ECRI's annual report highlights growing religious intolerance, discrimination against vulnerable groups due to COVID crisis

The Council of Europe’s anti-racism commission (ECRI) in its 2020 annual report published today, ahead of the International Day against Racial Discrimination marked on 21 March, identified four key challenges Europe was facing last year. These are: mitigating the disproportional impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups, tackling deep-rooted racism in public life, combating anti-Muslim racism and antisemitism in the face of terrorism, and addressing the backlash against the protection of human rights of LGBTI people.

“Few, if any crises since the Second World War have had such a global impact on Europe as the Covid-19 pandemic which came to overshadow other trends in 2020,” said Maria Daniella Marouda, Chair of ECRI. “From spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories about the origin of the disease and targeting persons of Asian origin at the outbreak of the pandemic, to the subsequent lockdown and economic downturn hitting marginalised groups the hardest – the Covid-19 crisis has brought about overall regression in human rights in Europe.”

“The Covid-19 crisis has exposed and deepened underlying structural inequalities in almost all policy areas, including access to education, employment, housing and healthcare,” she explained.

The year 2020 was equally marked by a wave of world-wide protests against racism. The racial justice movement – Black Lives Matter – unfolded in the United States and resonated in Europe as well. “These events have revealed the extent to which racial profiling and racist police abuse continue to affect vulnerable groups, reinforcing in Europe concerns of what is increasingly referred to as institutional racism,” ECRI Chair suggested. Such racism is covert or overt, and resides in the policies, procedures, operations and cultures of public and private institutions; it erodes trust in society and in the law enforcement. Increasing diversity within the police and adequate training should be at the core of any government action aimed at tackling the problem.

The resurgence of terror attacks by extremists against persons of different religions was another trend in 2020. The brutal murder of a school teacher by an Islamist militant near Paris and the attack in a Roma Catholic Basilica in Nice in France, as well as the terrorist attack in the very centre of Vienna in Austria have caused public outcry and fed growing anxiety across Europe. ECRI is concerned that these horrific murders will spark further intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. Anti-Muslim racism entails the risk of counteracting integration and inclusion efforts and may further radicalise a growing number of young Muslims in Europe, it says.

At the same time, like in previous years, Jewish people in Europe have also continued to experience antisemitic hatred and violence, with particular threats posed by the Neo-Nazis and Islamists, and police response insufficient. Jewish religious places, such as synagogues and cemeteries, remain the main targets of vandalism. The criticism of the Israeli government policies is still used to stir up hatred against all Jewish people. “Jewish communities and institutions must not be made targets for opposition to Israeli government actions”, ECRI underlines.

Source: ECRI