Headlines 24 February, 2006
DANISH BAN ANGERS LOCALS(Chechnya)
Consternation at Grozny government decision to stop work of Danish Refugee Council in Chechnya.
By Luiza Zamayeva* in Grozny
23/2/2006- There has been condemnation of the decision by the Chechen government in Grozny to suspend the work of the Danish Refugee Council in the republic following the scandal over the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in the Danish press. Russian human rights groups and organisations helping those displaced by the conflict are alarmed by the move, saying the agency does vital humanitarian work in the region, which has benefited large numbers of local people. Moscow officials, who have responsibility for issues of cooperation with foreigners and non- governmental organisations, have not yet publicly commented on the Chechen decision, which was announced by the acting prime minister of the republic Ramzan Kadyrov announced the decision February 6. But in the first indication that the federal government might be concerned about the move, Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s presidential representative for the North Caucasus, signalled his disapproval by telling journalists on February 23 that his office had formally asked the general prosecutor’s office to investigate the legality of the Chechen government’s action. The DRC has temporarily halted its work here and closed its office in Grozny, to ensure the safety of its staff. Chechen deputy prime minister Halid Vaikhanov said the reason for the decision was not just the cartoon scandal but fears about the reaction to it from Chechnya's Muslim population. He said the government was concerned that there might be repercussions for DRC staff. However, it has emerged that the cartoon furore is not the only sore point between the Chechens and the Danes. “We had serious cause for complaint even before the row over the cartoons,” said Vaikhanov. “There is evidence that this organisation, whether it realised it or not, has been supporting [rebels].” Ramzan Kadyrov also accused the Danish group of working in Chechnya as spies. Vaikhanov said the ban was “final” and “not subject to review”.
The DRC office in Grozny opened only a few months ago, although the agency has been working in the North Caucasus since 1997. The Chechen authorities have complained about its work several times before. At one stage Chechnya refused the DRC access to the republic after humanitarian aid supplied by the organisation was allegedly found at rebel bases. The Danes categorically reject these allegations, and say that their work is entirely transparent. Its staff report regularly to the authorities and provide detailed information about their operations. According to official figures, over 200,000 people in Chechnya today are in need of humanitarian aid and the DRC is helping more than 190 thousand of them. Last year the Danish agency distributed more than 20 thousand tonnes of food to the population in 12 of the republic's largest regions. There are approximately 20 humanitarian organisations working in Chechnya today and the DRC is agreed to be the most active. In partnership with the UN, it is running a series of humanitarian programmes to provide food, healthcare, education and reconstruction in Chechnya. A DRC staff member told IWPR that the group has been rebuilding homes in Chechnya. This involves 806 houses in Grozny and its environs alone. In parallel, the DRC is carrying out repair and rebuilding work. Around 300 Chechen families are taking part in a micro-finance home-building project at the moment. The Danish council has requested over 18 million dollars for humanitarian work in the North Caucasus for 2006. It is now unclear whether these programmes will be able to continue. An employee of the human rights organisation Memorial condemned the government’s move as cynical. “The DRC has distanced itself from politics and does not comment on the human rights situation: it has been concentrating solely on humanitarian work,” said the human rights monitor, who asked not to be named. “The organisation has paid for the reconstruction of thousands of houses and has saved tens of thousands of people from starvation. “The fact is that the [DRC] has done far more for the Chechen people than the government has. In today's situation, the authorities shouldn't be impeding the work of an organisation like this.”
The head of the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Displaced Persons, Aslambek Apayev, was more critical still. In his opinion, the government in Grozny was overstepping its competence, but he also suspected the hand of the central authorities in the decision. “Kadyrov is fairly malleable, and I don’t think this is his personal initiative,” said Apayev. “The fact that the centre is in no hurry to get involved suggests that the action of the Chechen government is in line with Moscow’s policy of driving foreign humanitarian and human rights organisations out of the North Caucasus.” Beryozka on the edge of Grozny is one of the most damaged villages in the republic. After two military campaigns, its residents have been left without homes, property and livelihoods. People cannot return and begin to rebuild their homes because many of them have still not received any compensation. The villagers’ hopes are pinned on the Danish council. “Up until now, the authorities have not solved the people’s problems - they have given us nothing but words and promises,” said resident Imran Gatsayev. “But the Danish council has given us real help. It is no secret that today some families only survive thanks to humanitarian aid from the Danes.” Chechnya residents displaced from their homes by war, and now living in temporary resettlement centres in Chechnya, are also indignant. Umar Saidov, who lives in the Okruzhnaya refugee centre in Grozny, said, "Like any Muslim, I condemn the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, but I can't understand what a humanitarian organisation, which has been helping people to survive since the beginning of the war working in extremely difficult conditions, has got to do with it. “If the authorities ban them, it is we, the people living in the resettlement areas, who will be the first to suffer.”
