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Ref. DC 041(2018)

Stronger, more independent equality bodies needed to combat intolerance and discrimination in Europe, says Council of Europe anti-racism commission

Strasbourg, 21.03.2018
– To better protect and support people exposed to discrimination, states should put in place strong equality bodies established by constitutional or parliamentary legislation, set up as separate legal entities with a wide mandate, enjoying political, financial and operational independence, and provided with adequate resources, says the Council of Europe’s anti-racism commission in a new set of recommendations to the European governments launched today, on the International Day against Racial Discrimination.

According to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), all the Council of Europe member States, except San Marino, have at least one institution that can be considered as an equality body, however, a number of them are not independent. Out of 35 European countries monitored in the latest round, eleven (*) were recommended to reinforce the independence of their equality bodies.

“Being able to work without interference from the government or political parties, and to support victims of discrimination at all stages – from receiving complaints to bringing cases to the courts and representing the victims there – are the prerequisites for an effective equality body,” said newly appointed ECRI’s Chair Jean-Paul Lehners. “I hope all the Council of Europe states will take these recommendations on board in shaping their legislation and practices.”

The new General Policy Recommendation defines two key functions for the equality bodies:

·         to promote equality and prevent discrimination, in particular by conducting inquiries, pursuing research, raising awareness, supporting good practice, making recommendations and contributing to legislation and policy formation;

·         to support those exposed to discrimination and pursue litigation on their behalf.

Equality bodies can have an additional function of deciding on complaints of discrimination by taking legally binding decisions to impose sanctions, or by making non-binding recommendations. Parliaments and governments should contribute to the implementation of their recommendations.

Jean-Paul Lehners underlined: “People exposed to discrimination and intolerance often have neither the capacity nor the resources to enforce their rights. These persons often need, as a first step, personal and emotional support; and, at the next level, legal advice and assistance. Equality bodies, therefore, have an important role in helping them to restore their rights. A vital aspect here is to ensure that these bodies are accessible to people not only in capitals, but also in the regions, where they can be exposed to even stronger prejudice, discrimination and intolerance.”

Equality bodies should be entitled to make statements independently and to decide themselves on their internal structure, management of their budget, recruitment and deployment of staff, and their activity programme. They should be provided with sufficient staff and funds, and there should be safeguards in place to protect the independence of the persons leading the body, ECRI says.

Interview by the ECRI Chair Jean-Paul Lehners on intolerance in today’s Europe and the role of equality bodies

Declaration of the heads of the European human rights bodies (FRA/ODIHR/ECRI) on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

ECRI is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as “race”, national/ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language (racial discrimination); it prepares reports and issues recommendations to member States.

Contact: Tatiana Baeva, Spokesperson/Press Officer Tel +33 388 41 21 41


(*) Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Slovakia, Switzerland, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Turkey and Spain