NEWS - Archive March 2011

Headlines 25 March, 2011

FIRST COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO EUROPEAN NON-DISCRIMINATION LAW LAUNCHED

21/3/2011- The first comprehensive guide to European non-discrimination law was launched by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg today, 21 March, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Handbook on European Non-Discrimination Law, published jointly by the Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Court of Human Rights, is the first comprehensive guide to European non-discrimination law. It is based on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. It covers: the context and background to European non-discrimination law (including the UN human rights treaties), discrimination categories and defences, the scope of the law (including who is protected) and the grounds protected, such as sex, disability, age, race and nationality.

The handbook is aimed at legal practitioners at national and European level, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, and others involved in giving legal advice, such as national human rights institutions, equality bodies and legal advice centres, to whom it will be distributed.

It can also be consulted on-line or downloaded and there is an accompanying CD-Rom dealing with the relevant legislation, specialist literature, case studies and case-law summaries.

It is already available in English, French and German. Versions in Bulgarian, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Greek and Polish will follow shortly and the material will eventually be available in almost all EU languages as well as Croatian.
The Fundamental Rights Agency

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RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL REPROACHES CERTAIN ISLAMIC LEADERS OF DISCREDITING STATE

24/3/2011- Russian Presidential Administration Advisor in charge of liaisons with Islamic organizations Alexey Grishin denied accusations in Islamophobia addressed to the state. "Progressive development in relations between the state and Muslim religious organizations irritates extremists of different kind. They try to discredit position of the state to Muslims," Grishin said speaking at the Muslim conference Russia - Our Shared Home on Thursday in Moscow. According to him, "very often, especially recently certain Muslim leaders have been trying to justify their inactivity, inability to solve ummah's acute problems with alleged Islamophobia." Accepting that Russian society indeed has fear of Islam, the speaker pointed out that "on TV screens we see that bloody terrorist attacks are committed unfortunately with God's name and unfortunately under green flags of Islam." "These unpeople are not Muslims, they criminally use Islam to reach their own goals. Struggling against Islamophobia, we should focus the main blow on them. People are afraid of Islam because of them," the official stressed. He reported that there were less than hundred mosques in the country in 1991, now their number exceeds seven thousand. "No other country can demonstrate seventy-fold increase in number of mosques in 20 years! There weren't any Islamic educational establishments in Russia in 1991, now we have 95, and there are seven Islamic higher educational establishments supported by a special state program of the Education and Science Ministry, they receive methodic and material help, 31 madrasah participate in the program," Grishin said.
Interfax-Religion

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HARROWING SIGHTS IN THE BALTICS (opinion)

Within the last two weeks, both Lithuania and Latvia hosted well-attended marches likely to send shivers down Holocaust survivors’ spines and arouse tragic memories.
By Efraim Zuroff, Israel director and coordinator of Nazi war crimes research worldwide of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

23/3/2011- These are hard times for the Jews of Lithuania and Latvia, especially for the Holocaust survivors among them. Within the last two weeks, one of the main avenues of the capital cities of each country hosted a well-attended march likely to send shivers down their spines and arouse tragic memories. On March 11, about one thousand Lithuanian ultranationalists and neo- Nazis, bolstered by a delegation of their German counterparts, marched down Gediminas Avenue in the heart of Vilnius under police protection (the only persons arrested were two of the handful of brave Lithuanian protestors) shouting “Lithuania for Lithuanians” and waving swastika symbols, which in May 2010 were approved by a local court as “symbols of Lithuanian heritage.” Five days later, about 2,500 Latvians gathered to support a march in Riga by veterans of the Latvian SS Legion from a local church to lay wreaths at the Freedom Monument, the symbol of Latvian independence. And while the marches are ostensibly different – the one in Lithuania focusing on the present and the one in Latvia dedicated to remembering the past - they both broadcast a chilling message of hostility for minorities and support for the same fascist nationalism which spawned the zealous collaboration of so many of their countrymen with Nazi Germany in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

