First came reform, now time for enforcement. New laws and weak equality policies may mean that potential victims are too poorly informed and supported to take even the first step in the long path to justice, as most people experiencing discrimination do not report it to the authorities.
Who said they experienced racial/ethnic or religious discrimination last year?
According to 2012 Eurobarometer data, 4.2% of all people in the EU felt that in the past year they had been discriminated against or harassed based on their ethnic origin (3%) and/or religion/beliefs (1.6%). <2.5% thought they had been potential victims of ethnic and/or religious discrimination in DK, GR, LT, MT, SI, SE, while the levels rose to between 4.5-7% in AT, BE, BG, CY, FR, HU, IT, LU, RO, SK, and UK. Ethnic discrimination was reported as experienced that year by 27% of Europeans identifying as ethnic minorities and 13% of Europeans identifying as religious minorities. 37% of ethnic minority Europeans and 18% of religious minority Europeans also said that they had witnessed or heard of incidents last year.
Is everyone effectively protected from racial/ethnic, religious, and nationality discrimination in all areas of life?
Victims are best protected and supported in traditional countries of immigration (CA & US better than AU & NZ), EU countries with longstanding legislation (strongest in PT, SE, UK) and a few new EU Member States (BG, HU, RO). Nearly all MIPEX countries now have slightly favourable laws prohibiting ethnic, racial and religious discrimination. Following the adoption of EU law in 2000, the creation of national anti-discrimination laws has been the greatest and most consistent improvement to integration policies across Europe in the past 15 years. For example, since 2007, 15 MIPEX countries made major positive reforms (+10 points on average), with only few minor reversals (e.g. FR, UK). The greatest progress had to be made in new countries of immigration and Central Europe (e.g. most recently, AT, HR, CZ, EE, MT, PL, SK). Others had to make minor improvements to comply with EU law. For instance, countries are increasingly adopting comprehensive acts to guarantee equal protection on all grounds and in all areas (earliest examples in CA/NZ/US, recently FI/NO/SE & UK, not yet in AU, ES, NL). IS, JP, CH and TU remain the only countries critically lagging behind these European-led trends, without the momentum for reform.
Notwithstanding these major legal gains, people might not know and use these rights in practice because these laws are rather new and often poorly supported by weak equality bodies and policies. Commitments to equality come (e.g. AU, DK, FR) and go (e.g. HU, NL, SK, ES, UK), depending on the government. Equality policies are often limited to voluntary initiatives, such as Action Plans and Diversity Charters, without any obligations or monitoring. Many equality bodies are relatively new and chronically under-staffed. Since 2007, several faced major funding cuts (e.g. HU, IE, LV, LT, RO, UK) and mergers into larger bodies (FR, IE, NL, SE, UK), which may reduce their capacity to receive and handle discrimination complaints.
- Wide range of actors can be punished for discriminating against someone based on their race, ethnicity or religion
- Victims have little-or-no options to fight discrimination based on multiple grounds in 30 countries or based on their nationality in 16 MIPEX countries (and weak in another 6)
- CA, US, UK provide favourable models for the definitions of discrimination, which have been largely adopted in BE, BG, FI, NZ, PT and SE. National laws and courts continue to improve these definitions (e.g. recently on racial profiling in DE & HU)
- Definitions of discrimination are not full and explicit in JP, IS, and, to some extent, in CY, EE, KR, LV and TU
Fields of application
- Everyone is generally protected against ethnic, racial, religious and nationality discrimination in all areas of life in 16 MIPEX countries across the globe (few gaps still emerge in countries such as AU, AT, DE, NL, NZ)
- At a minimum, 30 countries have taken a 'horizontal' approach to largely outlaw racial/ethnic and religious discrimination in all areas of life (e.g. 'minimum' horizontal approach in AT, HR, CY, CZ, DK, GR, LU, MT, NO, PL, ES)
- Baltics have only done the minimum that the EU requires to fight discrimination
- Victims' protections are also missing or weak in critical areas of life in IS, JP, CH and TU
- Victims are able to benefit from favourable mechanisms to bring forward a case in traditional countries of immigration, FR, NL, SE and leading Central European countries (e.g. BG, HU, RO, recently HR, PL, SK)
- Enforcement mechanisms are rather weak in IS, JP, KR, CH and TU
- Victims seeking justice benefit from sharing the burden of proof (31 MIPEX countries, notably not AU and NZ), protections against victimisation (31 countries) as well as financial aid and interpreters (28)
- Equality NGOs could have stronger legal standing to intervene on behalf of victims (16) lead class actions or actio popularis claims (21, now also GR) and use situation testing and statistics in court (13)
- While many countries allow for positive action, few governments actually take steps to guarantee that their laws, staff and service-providers are not committing discrimination. Both equality bodies and policies are, to some extent, strong in AU, CA, FI, FR, NO, NZ, PT, SE UK and US. Victims can also turn to strong bodies in BG, HU, IE, NL, NZ and RO. Too few equality bodies have the full powers and independence they need to help victims to find justice, for example with quasi-judicial powers or the legal standing to start proceedings on victims' behalf. In the extreme, victims receive limited support from weak equality bodies in CZ, DE, IT, PL, ES, CH, while no such state body even exists in IS, JP, TU
Best Case & Worst Case
This is a composition of national policies found in 2014 in at least one of the 38 countries
All residents, whatever their background, can fight discrimination and benefit from equal opportunities. Anyone in the country can bring forward a case against all forms of discrimination, as well as racial profiling and incitements to hatred. These are illegal in all areas of public life – from employment to education, public space, housing and social protection. A victim is empowered to seek justice because laws are well enforced and used. Independent equality bodies and NGOs help her throughout the proceedings. Courts use wide-ranging sanctions to prevent, discourage and correct discrimination. The state adopts positive duties and actions, which encourages other institutions to open up. They find the best person for the job or contract, while better reflecting the population they serve.