*Luiza Zamayeva is the pseudonym of a journalist working in Chechnya.
© Institute for War & Peace Reporting
EUROPEAN COURT RULES IN CRITICAL CZECH DESEGREGATION CASE
21/2/2006 Equal Access to Education for Roma Remains Goal
By Erika B. Schlager, Helsinki Commission Digest
In 1999, several Romani students from the Czech Republic brought a suit before the European Court on Human Rights alleging that their assignment to "special schools" for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated European human rights law. On February 7, 2006, a seven-member Chamber of the Court held that the applicants failed to prove that their placement in "special schools" was the singular result of intentional racial discrimination. The plaintiffs have 3 months to appeal to a 17-member Grand Chamber. Elsewhere in Central and Southern Europe, Roma are also pursuing efforts to achieve equal access to education.
During the Communist-era, many East European countries developed a practice of channeling Roma into schools for children with mental disabilities, called "special schools." Critics have argued that this practice constitutes, de facto, a form of segregating Roma into a separate and inferior school system.
The Ostrava Case
In 1999, a group of Roma from Ostrava, the Czech Republic's third largest city, brought suit against their government, alleging that their assignment to "special schools" for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated Czech national and constitutional law, as well as European human rights law. At the time the case was brought, a number of Czech newspapers ran editorials indirectly espousing some form of school segregation. For example, one leading newspaper ran an article arguing that educating a "future plumber" and a "future brain surgeon" together ultimately benefits neither one. On October 20, 1999, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the plaintiffs' claim. In the view of the court, it did not have the jurisdiction to address the broad pattern of discriminatory treatment alleged - allegations supported by compelling statistical evidence but no smoking gun that proved an explicit intent to discriminate against the individual plaintiffs. Notwithstanding the Constitutional Court's perceived jurisdictional inability to provide a remedy to the plaintiffs, the Court recognized "the persuasiveness of the applicants' arguments" and "assume[d] that the relevant administrative authorities of the Czech Republic shall intensively and effectively deal with the plaintiffs' proposals."
Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the students then turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, an organ of the Council of Europe. In connection with that suit, Case of D.H. and Others v. The Czech Republic, the Czech Government acknowledged that, nationwide, 75 percent of Czech Roma were channeled into special schools. In some special schools, Roma made up 80-90 percent of the student body. The Czech Government also acknowledged that "Roman[i] children with average or above-average intellect [we]re often placed in such schools" for children with mental disability. In opposing the plaintiffs' claims, the Czech Ministry of Education attempted to deflect an examination of whether their placement in schools for the mentally disabled was the result of racial bias by claiming (among other things) that Romani parents have a "negative attitude" toward education. This assertion was particularly ironic, given the lengths to which the plaintiffs' parents were willing to go - all the way to Europe's highest human rights court - to ensure their children could get a good education. Moreover, this broad sweeping generalization, originally made before the Czech Constitutional Court, was viewed by some as confirmation of racial prejudice in the Czech education system. Remarkably, it was repeated without comment in the European Court's decision. Putting aside the bias reflected in the Ministry of Education's assertion, there is no evidence demonstrating that a parent's "negative attitude" results in actual mental disability in his or her children.
