Understanding and making visible the national hate crime ‘story’

Although rooted in an international normative framework, the process and systems mapping of the Facing all the Facts project took place in national contexts that are shaped by histories, culture and politics that (mis)recognise and make hate crime (in)visible in different ways. The national reports aim to illustrate at least part of this contextual complexity by including timelines that present key events that either raised awareness about hate crime in the national consciousness or represented landmarks in developing reporting, recording and data collection frameworks.

While it is impossible to do justice to this complexity across six countries, a few themes emerged. A sad connecting factor across contexts is that it often took a tragedy to reach the headlines in order to spark national debate and action on hate crime law and policy. The murder of a Pakistani man, Shehzad Luqman on his way to work and the later murder of Pavlos Fissas, which exposed the involvement of Golden Dawn in organised violence and led to its trial in 2018-2019, significantly contributed to getting hate crime on the agenda in Greece. Serious violence at successive Pride events and the serial killings of Roma families galvanised national attention in Hungary. In England and Wales, the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence led to legal and policy transformation on hate crime. The recent spate of racist murders are a powerful symbol in Italy as is the murder of Lucrecia Perez by an off-duty member of the Civil Guard in Spain. Several interviewees wondered if Ireland was waiting for a tragedy to galvanise the necessary action to pass hate crime legislation.

The daughter of Lucrecia Perez, Kenia Carvajal Pérez, who was interviewed for this research, powerfully explained that lessons learned from tragedy must ignite focused work on making hate crime visible,

 

…one of the things that we want to show people is that racism still exists and it’s there. And if you can see it, you can fight…I do think that it is very relevant [to monitor hate crime] because this way every kind of people will actually see that xenophobia and racism is a serious issue and once you realise that and are aware of that, you can fight it. You can aspire to become a better country and to get rid of this and to change the circumstances…victims already know that [hate crime] happens but there are a lot of people who don’t know and still say ‘but there is no racism, that doesn’t happen anymore’ but with these kinds of numbers we can show that it’s real, that it’s still happening, but also that there is hope at the end of the tunnel and if we work together to stop this then we can avoid the next victim to come…’[1]

 

Judgments from the European Court of Human Rights as well as critical reports from international bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also had a significant impact on getting hate crime on the agenda, albeit most likely at the level of informed activists and policy makers as opposed to the general public. Also important were the legal and technical developments that needed to take place for recording to happen. For example, as pointed out in one country, until there was legal recognition of the very existence’ of same sex couples, ‘it was difficult to say that a category of people is a target of offences if that very category is not even recognised from a legal point of view’.[2] In another country, one interviewee pointed out that it wasn’t until case law recognised Jewish people as an ethnic group that it became possible or at least a lot easier to record and make visible crimes against them.[3]

In other contexts, stakeholders engaged in a process of making the terminology of hate crime meaningful and applicable in the national context. For example, in Greece, a debate across stakeholders was had in relation to whether the term ‘hate crime’ should be adopted in Greece. It was decided that the term doesn’t convey the correct meaning in Greek whereas the term ‘racist violence’ was acceptable to LGBT+ communities as also encompassing the targeted violence that they experience. Although it had been ongoing for several years, the outcome of this discussion was consolidated in a recent inter-agency agreement facilitated by ODIHR and matched with ODIHR’s definition of hate crime: a criminal offence committed with a bias motivation.

This research has only touched on the influence of national narratives about racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, which include shared seismic events, such as the Holocaust, and other significant national experiences with long-term reverberations, such as colonialism.[4] Also important to consider is the role of polarizing political discourse and the impact of the migrant and refugee crisis, particularly affecting Greece, Italy and Spain. These areas need much deeper exploration and integration within existing EU policy and programmes.

Many aspects of the victim experience are universal, regardless of national ‘stories’, the availability of data or the priority it is given by policy makers and practitioners. However, the (in)visibility of their experiences can change depending on the type of hate crime being considered. For example, the relative invisibility of disability hate crime might be partly due to the fact that violence against people with disabilities has been hidden away in institutions and homes, in the same way that people themselves have been made invisible.

Several interviewees pointed to the reality that most people don’t really know what ‘hate crime’ is. There is much more work to be done to develop national conversations about the nature and impact of hate crime, to develop shared understandings about the key elements of the hate crime concept and how it might describe and address the violence and targeting experienced by diverse groups, and to experiment with generating useful terminology in the national language. The methodology of connection and interaction across all stakeholders offered by the Facing all the Facts project aims to support a more inclusive consideration of multiple points of view at the national level. Its practical focus aims to share stories, experiences and perceptions and to consider the current situation, the problems, the needs and what should be done about it. These are not always easy or clear conversations to be had and they can take time and patience. However, they are absolutely necessary if the pain and impact of hate crime and what should be done about it is understood and acted upon at the national level.

 

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[1] Interviewee 24.

[2] Interviewee 19.

[3] Interviewee 30.

[4] Perry (2015) and Godzisz (2019).