The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder
(202) 370-3323,

As International Hate Crimes Escalate, Human Rights First Urges Senate to Strengthen US Laws

Passage of Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act Provides Crucial Protections, Offers United States the Opportunity to Lead by Example


Human Rights First (HRF) is urging the U.S. Senate to pass
legislation that would strengthen protections against hate crimes
throughout the nation and abroad. According to a letter sent to
Senators today, passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention
Act (S. 909) would fortify existing laws by permitting federal
authorities to assist local and state governments in hate crimes
investigations, a step that enables the United States to demonstrate
its commitment to fighting hate crimes at home and lead by example

"Hate crimes are on the rise in the United States and around the
world," said Paul LeGendre, Director of HRF's Fighting Discrimination
Program. "In addition to giving U.S. authorities the tools they need to
combat bias-motivated violence and protect Americans from a pernicious
form of discrimination, this legislation will allow the United States
to lead by example and help other nations combat these harmful acts of

In 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigations documented 7,624 U.S.
hate crimes directed against institutions and individuals because of
their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or
disability. According to HRF's 2008 Hate Crimes Survey,
similar crimes are on the rise across Europe and the former Soviet
Union, a region where the majority of governments are failing to
adequately address the problem. Though the United States has led
efforts to confront this scourge through its foreign policy and
engagement in multilateral institutions such as the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe, HRF today told the Senate that
passage of S. 909 would carry significant weight to encourage foreign
leaders to toughen their own hate crimes response.

"Behind the statistics are individuals, families, and communities
deeply impacted by these violent crimes. By undermining the shared
value of equality and nondiscrimination, violent hate crimes also
threaten the very fabric of the increasingly diverse society in which
we live," HRF Chief Executive Officer Elisa Massimino wrote in the
organization's letter to the Senate.
"Enactment of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would
demonstrate enhanced global leadership by the United States on this
issue, enabling the United States more effectively to encourage other
governments to strengthen their responses to hate crimes."

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act has been endorsed by 26 state
Attorneys General, a number of the nation's most important law
enforcement organizations, more than 275 national civil rights,
professional, civic, education, and religious groups. The Senate
expects to take up this measure within the coming weeks. A similar bill
won widespread support in the 110th Congress, including 60 Senate
votes. Last month, by a vote of 249-175, the U.S. House of
Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate
Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913), its own version of S. 909. The Obama
Administration has indicated that it supports the bill and plans to
sign it into law.

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.