Meanwhile, the Czech Government adopted some changes to the law on special schools which came into effect on January 1, 2005 (Law No. 561/2004) and on February 17, 2005 (Decree No. 73/2005). To some degree, these changes were reactive to the issues raised by the Ostrava suit, including the criticisms of the procedures by which parental consent was purportedly obtained for the placement of children in special schools. Nevertheless, non-governmental groups monitoring this situation argue that the changes have not dismantled an education system that remains effectively segregated and that the changes fail to provide redress or damages for the Romani plaintiffs from Ostrava who were denied equal access to mainstream schools. The case in Strasbourg was heard by a seven-member Chamber of European Court and resulted in a 6-1 decision. Significantly, the President of the Chamber issued a concurring decision, in which he stated that some of the arguments of the dissenting judge were very strong. He also suggested that in order to hold that there had been a violation of the Convention in this case, the Chamber might have to depart from previous decisions of the Court. In his view, overturning or deviating from past rulings is a task better undertaken by the Grand Chamber of the Court. The applicants have three months to decide whether to appeal this decision to a 17-member Grand Chamber. While the underlying issues which led Roma to bring this suit still persist, there are many indications that prejudices against Roma in the Czech Republic have diminished since the Ostrava case was first heard by the Czech Constitutional Court. For example, when the European Court issued its holding in the case, a leading daily paper wrote that although the Czech Government "won" its case, there were still significant problems for Roma in the Czech educational system that need to be addressed.
Limitations of the European Court Decision
Significantly, there were several issues the court did not address. The suit in question was brought under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the non-discrimination provision of the Convention, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which provides for a right to education. In essence, discrimination in education based on race, ethnicity or social origin is prohibited.
When interpreting this standard, the Court referred to previous cases in which it held that States party to the European Convention "enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether and to what extent differences in otherwise similar situations justify a difference in treatment." The Court also reiterated "that the setting and planning of the curriculum falls in principle within the competence of the Contracting States." In short, while European Convention norms prohibit discrimination in education, States still have considerable discretion in designing their education programs. But while the Court reiterated this jurisprudence, it failed to indicate what is meaningfully left of Articles 14 and Protocol 1, Article 2? What threshold must be crossed before the court will actually determine that alleged discrimination takes a case out of the discretion of the States party to the Convention and brings it within the reach of the Court?
Two other issues the court did not address do not relate so much to the court's own jurisprudence, but from parallel developments in European Union norms in the field of non-discrimination. In 2000, the European Union adopted "Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin," more commonly known as the "Race Directive." The directive is binding on all current 25 Member States of the European Union and is intended to ensure a minimum level of protection from race discrimination in all EU countries in several areas, including education. (The fifteen countries that were EU members as of 2000 had until July 19, 2003, to transfer the directive into national law; applicant countries had until the date of their accession. The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 but, in fact, it has not yet adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Legislation was introduced in the parliament in late 2005, but the draft was narrowly rejected by the Senate in January 2006.)
The Race Directive requires Member States to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that, among other things, requires anti-discrimination legislation to include both direct and indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination, which is at issue in the Ostrava case, is defined by the directive as occurring when "an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of a racial or ethnic origin at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are proportionate and necessary." The legislation should also shift the burden of proof in civil cases from the plaintiffs to the defendants once a prima facie case of discrimination has been made.
Thus, the EU Race Directive anticipates exactly the kind of case the plaintiffs in the Ostrava case presented. Under the provisions of the directive, the overwhelming pattern of disparate treatment of Roma demonstrated by the plaintiffs should shift the burden of proof from them to the Czech Government. (Notably, the directive was not applicable to the Czech Republic at the time of the Constitutional Court's decision.) While the European Court of Human Rights does not adjudicate compliance with or implementation of the EU Race Directive, the Court's overall approach to the Ostrava case appears to lag behind the legal developments in the European Union and, potentially, render the European Court a less effective vehicle for addressing discrimination than other existing or emerging tools in Europe.
Regional Issues and Trends
On November 27, 2003, the OSCE Permanent Council adopted "Decision No. 566, Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area." In particular, that Action Plan calls on the participating States to "[e]nsure that national legislation includes adequate provisions banning racial segregation and discrimination in education and provides effective remedies for violations of such legislation." In addition, participating States were urged to:
73. Develop and implement comprehensive school desegregation programmes aiming at:
(1) discontinuing the practice of systematically routing Roma children to special schools or classes (e.g., schools for mentally disabled persons, schools and classes exclusively designed for Roma and Sinti children); and
(2) transferring Roma children from special schools to mainstream schools.
