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Friday, 27 August 2010

Thorbjørn Jagland: Selfishness And Hatred Threaten European Values

Nobels Fredspris 2009 - Thorbjørn JaglandImage by aktivioslo via Flickr
In an interview with the leading Italian regional daily newspaper 'Il Gazzettino,' Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has pointed to the emergence of cynicism, discrimination, selfishness, insensitivity and inhumanity in Europe.

The Secretary General said that the ongoing economic crisis is sometimes used as an excuse for trampling human rights, particularly those belonging to 150 million Europeans living below the poverty line.

He noted that child poverty is growing in Europe, but also that many elderly and disabled people face extreme hardships, while groups such as Roma are excluded from society.

Il Gazzettino quotes SG Jagland saying that in these circumstances debates over issues such as the burqa ban and the Swiss referendum on minaret building create an impression that “the other” is the problem. “Ignoring requests from the European Court of Human Rights and deporting asylum seekers to countries like Libya or Tunisia, rich countries act from commonplace selfishness: Norway returns refugees to Greece, while Sweden sends Roma to Kosovo,” says the SG, adding that the ongoing Roma expulsions from France fit the same pattern.

He underlined that a well-developed sense of identity is needed to participate fully in multicultural society, “but growing unemployment and marginalisation mean people lose that identity and start defining themselves in opposition to others, which offers fertile ground for extremists to spread their message of hatred. It is nothing new. It happened in the 1930s. New generations must not forget that lesson in order not to repeat the horrors of the past.”

In his statement, SG called on all member states to ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits all forms of discrimination, adding that if every country ratified the protocol it would be a moment of great symbolism in the year when the Convention – signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 - celebrates its 60th anniversary.



Culture Watch Europe

Jeremy Rifkin, Foto: Stephan RöhlImage via Wikipedia
Best-selling author Jeremy Rifkin, will be a keynote speaker at next month's European conference on cultural policy.

The Council of Europe, in partnership with the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), Culture Action Europe, the Budapest Observatory, International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) and the European Cultural Foundation, is organising the international conference focusing on the theme of "Culture and the policies of change".

The conference will take place from 6 to 7 September 2010 at the EESC’s Headquarters in Brussels, and is being supported by the Communauté française de Belgique, Ministry of Culture, the Slovenian Ministry of Culture and the Allianz Kulturstiftung.

The Conference is one of a series of events being organised in the framework of the Council of Europe’s CultureWatchEurope initiative.

More information

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Interview: Miranda Vuolasranta, Executive Director of the National Finnish Roma Forum

Miranda Vuolasranta
1. Describe your job?

I work for the National Finnish Roma Forum . It represents Roma in questions concerning human, fundamental and social rights, It has an important role in helping non-governmental organisations in their activities, strengthening cooperation and networking. I am also the Finnish representative and the Vice-Chairman of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.

2. How do you assess the level of discrimination in Finland?

There has been cooperation between the authorities and the Roma for 100 years when the first national Roma organisation was established and we’ve learnt how to cooperate smoothly through learning from mistakes.

However, the Roma are facing discrimination in their ordinary life. Almost 100% of the Finnish Roma women wear the traditional dress which distinguishes clearly the Finnish Kale (the Romani people living in Finland and Sweden) from the non-Roma and, therefore, discrimination is easy. They can find it difficult to access public places. Restaurants don’t allow them to enter or they are not served. These situations are very common and only the tip of the iceberg of cases that lead to reports of an offence or an investigation.


3. What specific challenges do Roma face in Finland?

The challenges are the same as elsewhere in Europe - combat anti-Gypsism and raise awareness of the Roma as a historical, traditional minority in Finland. Roma have the right to their own language and culture. By law., Roma language should be taught to Roma children in the schools and the media is obliged to produce information in Roma language but these laws have not clearly been resourced or executed.


