The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Holly Shulman


Human Rights First Praises Final Passage of Hate Crimes Prevention Legislation

Says victory is an opportunity to renew U.S. influence abroad


House passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act,
legislation that was included in the Department of Defense
authorization bill, Human Rights First noted the victory sets the stage
for renewed U.S. influence to combat hate crimes abroad. The bill is
expected to gain Senate approval next week.

"Today's victory is an important step forward in
strengthening the U.S. government's response to these vicious and
violent acts," stated Tad Stahnke, Human Rights First's Director of
Policy and Programs. "This measure fills critical gaps in the response
to this problem at home, while also sending an important message to
foreign governments who struggle with similar problems in their
countries. It demonstrates that U.S. lawmakers are committed to
tackling these problems at home and will enable the U.S. to more
effectively encourage other governments to strengthen their responses
to hate crimes."

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act strengthens existing laws by
giving the Department of Justice (DOJ) the power in certain cases to
investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the DOJ
with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the perpetrator has
selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race,
color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender
identity or disability. It also makes grants available to state and
local communities to train law enforcement officers or assist in state
and local investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes. The
measure 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. President Obama has also indicated his support for
these much-needed reforms.

Human Rights First noted that, 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 violent hate 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. 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. While an increasing number of
European states are adopting hate crime legislation, there are few
signs that it is consistently applied and only 13 of the 56 states
reviewed by Human Rights First have legislation that extends to bias
based on sexual orientation. The adoption and enforcement of the
Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and implementation of a
series of other key reforms would carry significant weight as the
United States seeks to encourage foreign leaders to toughen their own
hate crimes response.

We call on the government of the United States to
demonstrate continued international leadership in multilateral
organizations, advocate measures to combat hate crime in bilateral
relationships, and expand efforts to support civil society
organizations, by taking the following steps:

  • Raising
    violent hate crime issues with representatives of foreign governments
    and encouraging, where appropriate, legal and other policy responses,
    including those contained in Human Rights First's ten-point plan for governments to combat violent hate crime.
  • Offer
    appropriate technical assistance and other forms of cooperation,
    including training of police and prosecutors in investigating,
    recording, reporting and prosecuting violent hate crimes as well as
    translation of Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of
    Investigation (FBI) materials on hate crimes.
  • Ensuring
    that groups working to combat all forms of violent hate crime have
    access to support under existing U.S. funding programs, including the
    Human Rights and Democracy Fund and programs for human rights
  • Take
    the lead in the adoption of Ministerial Council of the Organization for
    Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) decision in December 2009
    that reaffirms the commitment of member states to combat all hate
    crimes, including those motivated by sexual orientation and gender
    identity bias.
  • Provide
    for extrabudgetary contributions, secondment of personnel, and other
    in-kind support for OSCE programs to combat violent hate crimes through
    reporting on states' responses as well as programs to train law
    enforcement officials and civil society organizations.
  • Maintain
    strong and inclusive State Department monitoring and public reporting
    on racist, antisemitic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Roma
    and other bias-motivated violence-including by consulting with civil
    society groups as well as providing appropriate training for human
    rights officers and other relevant mission staff abroad.

For more information about Human Rights First's work to combat hate crimes in the U.S. and abroad, visit

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.