74. Allocate financial resources for the transfer of the Roma children to mainstream education and for the development of school support programmes to ease the transition to mainstream education.
Thus, all OSCE participating States, including the Czech Republic, have agreed, in principle, to the goal of integrating Roma in education and eradicating de facto segregated school where it may exist. In 2004, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report, Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, examining the experiences of five countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia). The report describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into "special schools" for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with existence of Romani ghettos; having mixed-population schools where Romani children are segregated into all-Romani classes; and the refusal of some local authorities to enroll Romani children in mainstream schools. The report concludes that, unfortunately, "with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date." In addition to the countries examined in Stigmata, the European Roma Rights Center has reported on unequal access to education for Roma in other countries, including Greece and Denmark. In a 2004 Danish case, Roma were placed into separate classes in one particular locality. Following complaints from a Romani non-governmental organization, the Danish Ministry of Education intervened to end this practice. In the case of Greece, the Greek Helsinki Monitor has reported on several localities where Roma are denied equal access to schools. These cases remain unresolved.
In Hungary and Bulgaria, some efforts to litigate this issue have made their way into the courts, with mixed results. In October 2004, the Budapest Metropolitan City Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision ordering a primary school and the local government of Tiszatarjan to pay damages to nine Romani families whose children were wrongly placed in "special schools" between 1994 and 1999. In June 2005, a court dismissed a case brought against the Miskolc Municipality alleging city-wide segregation. A Hungarian non-governmental organization which assisted in filing the suit, Chance for Children Foundation, is appealing. Other legal disputes continue to surround a self-proclaimed "private school" in Jaszladany (established at least in part with municipal resources). A study commissioned by the Ministry of Education found the "private school" violated the law and contributed to racial segregation.
Notwithstanding some recent government initiatives to address this problem in Hungary, desegregation initiatives have met resistance in significant quarters. Former Prime Minister Victor Orban (who also heads of Hungary's largest opposition party, FIDESZ), argued in a speech on January 29, 2006, that integrated schooling should not be mandatory, but left to local officials and parents to "choose" or reject. In fact, the greatest resistance to integrated schooling often comes at the local level.
In Bulgaria - where the government continues to deal with Roma through an office for "demographic issues" - efforts to address the causes of segregation have largely originated with the non-governmental community. Particularly promising results have been achieved in Viden, where community-based efforts, supported by international non-governmental organizations, have resulted in integrating Roma and ethnic Bulgarian school children. Efforts to replicate that program elsewhere, however, have not been embraced by the government.
In addition, in a landmark holding, the Sofia District Court held on October 25, 2005, that the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the Sofia Municipality and School Number 103 of Sofia violated the prohibition of racial segregation and unequal treatment provided in Bulgarian and international law. In welcoming that ruling, the European Roma Rights Center declared, "After a period of 51 years, the soul of Brown v. Board of Education has crossed the Atlantic."
© Dzeno Association
UN MOVES TO CREATE STRONGER HUMAN RIGHTS BODY
23/2/2006- The United Nations moved Thursday to create a human rights body that would be more credible than its current commission, but less ambitious than that sought by UN chief Kofi Annan, diplomats said. Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, the current president of the UN General Assembly, presented to the 191 member states a draft proposal for a 47-state Human Rights Council elected by secret ballot by an absolute majority. It would meet three times a year for a minimum of 10 weeks. The new council would be based in Geneva and replace the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, heavily criticized for taking years to pursue abuse cases and allowing nations with less-than-stellar human rights records to sit in judgment. Under the draft proposal, membership criteria would tighten and the council could suspend members whose human rights record were deemed unacceptable. Annan called for the text's adoption "within the next few days." "Obviously the proposal isn't everything I asked for in my report," the secretary general told reporters. "But I think it is a credible basis to move ahead. There are enough new elements in it for us to be able to build on I don't think anyone can claim this is old wine in a new bottle." But the United States expressed reservations. "We don't think it meets the standards set by the secretary general," US ambassador John Bolton told reporters. He refused to say whether the US would back the plan, signalling that Washington might seek to reopen negotiations. Annan, in what appeared to be an oblique reply to Bolton's comments, declared: "The member states have had enough time to discuss. The issues are known and now is the time for a decision." The creation of a Human Rights Council, a key element in a sweeping reform under way at the world body, was approved in principle by world leaders at a summit at UN headquarters in New York last September. But definition of its scope and operations has been the subject of fierce debate.
