Latest Equinet news and EU developments
The July/August 2015 Newsbook is available here.
Latest Equinet news and EU developments
The July/August 2015 Newsbook is available here.
Press released published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on 24th July 2015
More than 65 associations and NGOs from Germany and Europe have co-signed a joint statement, initiated by our member equality body the German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) and Equinet, calling on the German government to stop blocking the Equal Treatment Directive of the European Union (the so-called Horizontal Directive).
In June 2015, two study visits were organised by Equinet members. The French Defender of Rights visited the Belgian Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland welcome the Maltese National Commission for the Promotion of Equality.
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The Czech Public Defender of Rights recommends to the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament adding a paragraph in the Anti-Discrimination Act in case Discrimination by association which means less favourable treatment of a person for the reason that a person related to him/her may be potentially discriminated.
The Defender has encountered discrimination by association in complaints relating to employment and housing issues. While the Defender believes that governmental authorities should take account of European case-law, it is uncertain that they would actually apply the prohibition of discrimination by association to all discrimination grounds and forms of discrimination.
In addition, knowledge and interpretation of European case-law cannot be reasonably required of those who are primarily subject to the Anti-Discrimination Act (individual natural persons and legal entities). Thus, the Defender’s recommendations pursue principally the objective of stipulating and clarifying rights (of employees, consumers) and duties (of employees, sellers).
The Czech Defender’s activities in the area of equal treatment and protection against discrimination in 2014 were characterized by tackling discrimination cases and providing educational support to duty bearers. The Defender found discrimination in seventeen cases. Ten cases involved direct discrimination, four concerned indirect discrimination. One case concerned both direct and indirect discrimination.
In 2014, the Czech Defender received 332 complaints concerning unequal treatment. The Defender addressed 398 complaints concerning discrimination. The most complaints in 2014 concerned discrimination in work and employment (93 complaints) and in public administration (77 complaints).
She found that discrimination indeed occurred in seventeen cases (some of the complaints were delivered in 2012 and 2013). As regards the traditional discrimination grounds, those most frequently invoked included disability (65), age (62) and race and ethnicity (46). A decrease was seen in discrimination on the grounds of gender (30) and a slight increase occurred in complaints based on religion and worldview (19).
Several cases were submitted by victims of discrimination to courts after they had been supported by the Defender’s legal opinion. Even though the courts are yet to decide, this already is a positive change as in the past, victims of discrimination often did not defend themselves.
However, from the perspective of the society as a whole, the developments are only tentative. People still have little awareness of equal treatment issues and they fear that they could be further harmed if their case was heard in court. Further barriers to enforcing anti-discrimination law traditionally include lack of proof, inaccessibility of good legal advice, the length of proceedings and the amount of the court fee for filling an anti-discrimination action. These issues must be addressed from the point of view of the entire system at the level of the legislature and by the executive branch. It is also important to raise awareness in entities on which the anti-discrimination law imposes duties (employers, providers of services and education).
In Cyprus, the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights issued three reports following examination of discrimination cases in the field of goods and services and employment.
The Report (29/6/2015) was submitted to three companies that provide telephone and internet services, following the examination of eight complaints filed with the Anti-Discrimination Authority that non-Cypriots or non-residents of Cyprus had to pay higher deposits during their access to these services compared to Cypriots. The Ombudsman examined the legal and institutional EU and national framework providing for protection against direct and indirect discrimination on the ground of racial or ethnic origin in the area of access to goods and services and also for the protection from discrimination on the ground of nationality of EU citizens exercising their right of free movement within the EU. It was found that the policy of one of the companies that required an additional deposit from subscribers who are not Cypriot citizens amounts to direct discrimination against EU citizens on the basis of nationality. With regard to the policy applied by the other two companies, requiring higher deposits from subscribers who are non-permanent residents of Cyprus, the Ombudsman found that it amounts to indirect discrimination against EU citizens with regard to their nationality. In particular, although the differentiation of subscribers between permanent and non-permanent residents in order to reduce credit risk was, as per the Report, “objectively justified”, the practice also had to be compatible with the basic principles of necessity and appropriateness that were cited in the Report. The Ombudsman invited the companies to take into account her observations and recommendations to end the discriminatory practices set out in the Report.
