The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights expects Lithuania’s presidency over the European Union Council to draw the attention to crimes of hatred against discriminated social groups, which saw further deterioration of their situation amid the economic crisis.
Morten Kjaerum, the head of the agency, expressed hope that the events to be held in Vilnius this year would encourage member-states to start reporting and analyzing crimes of hatred – when victims are chosen because they belong to a certain social group, mainly on the basis of religion, nationality or sexual preferences.
A conference on the topic of the fundamental rights will take place in Vilnius in November. It should bring together 300-400 experts from EU governing and law-enforcement institutions, non-governmental organizations.
In an interview to BNS, Kjaerum of Denmark that research carried out by the institution have revealed homophobia and anti-Semitism as still common phenomena in Europe.
During a survey of more than 90,000 persons, a fourth of homosexuals said they had been attacked at least once over the past five years. The agency intends to publish complete data of the survey in May.
“25 percent report that within the last five years they have been physically assaulted. If you look at the group of transgender people, then it rises to more than a third – 34-35 percent of transgender people say they have been physically assaulted. These are very dramatic figures and underlines the seriousness why we have at EU level seriously address the hate crime,” he told BNS.
Kjaerum emphasized that the scope of such crimes in the majority of countries can only be established by way of surveys, as the police do not list them as separate types of crimes.
“Actually, only four member states have some more detailed registration of hate crime. During the (Lithuanian) presidency, there can be high-level recognition of the need to register hate crime in the member states,” he said.
In Kjaerum’s words, the discriminated social groups have been greatly affected by the economic crisis, which forced countries to take austerity measures: this lead to hostility towards immigrants, and slashed social spending made some members of societies even more vulnerable.
“In some member-states, there seems to be an acceleration – at least what have been reported – of severe attacks on migrants, on Roma. We have seen an increase in support for extremist parties building on negative stereotyping on migrants, Roma”, he said.
“When cuts in social budgets are being made, member-states run the risk of cutting so much that, for example, children no longer get access to the school bus and thereby an access to the education what we have seen in several member-states,” Kjaerum noted.
In his words, the crisis also raised extreme exploitation on the labor market.
Speaking about sexual minority rights, the head of the EU agency said he had observed progress in Lithuania and across Europe, however, added that problems still existed.
“When we look across Europe on the LGBT, issues it seems that things are moving forward. If you go back in Lithuania some years, there was almost impossible to have LGBT pride parade. It is easier today. That said, the problems are still very big. So get my double message here,” he said.
Lithuania is scheduled to take over six-month EU presidency from Ireland on July 1. Over the six months, the country intends to hold about 3,000 meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg, in addition to about 180 presidency events in Lithuania, including at least 16 ministerial-level sessions.
The presiding country is authorized to head task forces where representatives of all member-states discuss EU matters.
Kjaerum noted that revision of a framework decision on racism and xenophobia would be among the issues Lithuania would have to coordinate.