Eliasson, who oversaw the negotiations, said the text marks a compromise on all controversial points, such as the size of the future council, criteria for admission, and the frequency of its meetings. The plan calls for nation candidates for a council seat to be elected by the General Assembly by an absolute majority, currently 97 votes. Annan and Western countries had wanted election by a two-thirds majority. But a number of Third World countries, members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, pushed for a majority of the ballots cast on the day of a vote. The proposal also claims a right for universal review, which would mean that all countries, including the most powerful such as the US and China, could be called to defend their human rights record. The number of council members — 47 against 53 of the current commission — was also a compromise. The majority of members wanted the number to remain at 53, while Western nations sought a more restricted body of some 38 members. And the number of meetings — 10 weeks minimum with the possibility of an emergency session — is more than the six weeks of meetings held by the current commission. Annan and Western nations had sought a permanent body. France "will study the text very closely," said French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière. "My first reaction is that it's not an ideal text, but that it is a real progress compared to the Human Rights Commission. This body will be more active, more reactive, and more compelling for its members." Non-governmental organizations urged swift adoption of the proposal, despite some shortcomings. Human Rights Watch said that although the text "falls short of the vision" that Annan presented in his 2005 reform report, "governments should swiftly approve" the draft resolution. "The UN's ability to protect human rights — and its credibility — will depend on governments' willingness to make the council a strong and effective body," the New York-based group said. Amnesty International called for its adoption "without delay". "Governments must now show the political will to make the Council an effective human rights body," said Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International's UN representative. "This is an historic opportunity that governments must not squander for selfish political interests."
© Expatica News
LONDON MAYOR TO BE SUSPENDED FOR 'NAZI' COMMENTS (uk)
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is to be suspended for four weeks from March 1 after being found guilty of bringing his office into disrepute by comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard, a disciplinary tribunal ruled Friday.
24/2/2006- The three-man Adjudication Panel for England -- an independent tribunal which hears and rules on the conduct of local authority members -- unanimously ruled Livingstone’s remarks had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive." Livingstone, 60, made the comments to an Evening Standard reporter but later claimed they were triggered by his dislike of Associated Newspapers, which owns the title, and its sister national newspaper the Daily Mail. He had argued they referred to the Daily Mail’s reputed support for fascism and opposition to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and to a leaving party thrown for an outgoing editor in which some guests were reportedly dressed as Nazis. But the panel’s chairman David Laverick disagreed, ruling that he had damaged the reputation of his office. "His treatment of the journalist was unnecessarily insensitive and offensive," he said. "He persisted with a line of comment likening the journalist’s job to a concentration camp guard despite being told that the journalist was Jewish and found it offensive to be asked if he was a German war criminal." The panel has yet to rule on Livingstone’s punishment. Sanctions range from being barred from office, suspension, censure or being made to apologise or undergo training for breaching the Greater London Authority’s code of conduct. Livingstone, nicknamed "Red Ken" for his socialist views, was re-elected mayor of western Europe’s most populous city in June 2004 under the banner of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party. His publicised remarks led to calls from Jewish groups, concentration camp survivors and politicians, including Blair, for an apology, but none has been forthcoming. Adrian Cohen, from the London Jewish Forum, welcomed Friday’s ruling, but added: "It should never have reached this point when a simple apology could have avoided all the pain caused to so many Jewish Londoners who have been affected by the Holocaust." Despite once being the newspaper’s restaurant critic, there is no love lost between Livingstone and the Evening Standard, which the mayor believes has waged a lengthy hate campaign against him.