This was not the first time these marches have taken place. The one in Lithuania was held for the fourth year in a row and the number of its participants has steadily grown. The Latvian march has been going on for longer, but in this case as well, it appears that this year’s crowd was larger than in the past. Every year, efforts are made in both countries to legally prohibit the events, but ultimately local courts opt for freedom of expression. After all, similar marches are held in Germany (without Nazi or SS symbols which are banned by law) and in the United States and other countries. Thus while Holocaust denial is a criminal offense in Lithuania punishable by incarceration, local officials and judges fail to see the connection between swastika- bearing demonstrators marching in the capital of a member-state in good standing of the European Union and NATO and the crimes committed under that very symbol. In Latvia, the situation is slightly more complicated, but ultimately it is the same ultranationalism and xenophobia, coupled with a healthy dose of anti-Semitism, which feuls the determination of Latvians to glorify those who fought alongside Nazi Germany for a victory of the Third Reich. Advocates of the march continue to insist that those who served in the Latvian SS Legion had no allegiance to Germany and were “freedom fighters,” battling for an independent Latvia, but the sad reality is that the Nazis had no such intentions, regardless of the number of locals serving in the Waffen-SS.

Even worse, these nationalists fail to acknowledge the important fact that many of Latvia’s worst murderers of Jews volunteered to serve in the Legion and were among its officers. Thus the attempts to turn these Legion veterans into Latvian heroes is not only a distortion of history, but is also a heartless affront to the Jewish community in general, and the survivors among them in particular. If these marches had been organized by marginal political elements and had been roundly criticized by local government leaders, it might have been possible to dismiss them as upsetting although not critical, but unfortunately, that is not the case. In Lithuania, the political leadership failed to speak out in real time and only did so half-heartedly in response to criticism, mostly from Jewish groups abroad. Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius criticized the march only because it discredited “patriotism,” while it took President Dalia Grybauskaite five days to say that “patriotic parades are welcome, but marches inciting ethnic hatred shouldn’t take place.” Given the fact that among the leaders of the march in Vilnius were Kazimieras Uoka, a member of parliament from the prime minister’s party and Ricardas Cekutis, a high official of the government-sponsored Genocide Research Center, much more unequivocal criticism was sorely lacking.

In Latvia, Foreign Minister Girts Kristovskis has nothing bad to say about the march by SS veterans, but used the occasion to lump together Communist and Nazi crimes,as part of the ongoing campaign by the Baltic countries to relativize Holocaust crimes and help hide their own extensive complicity in the atrocities of the Shoa. In this dismal landscape, a letter of protest signed by 600 Lithuanian intellectuals calling upon the leaders of their country to “condemn and distance themselves from the march of the extreme right and neo-Nazis,” shines out like a beacon of hope, but without external support and pressure, the chances for its success are very minimal. And in that context, the silence from Brussels, Washington, and Jerusalem is incomprehensible.
The Jerusalem Post

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USA SET TO SHUT NEO-NAZI WEBSITE (Austria)

23/3/2011- An infamous neo-Nazi homepage may go offline soon, it has emerged. Viennese newspapers report today (Weds) that Austrian prosecutors came to an agreement with authorities in the United States over shutting down the "Alpe-Donau" website. Austrian Green Party officials have pointed out for months that Austrian neo-Nazis are frequently leaving fascist and racist statements on the internet platform. State prosecutors in Vienna recently started investigations only to find out that they are unable to interfere as the website is run by a server based in the USA. Now reports have it that Austrian investigators convinced colleagues in the United States that the homepage must be taken off the web although activities on it did not breach any federal laws. A notification posted on "Alpe-Donau" earlier this week informs visitors that the page will "log off shortly – but we will be back."

The internet portal has been in the news as many of its users openly backed the Freedom Party (FPÖ). The party headed by Heinz-Christian Strache is currently the third-strongest faction in the federal parliament in Vienna. It garnered 17.5 per cent in the most recent general election in 2008 and claimed nearly 26 per cent in the Vienna city parliament ballot last October. Several "Alpe-Donau" users agreed in discussion forums that they were happy about current developments within the FPÖ as far as the right-wing party’s ideology and policies were concerned. Strache has emphasised that he and his party are totally disassociating themselves from the website and any fascist and racist propaganda.

