The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

As UN Antiracism Day Is Marked, Racist Violence on the Rise


At the occasion of the United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Human Rights First stresses the role of governments in combating racial discrimination by addressing violence based on racism and xenophobia.

Paul LeGendre, the Director of Human Rights First's Fighting Discrimination Program and coauthor of the group's Hate Crimes Survey, made the following remarks:

"Racist and other violent hate crimes are rising in many parts of Europe and North America, and far too many individuals are vulnerable to such bias-motivated violence. Hate crimes reverberate far beyond the immediate victim, threatening whole communities who identify with the victim because of their race, ethnicity, or other similar factors.

The world is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that can aggravate and intensify the phenomenon of racist violence. Economic anxieties often spark social tensions, leading to scapegoating of immigrants and minority groups. As unemployment soars, public opinion is manipulated into blaming immigrants for ongoing economic problems. Such prejudiced and often outright racist discourse feeds the intolerance at the root of violent hate crimes.

Bias-motivated violence is a problem shared by many countries in Europe and North America. Many states do not have adequate policies to successfully tackle these hateful attacks. The true measure of a healthy and democratically vibrant society is how it responds to such human rights challenges--especially in times of crisis. Top government leaders across the globe must work together to build the necessary political will and translate it into action by condemning attacks, strengthening criminal laws to prosecute them, training police and prosecutors, improving data collection, and reaching out in these efforts to victims, their communities and civil society groups."


Human Rights First has documented the dramatic rise of racist and bias-motivated violence in many parts of Europe and North America and has advocated a ten-point plan to strengthen government responses to hate crimes. Yet, the response of many governments has fallen short. It remains difficult to assess the full scope of the problem because most countries still fail to systematically monitor and collect data on such violence, with only a handful of governments in Europe and North America fulfilling their basic commitments to monitor hate crimes.

The rising incidence of violent hate crimes reflects an overall increase in racist and xenophobic attitudes across Europe and North America, a revival of antisemitism, and a continuation of prejudices against Latinos, Muslims, Roma, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. New attacks are being documented every day:

  • People of African origin, regardless of their citizenship status, are subjected to some of the most persistent and serious attacks, and are among the principal victims of racist and xenophobic violence in Europe and North America.
  • Roma have likewise been under attack in a number of European countries as social marginalization of Roma continues.
  • One monitoring organization reported a ten-fold increase in antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom in December 2008-January 2009, many of the incidents in apparent backlash to Israeli military action in Gaza.
  • Acts of bias-driven violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, Muslim religious leaders and places of worship continue to occur in Europe and North America. The situation has worsened in recent years in the background of terrorist attacks and official government responses to them.
  • In the Russian Federation, racist violence continues to proliferate, with one NGO monitor reporting on nearly one hundred racially motivated murders in 2008. In the background of increased brutality, Russian antidiscrimination activists, lawyers, and monitors of hate crimes are also targeted for violence.
  • In the United States, people of Hispanic origin--both immigrants and American citizens--are facing rising levels of crime driven by prejudice and hatred, marking new trends of rising anti-immigrant violence.
  • Gay pride parades and events in Eastern Europe continue to result in homophobic diatribes from political and other leaders, poor police protection, and acts of harassment and violence against the participants.

Human Rights First's Hate Crime Survey discusses the problem of violent hate crimes, offering realistic solutions to governments in Europe and North America. Some key findings pertaining to racially motivated violence are summarized in the Fact Sheet on Violence Based on Racism and Xenophobia, which draws attention to the rise in such attacks--manifested in the form of personal assaults and incidents of arson-- as well as the inadequate government response.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.