© The European Jewish Press
CAMPAIGN TO RAISE AWARENESS OF GAY BLACK LEADERS(uk)
21/2/2006- A campaign is being launched today to raise awareness of black lesbian and gay leaders, in a bid to challenge racial stereotypes about LGBT people. The campaign, which comes as the country celebrates LGBT History Month, will also focus on international gay and black leaders, especially African American icons. But organisers say the main focus will be the British leaders, linking it with the 100 Black Britons event. “The idea of the campaign is to celebrate achievement and various role models from the gay community over the centuries, as well as to challenge homophobia and negative issues which impact gay black people in Britain today,” founder Patrick Vernon said today. Gay black groups have backed the campaign, saying the issue of invisibility in both sexual and racial minority groups needs to be challenged. “Black gay men and lesbians perform a central role in our past, present and future,” Rob Berkeley, Vice Chair, Black Gay Men's Advisory Group, said. “Their contribution is too often ignored. This list is a key way of letting communities, black and white, straight and gay, celebrate that contribution.” “It shows that black lesbians and gays have lived lives that challenge homophobia and racism, that have made a significant contribution to our society, and that they will continue to do so,” he added.
GAY CAMPAIGNERS TO PROTEST RUSSIAN BAN
21/2/2006- Gay campaigners from the UK are planning to launch an international protest against the Russian authorities who have banned a gay Pride march in Moscow. The Mayor of Moscow has barred the Pride events, scheduled to take place in May, after religious leaders warned of mass protests against the event. One even told reporters that opposition to the Pride event was so great in Russia, that the religious protests would dwarf the current riots over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. However, gay rights campaigners in the UK have said they will organise a protest in Moscow to raise awareness of the banned march, which coincides with the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). So far, MEP Michael Cashman, Peter Tatchell and the UK’s IDAHO organiser Derek Lennard have committed to marching despite the ban. “These attempts by the Russian state and religious leaders to suppress the right to protest are a throwback to the bad old days of czarist and communist totalitarianism,” Tatchell said. “The right to sexual self-determination and the right to protest are fundamental human rights that every democratic humanitarian nation must respect.” Lennard said that those who cannot attend the Moscow Pride should protest the ban in the UK. He has so far organised a demonstration outside the Moscow Embassy in London on March 2nd, with other protests expected to take place across Europe. Additionally, campaigners are calling on the Mayor of London to increase pressure on his Moscow counterpart about the issue. George Broadhead of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) said Livingstone should call for Yury Luzhkov to lift the ban. "We are asking Ken Livingstone to point out to the mayor of Moscow that a gay pride celebration is a recognition of lesbian and gay human rights and should be welcomed,” he said. “It is not something to be disapproved of or banned.” In a meeting set to highlight the issue tomorrow, the mayors of Berlin, London, Paris and Moscow will meet to discuss other issues. Many expect Luzhkov to face criticism from his European counterparts, especially since both Mayors for Berlin and Paris are gay.
TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS LIMITS OF FREE SPEECH IN GERMANY
On Feb. 9, Ernst Zündel, a Holocaust denier, faces a German court on charges of inciting racial hatred and defaming the dead. The case shows that while Germany guarantees freedom of expression, there are limits.
20/2/2006- According to prosecutors, Ernst Zündel is one of the "most active" Holocaust deniers today. He began distributing Nazi and neo-Nazi propaganda in the 1970s and has written several books praising Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Since 1995, he has been associated with a Web site that carries his name and is one of biggest online repositories of Holocaust-denial propaganda. But Zündel, who was born in Germany's Black Forest region, was only able to engage in such activities because he was living outside of his native county, in Canada and the United States. Although freedom of the press and of expression is written into German law, the country is generally more wary of free speech than the US, where Zündel's dissemination of racist literature and refutation of the Holocaust -- while distasteful to most -- was perfectly legal. In Germany, however, it was not. Zündel was deported to his native country in March 2005 after a long legal battle with the Canadian government. He found himself immediately under arrest and up against the German justice system. If the 66-year-old is found guilty by a court in Mannheim of incitement to racial hatred, libel and defamation of the memory of the dead, he faces up to five years in prison.
