Hate speech against women should be specifically tackled

Advertising campaign by UN Women. Photo © Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

In May 2013, a campaign led notably by Women, Action and the Media and the Everyday Sexism Project attracted global public attention to the issue of social media content promoting violence against women.  Such content included the photograph of a well-known singer with a bloodied and beaten face with a caption celebrating her boyfriend’s assault. The campaign prompted Facebook to react and update its policies on hate speech, which now take better account of an often neglected type of hate speech, that targeting women.

Such hate speech is proliferating, notably on the Internet, with daily calls for violence against women and threats of murder, sexual assault or rape.

Arguably, the most famous case is that of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who, after surviving an assassination attempt prompted by her stance for women’s rights, had to withstand a hostile campaign on the Internet.  Malala is now a symbol of women’s struggle worldwide, including in Europe. Recent cases, in fact, remind us that if we believe that hate speech against women is not a European problem, we are profoundly wrong. Continue reading

Police abuse – a serious threat to the rule of law

 Far too often, police officers in many European countries resort to excessive use of force against protesters, mistreat persons in detention, target minorities and otherwise engage in misconduct. This undermines public trust in the state, social cohesion, and effective law enforcement, which rests on cooperation between police and local communities.

It is difficult to ascertain whether police misconduct has become more common in some countries or whether the problem has become more visible and recognised. Clearly, demonstrations have become more commonplace in Europe, generating new challenges for law enforcement. Moreover, European societies have become more diverse and police forces have sometimes been slow to adapt. In other cases, political elites share much of the blame, as they have given the green light for bad policing through direct orders or rhetoric stigmatising certain groups. Continue reading

Europe still haunted by antisemitism

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe - Berlin

More than 70 years after the Holocaust, antisemitism is growing in Europe. While official statistics are missing in many countries, research shows that deeply ingrained hostility continues to threaten Jewish people’s security and human dignity across Europe.

Today’s antisemitism finds its way into “traditional” as well as modern venues. Just over a year ago, a call in the Hungarian parliament for making lists of Jews who “posed a threat to national security” brought back haunting memories of Nazi policies. In December the Romanian authorities fined a public television channel in Romania after it aired a Christmas carol with antisemitic lyrics.  However, more “contemporary” manifestations of antisemitism also abound. Last July, Twitter provided the prosecutors in Paris with data that may enable the identification of users who posted antisemitic messages on line. The French authorities also recently took a strong stand against incitement to hatred targeting Jewish people by a former comedian turned militant. A growing problem in many European countries is the use of antisemitic chants or salutes at football games. Continue reading

Sex-selective abortions are discriminatory and should be banned

Ultrasound equipment and sex-selective abortions

Selective abortions of female foetuses are well known from China and India, but they are common in some parts of Europe, too. This deeply discriminatory practice springs from the disadvantaged status of women in society. It must be vigorously countered and banned in law.

In Council of Europe member states,  skewed sex ratios at birth have been documented in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but also in some countries in the Balkans, most commonly in Albania and to a lesser extent Montenegro, Kosovo*, and parts of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. They can also be found in certain immigrant communities in Western Europe. It is widely believed that this imbalance is due to selective abortions of female foetuses. Continue reading

Syrian refugees: a neglected human rights crisis in Europe

Strasbourg, 20/12/2013 – One of the world’s biggest refugee crises of recent times is unfolding on Europe’s doorstep, but most European governments have reacted with complete indifference. Close to 4 million people are internally displaced in Syria and almost 3 million have left the country since the beginning of the conflict.  The vast majority of the refugees benefit from the hospitality of Syria’s neighouring countries, including Turkey, which have taken the brunt of this humanitarian crisis.  As for the rest of Europe, the response has so far been limited to providing humanitarian assistance to some of these countries. However, when it comes to actually receiving refugees, Europe has been much less generous and often negligent in abiding by its human right obligations.

I could personally witness the extent of this crisis and the multiple challenges it represents for Europe during this last week, which I’ve spent visiting Syrian refugee camps and centres in Turkey, Bulgaria and Germany. More than half of the refugees fleeing Syria are children, the majority of them younger than 12. Several thousand of them are unaccompanied or separated, while many are not registered and remain at risk of statelessness. It is estimated that at least half of the more than 1 million refugee children of school age in the neighbouring countries do not currently enjoy their right to education. Although many are eager to study, the lack of resources prevents them from starting or going back to school. Continue reading

Time for accountability in CIA torture cases

Photo: Council of Europe

Strasbourg, 11/9/2013 – Twelve years ago, almost three thousand people were killed by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Commemorative events provide an occasion to pay respects to the innocent victims, but also to reflect on the anti-terrorist response adopted by the USA and Europe. By allowing unlawful detentions and interrogation techniques amounting to torture, this response caused further suffering and violated human rights law. Continue reading

Child labour in Europe: a persisting challenge

© 2013 Volunteer Weekly

Many observers thought that child labour was a thing of the past in Europe. However, there are strong indications that child labour remains a serious problem and that it might be growing in the wake of the economic crisis. Governments need to monitor this situation and to use the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Social Charter as guidance for preventive and remedial action.

Vulnerable people are always disproportionately affected in times of economic down-turn. The link between declining economic growth and increasing child labour is therefore no surprise. With the recession many European countries have drastically cut social aid. As unemployment soars, many families have found no other solution than sending their children to work. Continue reading

Justice and reconciliation long overdue in the Balkans

Photo: Council of Europe

More than 20 years after the first war in connection with the dissolution of Yugoslavia the legacy of the violence still lingers across the region. 12 200 persons are still missing,  423 000 refugees and displaced persons still cannot return to their homes,  about 20 000  persons remain stateless or at risk of statelessness and at least 20 000 women subjected to wartime sexual violence still need stronger support.

All this, combined with impunity for wartime crimes, hampers reconciliation and endangers the full enjoyment of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Continue reading