:

    Czech Republic
    Although the most reliable estimates by the Minority Rights Group put Roma numbers at around 2.9% (275,000) of the 10.3 million population, the census of 2001 put it at 11,716, (a third of the 1991 figure), because there is such reluctance to admit to Roma ethnicity for fear of persecution. In recent years, there have been numerous cases of violent assaults on Roma men by skinheads and police officers. Rarely are the perpetrators brought to justice, and, when they are, the process is slow. According to Save the Children, Roma children are fifteen times more likely than non-Roma children to be placed in special schools for those with learning disabilities which means that 75 per cent of Roma children are segregated in a substandard separate education system. In the absence of legislation against discrimination in housing, Roma families are allocated inferior social housing and are vulnerable to eviction. Although, the government has ratifi conditions are very poor for a large proportion of Roma and often fail to meet the basic health and safety requirements. In addition, access to medical services is restricted with wide variations in provision with some clinics offering special 'Roma days' but providing no service for the rest of the time. The shift to market liberalisation leading to the collapse of state enterprises has hit the Roma hard with at least 60 percent of working age Roma unemployed as against a national average of 12-13 percent. This is a dramatic reversal from the pre- 1989 situation when the Roma employment rate was almost on a par with that of ethnic Hungarians. This multiple deprivation is reflected in the finding of a recent health survey that life expectancy for Roma is 15 years below that for the Hungarian average.

    While the Hungarian Constitution provides for equal treatment and protection against discrimination, the country does not have a unified law against discrimination and no comprehensive system to effectively enforce the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation. The Office for National and Ethnic Minorities, established in 1990, is responsible for developing a policy framework for minority issues and an ombudsman monitors the implementation of minority rights and investigates complaints. In 2001, 453 new cases were registered with the Ombudsman of which 292 affected the Roma. In autumn 2002, the new government decided to present a comprehensive anti-discrimination law to parliament in response to the criticism that the existing legislation did not meet the standards required by the EU's Race Equality Directive.

    The Romani community in Poland is smaller than in other eastern European countries with estimates ranging from 15,000 to 50,000, within a total population of 38 million. There have been incidents of clashes between skinheads with Roma and racially motivated violence towards the Roma. The majority of Roma children receive segregated schooling, which takes the form of low standard 'Roma classes'. Poland has universal health insurance, which guarantees equal access to health care but does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Evidence shows that Roma are more vulnerable to disease and illnesses when compared to the average because, in practice, they have less access to insurance protection and hence to providers and services. Racial discrimination in housing is reportedly one of the biggest problems faced by Polish Roma with higher rents being charged on city owned flats and eviction from certain locations such as city and town centres.

    Despite the lack of ethnic data on employment, sources acknowledge disproportionately high unemployment rates among the Roma depending on locality estimated at between 50 and 90 per cent. The Roma were badly affected by the economic liberalisation following the fall of the Communist government. In the opinion of the European Commission, although the concept of non-discrimination is enshrined in the Polish Constitution adopted in 1997, the transposition of this principle into effective anti-discrimination legislation has been limited. International attention on the situation of Roma in Poland was heightened in 1998 with the exodus of asylum seekers to EU member states, particularly the United Kingdom. Since then, the Polish government has intensified efforts to address discrimination by ratifying the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and adopting pilot programmes to reduce the hardship suffered by Roma. However these have been criticised by NGOs for relying too heavily on local initiatives, which are hindered by anti-Roma prejudices, and lacking in legislative clout.

    Slovak Republic
    Whereas in the census of May 2001, only 44,620 people (0.8 per cent) declared themselves to be Roma, the Minority Rights Group estimates that out of a population of 5.3 million, there are between 480,000 and 520,000 Roma (nearly 10 percent). Over the last decade there have been hundreds of appointing a Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights, National Minorities and Regional Development, a Plenipotentiary for Roma Issues and an Ombudsman's Office. Having ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in June 2001, Slovakia is now party to all major international minority rights instruments. However, specific anti-discrimination legislation transposing EC protocols remain to be adopted. In March 2002, the Government adopted an Action Plan to prevent all forms of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

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