4. What kind of challenges arise from the cultural differences between the Roma and non-Roma?

Finland has aimed for a homogeneous culture without diversity since independence. The Swedish speaking minority has been respected but the linguistic needs of the Roma and the Sami minorities were only addressed in the 70’s and the 80’s. It was forbidden to speak Roma in public places before. According to the Finnish Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, the Romani language is in danger of disappearing if teaching possibilities are not immediately increased and the Roma children are not guaranteed their right to study their mother tongue.


5. How would you describe the differences between the Roma communities in Finland and?

The old Finnish Kale community arrived in Finland in early 16th century. There are approximately 10,000 in Finland and 3,000 – 4,000 in Sweden. In addition, there is a Roma community of an estimated 500-1000 people from the Balkan countries, mainly Kosovo. These communities are very different. Dialect, dress and religion are related to the place of origin . Most Finnish Roma belong to the Evangelical Lutherans or follow free evangelical religions, whereas the Roma from the Balkan countries are Muslims or Orthodox. The similarities can be found in their cultural values and ethical norms.


6. What needs to be done at the national level to improve the situation of Roma?


Finland has been exemplary in many matters but to remove fear and prejudice, more work needs to be done to spread basic information on Roma language, culture, religion and history . Positive action such as development of education, employment and housing are recognised but suffer from a lack of resources.


7. How have cultural organisations and political groups responded to the challenges of diversity in Finland?

There are common goals but in practice the challenge of diversity has not yet been internalised in Finland. Swedish-speaking Finns and the Sami people work actively within their communities but there is no united diversity network.


8. How are Roma issues reported by the media in Finland?


It used to be common to stress the ethnic origin of Roma people involved in stories, but during the last couple of years there have been positive developments.


9. What role should the media play in promoting diversity in Finland?


The media, the Union of Journalists in Finland and Parliament should take a standpoint of antiracism, equality and diversity. The media should cover different minority groups equally and produce more documentaries and educational programmes about Roma culture, history, crafts and music.

10. How can the Council of Europe’s assist in the fight against discrimination?

I am worried about the changing attitudes among youth. The Roma used to have close links to people working in the countryside but in an urban, modern society attitudes have become harder and tolerance has decreased. People speak about diversity but in practice intolerance among youth has increased. They communicate and spend time only with similar people which reduces the ability to face diversity. Families, parents and schools should pay attention to the hardening attitudes and increase of intolerance.

Extremism in Europe is the main challenge for the Anti-Discrimination Campaign. The Council of Europe’s Dosta campaign, for example, has been very successful in reaching out to the general public.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Expert: ECRI Recommendations Are The Way Forward For Europe's Roma

Campo rom Casilino 900Image by dumplife (Mihai Romanciuc) via Flickr
Human rights expert Maria Ochoa-Llido has urged France to adopt European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI) recommendations on Roma instead of continuing its expulsion policy.

The government has reaffirmed its intention to close illegal camps and to deport Roma to Romania despite fears that it may be in breach of the European Convention On Human Rights.

"We think that if the recommendations from ECRI had been implemented by French government, things would have been better for the Roma population in France," the Council of Europe expert told France 24 on 25 August.

ECRI Recommendations

More On ECRI

Interviews [en] [fr]



   
 

Technology Leaders To Join Anti-Child Pornography Campaign


Information and communication technology business leaders are expected to join the global fight against child exploitation if European governments accept a new Council of Europe treaty.

Seven member states have already made the 2007 Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse part of their national law.

The Council of Europe, the region’s oldest political institution, hopes other governments will follow suit and ratify the convention.

Its experts are concerned that the Internet is fast becoming the “tool of choice” for child predators wishing to “groom” children whom they may later abuse and exploit through the child pornography trade.

The Internet Watch Foundation has revealed that some 1,500 websites worldwide are responsible for the online commerce in child pornography. Some 69% of the victims exploited in images or videos appeared to be under 10 years of age.

Alarmed by the scale and profitability of this Internet trade and by the use of new media tools to corrupt youngsters for sexual purposes, the Council of Europe is now lobbying governments to seek greater cooperation with the private sector.

It sees ratification of the treaty as the “logical next step” in the international fight against the distribution of sexually abusive images of children.