Constitutional rights and constraints
Article 5 of Germany's constitution, or Basic Law, enshrines the right of freedom of speech and of the press. "Everyone has the right to freely express and disseminate their opinions orally, in writing or visually and to obtain information from generally accessible sources without hindrance," states paragraph one of the law. "Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting through audiovisual media shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship." But the next paragraph puts certain limits on that freedom, which were deemed necessary when the Basic Law was proclaimed in 1949, just four years after the end of World War II and the downfall of the Nazi dictatorship. "These rights are subject to limitations embodied in the provisions of general legislation, statutory provisions for the protection of young persons and the citizen's right to personal respect," reads the second paragraph. German law therefore constrains press freedom, said Udo Branahl, a professor of media law at the University of Dortmund. "The penal law code says Holocaust denial is a punishable offense," he said. "That ban limits press freedom and overrides the right to free expression in the mass media." Germany is not the only European country to make Holocaust denial a crime. France, Italy and Austria have similar statutes on the books.
Criminal abroad, tried in Germany
So while in the US and Canada, Zündel could freely present his "evidence" that the gas chambers and crematoria of the Third Reich did not exist, in Germany, he was committing a crime that he would be tried for, even though it was not committed on German soil. The country's Federal Constitutional Court confirmed in 1994 that Holocaust revisionism is not protected speech. "In weighing the importance of free speech against that of individual rights, courts must consider on the one hand the severity of the offense caused by Holocaust denial to the Jewish population in light of the suffering inflicted upon it by Germany," the court wrote at the time. "This court has consistently protected the personal honor of those defamed above the right of others to make patently false statements." In the United States, where a broader definition of the freedom of expression has traditionally been considered one of the country's most foundations, this limitation on expression is often met with disapproval. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," goes a citation from Voltaire that's often quoted. "I've spoken with a lot of Americans, and they don't understand us," said Wolfgang Wippermann, a professor at the Freie University in Berlin who studies Nazism and right-wing extremism. "I tell them, 'In your country, drug dealers also go to prison; these Holocaust deniers are like drug dealers, but dealing in mental poison'."
© Deutsche Welle
ECRI REPORTS ON RACISM IN ESTONIA, LITHUANIA, ROMANIA AND SPAIN (CoE)
21/2/2006- The Council of Europe’s expert body on combating racism, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), today released four new reports examining racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Spain. ECRI recognises that positive developments have occurred in all four of these Council of Europe member countries. At the same time, however, the reports detail continuing grounds for concern for the Commission:
In Estonia, the number of stateless people who have obtained Estonian citizenship has been steadily increasing. But Estonia has not developed a consistent policy aimed at bringing the Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking communities together. Estonia has yet to examine the full extent of the Holocaust in Estonia and to give it its rightful place in the national debate. The Roma community in Estonia is still disproportionately affected by unemployment and discrimination in the field of education.
In Lithuania, the legal framework against racial discrimination has been strengthened by the adoption of the Law on Equal Opportunities. But the provisions in force to counter racist expression, including incitement to racial hatred, which has notably targeted the Jewish, Roma and Chechen communities, have not been adequately applied. Asylum legislation and practice has undergone an important reform which, in spite of positive elements introduced, has diminished refugee protection in several areas. Instances of antisemitism continue to be a cause of concern to ECRI in Lithuania.
In Romania, the authorities have adopted an anti-discrimination law and set up the National Council Against Discrimination, which is the body responsible for applying this law. However, ECRI notes that this legislation has hardly been applied at all as neither public officials nor the general public are aware of its existence. The Roma community continues to be discriminated against in all areas, including the labour market and access to education, public places and decent housing.
In Spain, there has been a recent willingness on the part of the authorities to move from an aliens policy to an immigration and integration policy. However, lack of awareness of issues of racism and racial discrimination across Spanish society affects the institutional response to these phenomena in a negative way. Racial discrimination in a wide range of areas, including employment, housing and access to public places still affects the daily lives of members of ethnic minority groups, including Roma, North Africans, people from sub-Saharan Africa and South Americans. Racial and xenophobic violence still needs to be adequately recognised and countered.
These new reports form part of a third monitoring cycle of Council of Europe member states’ laws, policies and practices aimed at combating racism. ECRI’s country-specific reports are available in English, French and the national language of the country concerned at http://www.coe.int/ecri. They cover all member states on an equal footing, from the perspective of protecting human rights. They examine whether ECRI’s main recommendations from previous reports have been followed and, if so, to what degree of success and effectiveness.