The FPÖ used to be Austria’s liberal political force but took on a right-wing ideology when Jörg Haider – who died in 2008 – took over in 1986. Some political analysts have pointed out that the party is more and more focusing on campaigning against Muslims after having criticised Jewish and black people in the past. Only last month, a lecturer was ordered to pay a fine of 480 Euros for calling Islam "hostile" and the Koran "evil" in a seminar organised by the FPÖ’s academy which was held in a hotel in Vienna in 2009. FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky infuriated political rivals, Muslims and non-government organisations (NGO) last year by calling mosques "hotbeds of radical Islam."
The Austrian Independent

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EU IGNORES MALTA ON SPECIAL STATUS FOR REFUGEES

31/3/2011- Malta has asked to activate a "temporary protection" mechanism allowing refugees from Libya to be granted fast-track asylum procedures anywhere in the EU. But neither the European Commission nor other member states are willing to proceed for now. "The Maltese government has requested yesterday [30 March] the activation of the temporary protection mechanism. It is now up to the EU commission to come up with a response," Maltese centre-right MEP Simon Bussutil told this website on Thursday, on the fringes of a debate on migration organised in Brussels by the European Policy Centre. In his view, the commission is waiting to see what the mood is among member states before triggering the mechanism, established in 2001 and never used so far. "I don't think it's the right attitude, the commission should come forward with a proposal and throw it at the Council [of ministers]," Bussutil said.

Malta, home to little more than 400,000 native inhabitants, earlier this week received 819 refugees from Libya, mainly Somali and Eritreans, who are the most vulnerable group of people stuck in the Libya conflict. Other boats carrying over 2,000 sub-Saharan Africans from Libya recently arrived on Malta's neighbouring island of Lampedusa - an Italian piece of land closer to the Tunisian coast than Sicily and already overcrowded by Tunisian migrants. Faced with these developments, Maltese officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario. "The migration problem we have ahead of us is completely different to what Malta has experienced so far. A civil war is ongoing in Libya, which will surely prompt more people to flee from the war-torn country," justice and home affairs minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici was quoted as saying by Malta's Independent newspaper. "Just under 3,000 migrants have landed either in Malta or in Lampedusa over the past few days, and there is a strong possibility that more could be on their way," the minister added.

Italy has so far been at the forefront of "solidarity" calls, urging the EU to step up its financial aid and other member states to shoulder the burden of southern immigration. But when asked if Italy would back the call for the temporary protection to be enacted, Italian ambassador to the EU, Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, said: "So far, the situation is being examined in Rome and we don't think the conditions are met to trigger the temporary protection mechanism." Among the conditions, Feroci cited "armed conflict", "massive flows of refugees" and "systematic violation of human rights." While admitting that the war in Libya and the Nato-led operations Italy is part of was prompted by Gaddafi's attacks on civilians, the ambassador argued that the influx of refugees was not yet "massive." The analysis comes despite statements by Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni - a politician from the anti-immigration Lega Nord party - who warned of a "biblical exodus" from north African states following the uprisings.

Italy's split attitude - claiming an exodus on one hand, but then saying there is no mass influx - could be linked to the fact that the temporary protection mechanism may trigger bigger costs to the host nations, as the special status can be extended for up to two years. The EU commission - confirming Bussutil's analysis - has meanwhile said it is "assessing" the situation and will discuss the option of temporary protection at an upcoming meeting of interior ministers on 11 April. Member states in the northern part of the continent, such as Britain or the Netherlands, see the situation as "not sufficient" to trigger the temporary protection measures, initially designed for Kosovo refugees, when there were hundreds of thousands of people concerned. "The current situation in Malta and elsewhere involves a much smaller number of people, and it's not clear that they all require protection within the EU," one EU diplomat told this website.

The latest figures provided by Aid organisations such as the UNHCR confirm that the 'exodus' from Libya is mainly affecting neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, not the EU as such. Out of the 423,000 refugees fleeing the war, 200,000 fled to Tunisia, 160,000 to Egypt and only some 23,000 went to Europe, said John Fredrikson from the UNHCR Brussels office. EU support for an evacuation program co-ordinated by the International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR repatriating most of these refugees from Asian and some African countries is essential in helping Tunisia - a country with a population equivalent to that of Belgium (10 million people) cope with these massive refugee camps. "Tunisia needs Europe's help, especially given the fact that they so generously kept their borders open," Fredrikson said. Among the people fleeing the war-torn country are also Libyan nationals - some 60,000 - but they don't stay in refugee camps, as they "have the resources to rent apartments," the UNHCR representative added.
The EUobserver