If the convention is approved, information and communication technology officials will join counterparts from the travel and tourism industry and the banking and financial sector in a partnership with national authorities. It is designed to improve public-private sector coordination and to prevent business structures from being used to feed the child sex trade.

“Private sector enterprises, particularly those related to the information and communication technology sectors, the banking and finance industry, and the travel and tourism sectors, are likely to be in contact with situations giving rise to sexual exploitation and abuse of children.,” said the Council of Europe’s Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio.

“Corporate social responsibility must therefore be encouraged and the private sector must play a more active role in preventing sexual abuse of children. Co-operation between private industry, public authorities and law enforcement is essential. No agency alone can achieve the goal of eliminating sexual exploitation of children.

“The Internet is a fantastic tool for all of us, and in particular for children. But for them, it can also represent a world full of dangers: their natural curiosity and eagerness to discover the world around them makes them particularly vulnerable. The growing phenomenon of grooming and the exchange of child pornographic images via the Internet are human rights abuses of the worst kind, and our new Convention seeks to eliminate these phenomena by criminalising “grooming.”

The convention’s multi-agency approach requires the government to improve coordination between national education authorities, the health sector, social services, law enforcement and judicial authorities.

The treaty encourages law-makers to make sure that confidentiality rules “do not constitute an obstacle” to the reporting of suspected crimes. It also recommends that national law covers so-called ‘sex-tourism’ offences. This would allow courts to try nationals suspected of committing criminal offences against children in foreign countries where they escape prosecution by benefitting from legal loopholes or from the ‘blind eye’ of authorities.

Campaign: Stop Sexual Violence Against Children 

Research: Child Sexual Abuse In Europe

Treaty: Main Points


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Refugee children should have a genuine chance to seek asylum

Il messaggio di Thomas HammarbergImage by hidden side via Flickr
“The asylum policies in Europe largely ignore children among refugees. Government should better protect them” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

“Migrant children are often not listened to and rather treated as if they were possessions belonging to their parents. It is often forgotten that they could have their own reasons for seeking protection.”

The Commissioner observes that when children arrive in a family group, the parents are regularly interviewed about the grounds for their asylum application, while often the minors are not given the opportunity to spell out their reasons. When they arrive unaccompanied, the migration authorities tend to focus only on how to bring them back to their parents, ignoring that they have in many cases escaped from their country with the fullest support of their family.


Furthermore, in cases when authorities do intend to interview children more seriously, there appears to be a lack of capacity to do this in a meaningful manner. “Overcoming language and cultural barriers - and the effects of trauma - require a particular skill. The appointment of guardians defending the interests of individual children, as now proposed by the EU Commission, is one step in the right direction.”

Commissioner Hammarberg stresses that the responses by governments to the needs of refugee children have profound implications for their future. The principle of the best interest of the child must guide the asylum process. “Each child should be seen as an individual, and special consideration must be given to his or her particular circumstances.”

Monday, 23 August 2010

Swine Flu Pandemic Over But Virus To Remain Active For Years

MEXICO CITY - APRIL 29:  People wear surgical ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Outbreaks of Swine Flu will continue for years even though the influenza virus has moved into its "post-pandemic period," the World Health Authority (WHO) has warned.

"The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "As we enter the post-pandemic period, this does not mean that the H1N1 virus has gone away. Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come."

The WHO issued the warning amid criticism of its handling of the flu panic. The UK MP Paul Flynn has alleged that billions of pounds were wasted on Swine Flu vaccines due to wrong advice from the World Health Organisation.

The Newport West MP told the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly last Thursday June that a “terrible mistake” by the WHO panicked the media and governments into fearing the arrival of “a new plague” expected to cause millions of deaths.

Flynn claimed that the Swine Flu which emerged was mild, leaving the British government and others with expensive vaccine stockpiles which they could not use.

“The world was frightened witless with the thought that a plague was coming,” Flynn said. “Billions and billions of Euros were wasted on medicines that will never be used.

“The health services throughout our continent were disrupted. Their priorities were altered looking after swine flu when it wasn’t a serious threat.”