© Council of Europe
'RACIST MOTIVE' TO FRENCH KIDNAP
20/2/2006- A young Jewish man who died after being kidnapped and tortured may have been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack, French officials say. Seven people are under investigation for kidnapping and "murder linked to the victim's religion". Justice Minister Pascal Clement said one of the suspects had made it clear he attacked had Ilan Halimi "because he was Jewish, and Jews are rich". The 23-year-old died on the way to hospital last week. In a case that has shocked France, the phone salesman was discovered naked, bound and gagged, and covered in burns near the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois train station near Paris. State prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin had previously ruled out anti-Semitism, saying that the suspects were unemployed and motivated by money. On Monday, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told an annual meeting of Jewish community leaders that the judge handling the case was investigating leads pointing to an anti-Semitic attack. "We will do everything we can to arrest the authors of this barbarous crime and bring them to justice," he added. Jewish community leader Roger Cukierman urged the government to "provide the whole truth" about the case. Halimi went missing on 21 January after a date with an unknown woman, who approached him at his workplace in central Paris. He is thought to have been held on a housing estate in Bagneux, in the Paris suburbs. The young man's kidnappers sent a 400,000 euro (£273,500; $475,000) ransom demand in e-mails and text messages to his family, which they were unable to raise. The sum later dropped to 5,000 euros, after which the gang broke off contact. The same gang is believed to have attempted six other kidnappings since the end of last year. Fifteen people, aged 17 to 32, were arrested last week in connection with Halimi's death, but five have since been released. An arrest warrant has been issued for Yussef Fofana, said to be the gang leader, and two women believed to have acted as bait for kidnap targets.
© BBC News
HOLOCAUST DENIER IRVING IS JAILED (Austria)
20/2/2006- British historian David Irving has been found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and sentenced to three years in prison. He had pleaded guilty to the charge, based on a speech and interview he gave in Austria in 1989. "I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," he told the court in the Austrian capital. Irving appeared stunned by the sentence, and told reporters: "I'm very shocked and I'm going to appeal." An unidentified onlooker told him: "Stay strong!".Irving's lawyer said he considered the verdict "a little too stringent". "I would say it's a bit of a message trial," said Elmar Kresbach. But Karen Pollock, chief executive of the UK's Holocaust Educational Trust disagreed. "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism dressed up as intellectual debate. It should be regarded as such and treated as such," Ms Pollock told the BBC News website. Fears that the court case would provoke right-wing demonstrations and counter-protests did not materialise, the BBC's Ben Brown at the court in Vienna said. Irving arrived in the court room handcuffed, wearing a blue suit, and carrying a copy of Hitler's War, one of many books he has written on the Nazis, and which challenges the extent of the Holocaust. Irving was arrested in Austria in November, on a warrant dating back to 1989, when he gave a speech and interview denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. He was stopped by police on a motorway in southern Austria, where he was visiting to give a lecture to a far-right student fraternity. He has been held in custody since then.
During the one-day trial, he was questioned by the prosecutor and chief judge, and answered questions in fluent German. He admitted that in 1989 he had denied that Nazi Germany had killed millions of Jews. He said this is what he believed, until he later saw the personal files of Adolf Eichmann, the chief organiser of the Holocaust. "I said that then based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," Irving told the court. "The Nazis did murder millions of Jews." In the past, he had claimed that Adolf Hitler knew little, if anything, about the Holocaust, and that the gas chambers were a hoax. In 2000, a British court threw out a libel action he had brought, and declared him "an active Holocaust denier... anti-Semitic and racist". On Monday, before the trial began, he told reporters: "I'm not a Holocaust denier. Obviously, I've changed my views. "History is a constantly growing tree - the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989." Asked how many Jews were killed by Nazis, he replied: "I don't know the figures. I'm not an expert on the Holocaust." Of his guilty plea, he told reporters: "I have no choice." He said it was "ridiculous" that he was being tried for expressing an opinion. "Of course it's a question of freedom of speech... I think within 12 months this law will have vanished from the Austrian statute book," he said.
© BBC News