People are free to deny opportunities to someone, purely because of his race, religion and nationality. A victim has to bring forward a case in court, without legal aid, interpreters or the support of an NGO. To prove discrimination, he has to carry the burden of proof throughout. If he is not discouraged by the lengthy procedure, he is by the purely symbolic sanctions. Around him, he sees no government action to promote equality and receives little help from weak government-controlled equality body.
How many racial/ethnic and religious discrimination complaints were made to equality bodies?
The number of discrimination complaints to equality bodies is the only available indicator of how common it is for people to report discrimination in different countries, given that other types of discrimination cases are rarely recorded by police and justice systems. MIPEX provides the best harmonised data on the number of ethnic/racial and religious discrimination complaints received or handled by equality bodies, both promotional and quasi-judicial (see definition for which types of complaints can be directly compared). These numbers are only one rough indicator of the frequency of discrimination reporting until authorities start collecting more and better data on discrimination complaints and cases. In 2013, equality bodies in 25 EU countries (missing AT partially, FI, UK) received or handled over 30,000 complaints of ethnic/racial discrimination (28,020) and religious discrimination (3,286). Large numbers of complaints were recorded in FR, NL and BE. Among Europe's largest countries, a relatively small number of complaints was recorded by promotional bodies in IT, DE, ES and PL. Very small numbers were recorded in EE, LV and MT.
What other factors explain whether potential victims report discrimination cases?
- <1/3 of general public know their rights as discrimination victims in countries with low-scoring laws and access to justice (AT, DE, LU, EE/LV, mostly Central and Southern Europe)
- Low levels of trust in police and justice system in Central and Southern Europe
- Mostly newcomer immigrants in new countries of immigration
- Most not naturalised in AT, IE, CH, Central and Southern Europe
How many complaints were made last year for every person who said they experienced racial/ethnic and religious discrimination?
Few complaints are made compared to the large number of people reportedly experiencing incidents of racial/ethnic or religious discrimination. Complaints seem to be more common in the countries with stronger, longstanding and well-resourced anti-discrimination laws and bodies; 1 complaint is received for approximately every 150-250 people experiencing ethnic or religious discrimination in FR, NL, IE and SE. Similar levels of complaints are estimated in BE (391) and CY (515). Hardly any complaints seem to be made across Europe, especially Central Europe, even in the countries with new, strong but poorly supported anti-discrimination laws and bodies: around 1 in 3,000 in HU, IT, LT, SI; 1 in 5,000-6,000 in BG, CZ, DE, EE, GR, PL and hardly any in BG and RO.
Better data for more countries will confirm whether potential victims are more likely to report discrimination in the countries with stronger anti-discrimination laws, equality policies and bodies. What is clear is that most countries have not even taken the first steps to properly enforce and resource their anti-discrimination laws in order to guarantee the same access to justice for potential discrimination victims as they do for victims of other crimes and illegal acts.
What do we learn from robust studies?
Countries' anti-discrimination laws and equality bodies are systematically monitored by the European Commission for their compliance with EU law (see Chopin and Germaine-Sahl 2013). Using MIPEX, one study finds that people in countries with stronger anti-discrimination laws are more likely to be aware of discrimination in society and know their rights (Ziller 2014). Although people experience discrimination in all types of countries, greater knowledge over time is associated with higher reports of witnessing discrimination and lower levels of people identifying as a discriminated group. The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency observes that the general public's knowledge/culture of reporting might explain the comparatively high level of discrimination reporting by immigrants in FR, BE, SE (EU-MIDIS 2009). Generally, not reporting discrimination is the norm for almost all migrants and ethnic minorities, with few exceptions. Migrants experiencing discrimination are slightly more likely to report it if they have been repeatedly experiencing it, long-settled in the country or naturalised as citizens. Their likelihood to report is only marginally related to their age, education, gender, income, job situation, language or neighbourhood.