Flynn blamed the “bad science” of the WHO for exaggerating the likely impact of last year’s flu virus and pointed to the disproportionate influence of pharmaceutical companies on its deliberations.

“We are asking why this mistake was made?” he added. “The Swine Flu was very mild. Was the decision taken on the basis of the epidemiology or was it taken in order so that pharmaceutical companies can build their profits.”

WHO Pandemic (H1N1)
Video: Paul Flynn- H1N1 pandemic was vastly overrated by WHO

Friday, 20 August 2010

France Warned Over Roma Expulsions

Eleni Tsetsekou
In a series of media interviews, Council of Europe experts have warned French authorities that 'mass' deportations of Roma could contravene the European Convention On Human Rights.

France returned some 70 people to Romania on 19 August following a pledge last month to close illegal camps. It says the Roma left voluntarily and the planned expulsions do not amount to mass deportations.

But Maria Ochoa-Llido, head of the Migration and Roma Division, told a BBC radio interviewer on 18 August that “collective expulsion of aliens” was prohibited under the human rights charter.

On 19 August, Eleni Tsetsekou explained to BBC World television viewers that France’s action created the impression of “mass punishment of a community.”

Robert Rustem of the European Roma and Travellers Forum told an Al Jazeera news bulletin that events in France highlighted the importance of a “civil rights for Roma” campaign.

21/08/10: Maria Ochoa-Llido interview with RSR [fr]





20/08/10: Maria Ochoa-Llido interview with France24 [fr]







Thursday, 19 August 2010

August 2010 Podcast: Is Feminism Now A Man's Best Friend?

Author and journalist Alison Clarke discusses the return of feminism and the United Kingdom’s epidemic of domestic violence in this month’s podcast.

The founder of Women’s Views On News,an online daily women's news service providing news about women, for women and by women, gives her views on the reality of women's professional progress over the past 40 years.

She also questions why men are "so defensive" in the face of women’s demand for equality, claiming that “feminism is a man’s best friend.”


More on Alison Clarke

Works as a freelance journalist specialising in employment law and discrimination issues. Alison worked previously as a solicitor for a small firm of family lawyers and as a legal rights officer for a major UK trade union.

She has written four books: ‘Community Nurses and the Law’, published in 1999; ‘Women’s Rights At Work’ published in 2001; the author and self-publisher of ‘Maternity Pay and leave – a guide for employers’ which came out in November 2004; and the co-author of ‘A Guide to Equality Law’ published by the TUC in January 2005.

Like this Podcast? Then listen to Alison Clarke discussing domestic violence as Women's Aid launches the 'Real Man' campaign.




Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Expert: 'Mass' Expulsions of Roma Banned Under Human Rights Treaty

Plans for “mass” deportations of Roma from France may be against the European Convention on Human Rights, a Council of Europe expert has warned.

Maria Ochoa-Llido said in an 18 August BBC interview that the French government had signed up to the treaty which “prohibited” the “collective expulsions of aliens.”

The French government denies that the expulsion of Roma amounts to mass deportations.



Interview: Irmela Mensah-Schramm, Teacher and Human Rights Activist

No racismImage via Wikipedia
Irmela Mensah-Schramm, 65, is a German teacher and campaigner for human rights, democracy and tolerance. She has dedicated herself to fighting racism and discrimination in Berlin and other German and European cities by removing racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and stickers. She has received several German awards.


Why do you think your activities are necessary?

Simply because looking away approves and encourages the authors. I believe that he who keeps silent and looks away becomes an accomplice. These unbearable racist and anti-Semite messages are intended to make people afraid and to recruit like-minded people to the cause.


What was the catalyst which brought you to this activity?

It was in 1986. While I was on my way to work, I discovered a Nazi-sticker at the bus stop just in front of my house. I wasn’t able to pull it off before the bus arrived. All day long I was so ashamed of myself. Finally, when I came home 10 hours later, I removed it. I felt such gratification.