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MALTESE MEDIA ACCUSED OF PROMOTING RACISM

23/3/2011- The media in Malta have been accused of “promoting racism” and acting as a main “contributor to the fear of Malta being invaded and conquered by Africans”. Racial discrimination remains widespread in Malta, particularly when it comes to employment and housing, according to a report published in Brussels yesterday to mark International Day Against Racism. The European Network Against Racism suggests that over the past years the media in Malta encouraged racial discrimination through its focus on irregular migration problems. The co-authors of the part dealing with Malta – Jeannine Vassallo and Jean Pierre Gauci from an NGO called The People for Change Foundation – say an in-depth content analysis shows indirect racism was common in Maltese media. They say “illegal immigrants” and “illegal immigration” were the words of choice when describing matters relating to migration. Journalists made little distinction between the terms “illegal immigrants”, “irregular migration”, “asylum seekers” and “refugees” despite the different legal definitions. “Additionally, derogatory terms such as ‘clandestine’, ‘parasites’ and ‘scroungers’ were also used at times.” The report adds: “Most features in the media depict migrants in a negative light, with most representing migrants as troublemakers or criminals as opposed to hard workers, family members and churchgoers, which would be considered pious in Maltese society.”

ENAR also hit out at the internet, particularly online websites and comment forums made available by Maltese online newspapers. According to the report, Jon Hoisaeter, from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, described the language used on such online forums as “rather aggressive towards immigrants” which is “very discouraging”. The report says the online forums are used extensively to discuss migration issues even by far-right groups that aim to get their message across and enable discussion among followers. Apart from the criticism of the Maltese media, the report says discrimination against African minorities in Malta based on race is still widespread, particularly when it comes to employment and housing. The report, which deals with the period January 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010, notes that employment discrimination against Africans and Muslims is pervasive both when seeking a job and in terms of the work conditions offered. Claiming that some migrant workers were even offered jobs for €2 a day in the construction industry, the report notes that “migrants felt obliged to accept these conditions lest failing to do so would mean having no source of income whatsoever”. With regard to housing, ENAR claims many Maltese landlords are reluctant to rent accommodation to foreigners (Africans) for fear of damage to their property due to neglect. “Furthermore, there are certain areas which are highly populated by migrants, largely due to cheap prices and the fact that they are outside traditional city centres,” the report states.
The Times of Malta

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COURT HEARS CLAIM OF FORCED ROMA STERILIZATION (Slovakia)

22/3/2011- Europe's human rights court opened a hearing Tuesday into a Gypsy woman's allegation that she was wrongly and forcibly sterilized at a state-run hospital in her native Slovakia because of her ethnicity. The case at the European Court of Human Rights centers on allegations that a semiofficial policy of forced sterilization of Gypsies — who prefer to be called Roma — in eastern Europe during the Communist era lingered in some areas after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Other similar cases are pending before the European Court, but this is the first to advance to the hearing stage, said Tracey Turner-Tretz, a court spokeswoman. The complaint brought by the woman against Slovakia's government centers on the claim that she was sterilized through tubal ligation after giving birth in 2000 to her second child by Caesarian section. She was identified only as "V.C." and said to be about 30 years old. The woman alleges that in the final stages of labor, she was told by staffers at the Presov hospital in eastern Slovakia if she wanted to have more children, either she or the baby would die, the court said in a statement Tuesday. Scared, in pain and confused about the meaning of sterilization, she signed a consent form for the procedure, the court said. "She also claims that her Roma ethnicity — clearly stated in her medical record — played a decisive role in her sterilization," the statement said, just as the closed-door hearing got under way. "In particular," the statement went on, "she was placed in the so-called 'Gypsy room' and was not allowed to use the same bathrooms and toilets as non-Roma women."