Following an individual complaint, the Equality Authority produced a Report (18/6/2015) recommending that the maximum age requirement of 55 years stipulated in the 3-year recruitment contracts of the Civil Aviation Department for private security services purchase, was abolished. The complaint concerned an experienced 59-year-old female candidate, whose application was rejected only by reference to her age, following her success at the relevant interview and test applied. The Equality Authority found that the aforesaid requirement gave rise to age discrimination under the European directive (2000/78/EC) –and corresponding national legal framework- as it has been interpreted by the Luxembourg jurisprudence on age discrimination in access to employment. In particular, special emphasis was laid on the application of the principle of proportionality as demonstrated in the decisions in Wolf and Pérez calling for a careful balance between the anti-discrimination rule and the exceptions applicable to established genuine and determining occupational requirements. — In more detail, the Ombudsman took into account all information set out by the Civil Aviation Department regarding the physical requirements/skills of security officers as well as the allocation of duties between the private security officers and the policemen in the Airport and commented that attention should be made to a generalized, stereotypical link between age and the particular job duties. She concluded that the legitimate aim of a genuine and determining occupational requirement was not convincingly established, neither were the measures forwarded through the age limit appropriate, proportional or necessary. Following this Report, the Civil Aviation Department has informed the Equality Body of its agreement to remove the maximum age requirement in question, so as to end the discriminatory practice found.
A Report was concluded on the above subject (5/6/2015) following an older finding of the Anti-Discrimination Authority, for direct age discrimination occurring as a result of the maximum age requirement (65 years) set out in a scheme for financial aid (Report submitted to the Ministry of Health in November 2011) regarding, in particular, applications for coverage of expenses of patients needing to undergo a robot-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy. The link of age discrimination, in this content, with the right to health and the right for respect of private and family life was made, especially its expression through the right to a sexual life. The latest Report was triggered both by a complaint against an inconsistent application of the aforesaid criticised age limit, as well as by the decision of the Ministry to eventually lift the age requirement in the scheme, in 2015. The Ombudsman acknowledged this positive development but considered it necessary to stress the need to end all discriminatory practices and age requirements in the area of public health services, so as to abandon prejudice and stereotypes against the elderly (ageism) together with the idea of an approach of disdain towards the elderly, that frequently leads to undesirable social exclusion. In line with this, the Ombudsman invited the Ministry to adopt a culture of respect of human rights irrespective of all characteristics not reasonably and objectively related to the state of health during the provision of health services and to make sure that health professionals are not directly or indirectly affected by stereotypical perceptions about age.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights is an independent state-funded institution. Our mandate is to promote and protect human rights and equal treatment in Denmark and abroad. Here are some of their most recent activities.
Political and media debates on Roma migration have become recurrent in several European countries. Since the eastward expansion of the European Union in 2004 and 2007, and the lifting of employment restrictions regarding Romanian and Bulgarian citizens in a number of EU member states in 2014, fears of Roma migration have often triggered uninformed and inflammatory discourse.
Media in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and other countries have often put forward unfounded figures about actual or potential arrivals of Roma. However, I found out that in some places, the number of Roma migrants has remained stable over the years. In France, for example, it is estimated that the number of Roma migrants is around 15-20 000, a stable figure since the beginning of the 2000s. Last year, during a visit to a Roma migrant settlement in Strasbourg, I was informed that the overall number of Roma there has remained at around 400 persons over the last few years. Numbers might have been more variable elsewhere but, in general, there is no research-based evidence indicating that Roma form a larger share of those emigrating than their respective share of the population in their countries of origin. A 2013 study on Roma in Romania found that they were not more inclined to emigrate than non-Roma.
Roma migrants have often been depicted in political discourse and the media as abusing social welfare and refusing any form of integration in the host societies. However, these perceptions are not supported by facts. In a 2013 study, the European Commission found that intra-EU migrants, which include Roma migrants, make a net contribution to their host countries, by paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Moreover, they are in general less likely to request assistance from unemployment services and to receive family and child-related benefits than their native born counterparts. Studies carried out in the UK (2014) and Sweden (2014) provided similar findings. During my 2015 visit to Germany, the German authorities also confirmed that migrants from central and Eastern European countries, including Roma, constituted a net fiscal benefit for the country. Importantly, the diversity of situations among Roma immigrants is often overlooked. Many Roma are working and have integrated well in their new host countries.
Research indicates that the motives for Roma to emigrate do not fundamentally differ from those of non-Roma: they look for employment, better living conditions and a better education for their children. However, Roma are exposed to a much higher degree of extreme poverty, discrimination and exclusion in their countries of origin. Romanian Roma immigrants in Spain and Italy surveyed as part of the Migrom research project reported that their main reason for migrating westward was to find a job to improve their housing conditions back home, including better-quality accommodation but also moving out of segregated settlements. Unfortunately, discrimination and rejection do not stop at the borders of the countries of origin of Roma migrants. In the countries of immigration, many are compelled to live in substandard and segregated conditions and face frequent and violent evictions by the police. The authorities in several countries are increasingly taking or discussing measures to criminalise the presence of Roma in public spaces, by enacting bans on begging or sleeping rough. I have criticised this approach in my recent reports on France and Norway. I also found that Roma children are sometimes denied enrolment in schools and that when they do attend school, frequent evictions seriously disrupt their education. Politicians in several countries have used aggressive and racist rhetoric regarding Roma migrants, turning them into scapegoats for a wide range of problems. The media in these countries have also disseminated stereotypes amounting at times to hate speech. This has in turn led to cases of mob violence against Roma, such as the lynching of a migrant Roma teenager in France in 2014 or violent attacks against Roma camps in Italy.