If you don’t do it yourself, who will do it? Everybody can do it! It is also a message to the authors to tell them that you don’t agree with them.

How do people react to your activities?

I am active in Poland, in France, (Strasbourg), in Brussels and Vienna. There are certainly positive reactions and gratitude for my actions. Someone asked me if I was paid. There are reactions from angry citizens who say that I am worse than the Nazis. The Nazis themselves tell me that I would have been brought to the gas chamber under Hitler’s regime.

I did get graffiti saying : ''Schramm we’ll get you!'' or ''Granma Punk we’ll catch you!''. Once, I met one of them and I said: ''Hey here I am, so what do you want?'', he said nothing and ran away. There have always been confrontations with Nazis but I got away with it.

I have been physically threatened. Once I met a young man at Berlin Rudow, where I am at least once a week, and he stopped me on the street and said: “Mrs Schramm, I am off now. I left the Nazi movement, and therefore I would like to thank you!” I was moved to tears! I wasn’t prepared for that.

Police in Berlin tell me that I am not allowed to remove the Nazi-stickers because the political party isn’t prohibited. They also forbid me to remove small graffiti with polish remover or over-paint big ones because it would be damage to property. Needless to say that I don’t stick to that.


What do the authorities think of your activities?

The Berlin Senate repeatedly refused to support my project. I wasn’t even thinking about financial support, but rather to include it in a national plan of action in the education programme. It seems to me that the Berlin Senate doesn’t want to deal with my project.


What motivates you to continue your activity?

People have always complained about Nazis and Fascism but it doesn’t change things or helps to make them to disappear. You have to react! I have noticed that people have now understood that they can actually do something. Recently, I have been contacted by the European Academy in Waren to cooperate with the mayor and the local police in order to pull off and erase Nazi-graffiti with young people all over the town. We did this in several cities and the young people continue to do so afterwards.

Sometimes it is depressing and it is tiring. But at other times I say to myself, I have to go again. I can’t take a rest. Since 3 January 2007, I have removed over 17, 500 stickers.


How do you assess the level of discrimination in Germany?

At the moment, it is getting worse. The more discussions concerning a ban of the German far-right party NPD appear on the daily agenda, the more its followers act. The problem is the population’s reaction. Whilst I was removing a NPD sticker from an election poster of the Greens, an elegant townswoman who isn’t discernable as a Nazi, told me right that I have to accept other people’s opinions.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Stateless Roma: no documents – no rights

''Tens of thousands of Roma live in Europe without a nationality. Lacking birth certificates, identity cards, passports and other documents, they are often denied basic rights such as education, healthcare, social assistance and the right to vote,'' said the Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg,

''The right to a nationality is a basic human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It amounts to a ''right to have rights'' and must be enforced – for everyone - with much more energy and determination than has been the case so far,'' he concluded.

Read More


Monday, 16 August 2010

Technology Sector ‘Key Partner’ In UK Fight Against Child Sexual Exploitation

online safetyImage by paul.klintworth via Flickr
Information and communication technology leaders will be asked to join the global fight against child exploitation and pornography if the United Kingdom ratifies a Council of Europe treaty.

The United Kingdom has already signed the 2007 Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.

The Council of Europe, the region’s oldest assembly of nations, hopes the treaty will soon become part of national law. Its experts are concerned that the Internet is fast becoming the “tool of choice” for child predators wishing to “groom” children whom they may later abuse and exploit.

An Internet Watch Foundation’s report, published in April 2009, revealed that some 1,500 websites worldwide are responsible for the online commerce in child pornography. Some 69% of the victims exploited in images or videos appeared to be under 10 years of age.

Alarmed by the scale and profitability of this Internet trade and by the use of new media tools to corrupt youngsters for sexual purposes, the Council of Europe is now encouraging its member states to seek greater cooperation with the private sector.

It sees ratification of the treaty as the “logical next step” to be taken by the organisation’s 47 member states in combating the distribution of sexually abusive images of children.

If the convention is approved, information and communication technology officials will join counterparts from the travel and tourism industry and the banking and financial sector in a partnership with national authorities. It is designed to improve public-private sector coordination and to prevent business structures from being used to feed the child sex trade.