Hospital managers countered that the sterilization was conducted on medical grounds — amid the risk of a uterus rupture — and denied her claim that she was segregated away from non-Roma patients, the statement said. National courts and investigators in Slovakia did not turn up any wrongdoing by hospital personnel. A spokesman for the Slovak justice ministry didn't immediately respond to questions. The woman "continues to suffer" today because of the operation, with feelings of ostracism from the Roma community, the statement said, and her husband has repeatedly left her because of her infertility. The hearing in the seven-judge chamber concluded Tuesday, and a verdict is not expected for several weeks. Either side could appeal the ruling — possibly sending the case up to the court's Grand Chamber. The head of a U.S. human rights watchdog called on Slovakia's government "to finally acknowledge cleraly and unequivocally that Romani women in Slovakia were, at once time, targeted for sterilization." U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, the chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said that "as a matter of justice for the victims and truth about the past due to all the people of Slovakia this practice should be condemned as a grave human rights violation." The Communist governments in Hungary and Czechoslovakia applied a semiofficial policy of forced sterilization to limit the population of Gypsies, whose large families were seen as a burden on the state. The practice ended only in recent years, long after the fall of those regimes.
The Associated Press

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22/3/2011- Data collected by anti-racist civil society groups reveal that Cyprus has seen “an unprecedented rise in racist crime and racist violence particularly against migrants and asylum seekers” as well as the rise of far-right nationalistic groups and parties. A press release issued by the Cyprus branch of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) yesterday to mark International Day against Racial Discrimination, reports point to manifestations of racism across Europe in a broad range of areas, including employment, housing, education, health, policing, access to goods and services, and the media. The pending release of the reports covering the 2009-2010 period is expected to highlight that extremism and racist violence are on the rise in Europe.

On Cyprus, the report will conclude that “the strict migration policies and model followed in Cyprus continue to deny migrants, asylum seekers and refugees effective access to basic social and political rights and in most cases to their human rights in general”. While Cyprus has antidiscrimination legislation in place, this “remains largely unimplemented on the ground”, said the ENAR Cyprus branch, adding that the country was “far from taking the necessary measures to achieve real equality for all people irrespective of nationality, race, colour or ethnic origin”. In a damning indictment of the government’s latest efforts to introduce and implement a migration policy on the island, ENAR said: “Whereas integration may stand prominently on the agenda of the Cypriot migration policies, little is achieved to that effect and migrants continue to live at the margins of the society.”

ENAR President Chibo Onyeji said: “The report demonstrates that racism is far from over in Europe -- we still have a long way to go before reaching effective equality for all.” ENAR is a network of European NGOs working to combat racism in all EU member states and represents more than 700 NGOs spread around the EU. The network’s purported aim is to fight racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, to promote equality of treatment between EU citizens and third country nationals.
The Cyprus Mail

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STATEMENT CALLS FOR COMMUNITIES TO UNITE AGAINST EDL (uk)

Some of Blackburn's most prominent people and organisations has signed a joint statement highlighting community cohesion in the town. The statement has been released in the run-up to the EDL protest in the town on Saturday April 2.

25/3/2011- The statement reads: "Islamophobia is as unacceptable as any other form of racism. It divides and weakens our society by making scapegoats of one section of the community. "Since their inception, wherever the EDL have marched, their supporters have attempted verbal and physical abuse on Asian people, their friends and their property. This has no place in a civilised society and it has no place in Blackburn.

"In difficult economic times, when jobs are being lost, services cut and communities as a whole suffering, racism only serves to undermine the basic solidarity we all need to have with one another. "There is also the cost of this march to the local council tax payer to be considered, both in terms of the massive police operation needed because the EDL have a well-earned reputation for thuggish behaviour, on similar marches in other parts of the country, and, the potential loss of trade for town centre businesses. "The cost to the town will be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds and Blackburn simply cannot afford this expense.

"Our response therefore to the English Defence League presence in our town is to affirm our community values - based on mutual respect, tolerance and unity. "We do not wish to see our town become the venue for the latest display of EDL intimidation and violence, which is the hallmark of all of their public activity."  On Saturday April 2nd at 1:00pm on Sudell Cross Blackburn, people will to come together under the banner of Blackburn and Darwen United Against Racism.

Please come along and join in our Celebration. There is far more that unites us than divides us.