However, the presence of Roma migrants does not always necessarily turn into a major issue for public debate. This is the case for example in Spain, which hosts a significant number of Roma migrants and where violent forced evictions and hate crimes have rarely been reported.
I have also come across more positive ways of handling the situation of Roma migrants. During my visit of May 2015 to Germany, for example, I was informed of positive local initiatives, such as an integration project for Roma migrant families in Duisburg. German local governments have intervened quickly to find housing solutions for Roma migrants at risk of homelessness, thereby preventing the emergence of shantytowns. In December 2014 I visited a site for Roma migrants in Strasbourg who had previously been living in shanty towns. The aim is to support them in finding adequate accommodation and employment by providing them with temporary accommodation in decent conditions. I also noted with interest the results of a UK study (2011) on school inclusion of migrant Roma children of Czech and Slovak origin who had previously been enrolled in remedial classes in these countries. The study showed that these children, to whom adequate support was provided in the UK, were not performing worse than their fellow students.
Many Roma have emigrated since the 1990s because of the armed conflicts in the Western Balkans, together with their fellow citizens from the region. Roma have continued to leave the region years after the conflicts ended, notably from Kosovo, because of widespread hostility threatening their safety. While many persons originating from Kosovo have in recent years been sent back because the situation was improving, Roma have sometimes been returned from several Western and Northern European countries without consideration of the fact that they would not be able to re-integrate there or that their safety would be at risk.
Several EU countries have included Western Balkan countries on their lists of “safe countries of origin”, and apply fast-track procedures to asylum-seekers originating from these countries, leading in most cases to protection refusals. Collective expulsions of entire groups of Roma migrants, which are prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights, have been reported. However, Roma originating from such countries have at times been granted refugee status in EU member states on grounds of widespread discrimination in their countries of origin. In October 2014 the French authorities removed Kosovo from France’s list of safe countries of origin, on grounds that Kosovo could not offer adequate guarantees of protection against violence to some categories of the population.
Following the liberalisation of the visa regime between EU member states and five countries of the Western Balkans in 2009-2010, the number of citizens from these countries seeking asylum in EU member states has been on the rise. The fact that Roma have frequently been identified as forming the bulk of these asylum-seekers has led to attempts to prevent them from leaving their countries through ethnic profiling practices by law enforcement authorities at the borders and measures limiting their freedom of movement. Such measures include exit denials and passport confiscations. In 2013, I published an Issue Paper on the right to leave a country in which I criticised these measures which led to serious infringements of the human rights of the persons concerned.
No “invasion” of Roma migrants from Bulgaria and Romania has happened since the lifting of the employment restrictions regarding citizens from these countries in other EU member states. It is time that politicians and media stop playing on fears of massive inflows of migrants and stigmatising Roma in this context. They should instead use objective demographic and economic data. Racist rhetoric should be firmly condemned at the highest level and ethical journalism should be promoted. Journalists should also report on positive examples of integration among Roma migrants, so as to provide a more balanced picture of the situation.
More should be done to provide Roma migrants with effective support for durable solutions, based on existing good practices, instead of repressive measures and stigmatisation. Forced evictions with no accommodation alternatives should be stopped. They prevent any form of integration and have particularly negative consequences on children.
Discriminatory practices aimed at preventing Roma from leaving a country should stop as they are in violation of various fundamental rights, including the right to be free from discrimination and the right to seek asylum. It is also essential to continue to consider adequately the merits of all asylum applications on an individual basis.
The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) has recently published a Fact Sheet on how to tackle hate speech against Roma in the media. Read more about it here.
The Assembly of Albania adopted in February 2010 the Law “For the Protection from Discrimination”. This law aims to ensure assistance to victims of discrimination. The Law “For the Protection from Discrimination” provides several opportunities for protection against discrimination, by using different legal and institutional instruments and structures.It envisages protection from discriminatory behaviour from the Commissioner for the Protection from Discrimination and addresses the issues of discrimination in court as the most efficient ways to be followed.
Despite the legal means that victims of discriminatory behaviours uses, it is important that institutions that deal with the case have good knowledge on the legislation in force, to know how to identify the elements that a discriminatory behaviour has in the case being examined, in order to give a decision or legal solution with a high level of professionalism.
Being that, in Albania we are dealing with the implementation of a new law and in the absence of an administrative or judicial practice, the Commissioner for the Protection from Discrimination has considered the international instruments ratified by law and in particular the jurisprudence of international mechanisms that ensure the implementation of such acts.