“Private sector enterprises, particularly those related to the information and communication technology sectors, the banking and finance industry, and the travel and tourism sectors, are likely to be in contact with situations giving rise to sexual exploitation and abuse of children.,” said the Council of Europe’s Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio.

“Corporate social responsibility must therefore be encouraged and the private sector must play a more active role in preventing sexual abuse of children. Co-operation between private industry, public authorities and law enforcement is essential. No agency alone can achieve the goal of eliminating sexual exploitation of children.

“The Internet is a fantastic tool for all of us, and in particular for children. But for them, it can also represent a world full of dangers: their natural curiosity and eagerness to discover the world around them makes them particularly vulnerable.

"The growing phenomenon of grooming and the exchange of child pornographic images via the Internet are human rights abuses of the worst kind, and our new Convention seeks to eliminate these phenomena by criminalising 'grooming.'"

The convention’s multi-agency approach requires governments to improve coordination between national education authorities, the health sector, social services, law enforcement and judicial authorities.

The treaty encourages law-makers to make sure that confidentiality rules “do not constitute an obstacle” to the reporting of suspected crimes. It also recommends that national law covers so-called ‘sex-tourism’ offences. This would allow courts to try nationals suspected of committing criminal offences against children in foreign countries where they escape prosecution by benefitting from legal loopholes or from the ‘blind eye’ of authorities.

Campaign: Building A Europe For And With Children
Game: How To Stay Safe Online

Friday, 13 August 2010

Admissibility decision: European Council of Police Trade Unions v. Portugal

A complaint by the European Council of Police Trade Unions against Portugal has been declared admissible and will be decided by the Council of Europe's European Committee on Social Rights.

The complaint organisation alleges that Portugal is in violation of Articles 4 (right to a fair remuneration), 6 (right to bargain collectively ) and 22 (right of workers to take part in the determination and improvement of working conditions and the working environment) of the Revised European Social Charter.


Decision on admissibility

ECSR
 
Social Charter

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Roma Turn To The Media In The Struggle For Civil Rights In Europe

Isabela Mihalache
Isabela Mihalache is a sociologist and philologist. During a career as a human rights activist, the 31 year old Masters graduate has worked for a non-governmental organisation in Romania and as a consultant for the Council of Europe and the Open Society Institute. She is also a woman of Roma origin.

The order of Ms Mihalache’s biographical details is important. Ideally, her ethnicity should count as an incidental feature in a lifetime of achievement. She is all too aware however, that her Roma identity carries disproportionate significance.

As a face of the promotional film for the 2010 Roma Women Conference, which took place in Athens last January, Ms Mihalache hopes to challenge the clichéd and often negative perception of Roma people.

“We want to show a different face of Roma women, beyond the stereotypical image,” she says. “We want to appeal to people in a different way.

“We play with the stereotypical images of what Roma women represent by wearing traditional costumes and at the same time showing that the same people have careers and are as 'normal' as other people.

"I like to play with symbolism. It's an incentive for people to listen.”

Ms Mihalache, the deputy director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre, is happy to work with the media which she nonetheless accuses of fuelling centuries-old injustice.

“The media has a big responsibility to give equitable balance,” she says. “We are seen as an ethnic group, different from others. We have always been scapegoats of different interests

“There's no way you can avoid the stereotypes. Roma are portrayed as not wanting to work, living off social welfare, stealing, begging on the street and are not seen behind a desk, working with a computer.”

“I was not told when I was born that I was a Roma. I was told by other people that I was a gypsy. I always had a strong sense of who I was but I did feel awkward. You feel things can always turn in a wrong direction. You always have to be ready and prepared.”

As a 14 year old school girl, Ms Mihalache took refuge with neighbours while a mob in her home region of Constanta, Romania, attacked a Roma family in a nearby apartment. Marked by a childhood during which she was treated with suspicion even though her father was a local councillor who sought mayoral office, Ms Mihalache now uses her media profile to add momentum to the Roma community’s fight for full civil rights.