This statement is supported by • The Bishop of Blackburn – Mr Nicholas Blackburn • Sir Bill Taylor • Michael Hindley former MEP Lancashire East; Leader of Hyndburn Council; Lancashire County Councillor • Kate Hollern Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council • Councillor Mohammed Khan • Councillor Tony Humphrys • Councillor Pat McFall • Councillor Dave Harling • Councillor Jim Shorrock • Peter Billington Lancashire TUC • Shaukat Hussain Labour Party Local Government Committee Chairman • Karen Narramore Secretary UNISON East Lancs Branch • Peter Dales UNISON East Lancashire Health Branch Chairman • Simon Jones Secretary Blackburn with Darwen National Union of Teachers • Paul Hogan Assistant Secretary Blackburn with Darwen National Union of Teachers • Liz Beaumont Natiuonal Union of Teachers • Cath Ford Independent local artist • Maurice Ffelan • Tom Howard • Anne Davies Hospital Volunteer • Anjum Anwar Director of Womens Voice • Phil Riley Secretary Blackburn Labour Party • Adil Babar UNISON • Dave Fleming • Tricia Gleave University & College Union Blackburn College Safety Rep • Colin Crabtree University & College Union Union Blackburn College Rep • Craig Hammond University & College Union Blackburn Branch Chairman • Ashley Whalley University & College Union Blackburn Branch Secretary • Alan McShane University & College Union Blackburn College Senior Safety Rep • John Murphy University & College Union Blackburn College Vice-Chairman • Councillor Salim Sidat • Councillor Andy Kay • Councillor Faryad Hussain • Councillor Abdul Samad Patel • Councillor Maureen Bateson • Councillor Eileen Entwistle • Councillor Naushad Surve • Councillor Mike Johnson • Hansa Canon UNISON Black Members Officer • Pat Maudsley Blackburn Labour Party • Frances Bradley Senior UNISON Steward • Dave Bradley UNISON Steward • Ian Gallagher Blackburn & District TUC • Gareth Roscoe BwDBC Local Government Branch Secretary • Dee Shuttleworth Unison Branch Administrator/Steward • Arim Rafique Equality Officer Blackburn College • Marin McAreavey University & College Union Rep • Frank Davis UNITE Senior Union Rep at Crown Paints • Bob Wellham UNITE Senior Union Rep at Crown Paints • Doug Kelly University & College Union Safety Rep at Blackburn College • Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM)
Asian Image

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EQUALITY COMMISSION TO FACE 'MAJOR SURGERY' (uk)

Consultation paper expected to restrict EHRC's activities to core functions and to demand tighter financial management

21/3/2011- The Equality and Human Rights Commission is expected to face a demand for "major surgery" when the Home Office publishes a consultation paper on its future. The commission, chaired by Trevor Phillips, survived October's "bonfire of the quangos" but ministers are expected to say on Tuesday they want its activities to be restricted to its core functions and the management of its finances to be sharply improved. It is expected to be stripped of responsibilities such as promoting social cohesion. The consultation is due to last only three months, with swift action to follow. The EHRC took over from the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission in 2007 to promote and enforce equality and anti-discrimination laws in England, Scotland and Wales.

Phillips told MPs this month that the commission had been considering "radical reform" over the past 12 months. The 630-strong staff has already been cut to 417 and is likely to be cut to between 200 and 250 over the next 18 months. Recent high-profile cases involving the commission, which have included successful legal action against the British National Party and support of legal action against the Christian owners of a Cornish guesthouse who refused to let a gay couple stay in a double room, have fuelled criticism among the Tory right. The commission's £53m budget for this financial year is already earmarked to fall to £45m for 2011/2012. The commission and the government's equalities office are due to share a much deeper cut by 2015.

The commission's helpline, its grant-making function and several of its offices are believed to be under threat. The civil service union PCS, which represents most of its staff, said ballot papers for industrial action were being sent out. Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, said cuts on the scale being contemplated could mean employers and public authorities would no longer be held to account for discriminatory policies. He suggested the cuts could end the commission's legal work such as its support for Sharon Coleman, whose victory at the European court of justice ensured six million carers in Britain are protected against discrimination in employment. However, it is expected that the "strategic legal work" will remain an important part of the commission's future.

The commission said: "We plan to respond quickly to this consultation on our powers and duties so that other organisations are aware of our view of our future. It is too soon to comment until we have seen the proposals in detail. "The commission began its own review of its role and focus around 18 months ago, before the review of non-departmental bodies by the government. We are already talking to our staff and stakeholders about our vision for the commission's future and will continue to do so during this consultation and beyond." The commission saw a string of high-profile resignations from its board last year, including its finance director. Its 2008/09 accounts were qualified by the National Audit Office last July who said it had breached rules on pay rises for permanent staff and managed money badly.
The Guardian

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