After two decades of success in winning over Europe’s political elites, activists now seek “full implementation” of citizenship at national level. That means greater political representation, the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and improved access to employment, healthcare and education services.

“There are rights and obligations but once I am not acknowledged as a citizen, what responsibilities and obligations do I have?” asks Ms Mihalache.

“We are citizens of our countries but we have never been seen as such. I see problems with the state not taking its responsibility seriously to address the problems Roma are facing. The effect is what we see on the street - people feel free to act upon their beliefs."

These fears are encouraged by worsening levels of resentment and violence towards Europe’s 10 to12 million-strong Roma community.

However, Ms Mihalache remains optimistic about the outcome of the struggle for full citizenship but warns that it could be derailed easily by indifference and official neglect in favour of other priorities.

She adds: “We are working in the right direction but at this point we are not getting the right reaction. This is a test of European politics.”

Viewpoint: Europe's Roma Apartheid
Podcast: Romaphobia 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Isabel Stilwell: The Fight Against Male Privilege

Isabel Stilwell
As a successful journalist and a face of the women’s rights Millennium Objectives 2015 campaign, Isabel Stilwell is well cast to discuss the fight against male privilege.

The 49 year old Portuguese mother of three will did just that when joining an international panel taking part in ‘Viewpoint,’ a Council of Europe-produced television talk show, dubbed Europe’s first human rights broadcast.

The programme’s title ‘Women – New Century, Old Problems’ is a theme that Isabel understands well.

“The fight now is not against men but against obstacles that are still in the way of women, especially when they are poor and especially when they don’t have the money or access to education that opens doors,” she says.

Social justice is a theme to which Isabel returns often, even as she recognises the privileges conferred by her professional status and family background.

Isabel convinces as the driven power-broker whose success has been achieved without the sacrifice of personal happiness.

She has spent her entire working life climbing the career ladder of Lisbon’s media village. During that time, Isabel has juggled the demands of raising a family with anchoring a daily radio programme and a weekly television talk show, as well as authoring 10 books and editing Destak, a national, free daily newspaper.

So, does she see herself as a ‘superwoman’ or perhaps, a feminist icon, standing on the shoulders of giants?

Isabel is happier to see herself as a “fulfilled woman” but willingly pays homage to older ‘sisters’ of the struggle.

“The real icons of feminism belong to the generation just before me and to whom I am really grateful,” she says. “They had the courage which made my fulfillment possible.

“Gender was an obstacle but not one that I couldn’t get over. When I started working, journalism was 90% men. It was a world designed for men. Time–wise, it was for men and not for women with children.”

Isabel laments that women are often “their own worst enemies” in relationships with men. She fears that despite the advance of political correctness into the Portuguese mainstream, women still raise their daughters to respect traditional roles.

“Roles haven’t changed that much,” she admits. “Mothers continue to raise their boys and girls in a different way. I was educated to be a good mother, a good wife and a good employee.”

As a mother of two daughters, Isabel is concerned by the portrayal of women as uniquely sexual objects. She is also alive to the contradiction that she works in an industry which plays a key role in the coarsening of popular culture.

Her interest in furthering “behavioural change” has led Isabel to embrace the feminism that sees men as partners and not as adversaries. As an “optimist” she believes that men can enrich their own lives by sharing in the progress women have made in Portugal since the Carnation Revolution of April 1974.

“We need to educate boys to be different men,” she says. “The first reaction of a man may be to reject this change because he remembers how his father’s life was fantastic and he feels as if he is losing things that his father had.

“But in reality, when men start to take care of children they find that they love what they do. Men will find it rewarding and liberating to meet women half way.”

Isabel Stilwell is a television presenter, the editor in chief of the Portuguese daily newspaper Destak and an author of 10 books

Watch Viewpoint

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Focus on ECRI

Anti-Racism Kensington 33Image by thivierr via Flickr
Discrimination based on racial and religious difference has long scarred Europe's social and political landscape.

The confinement and massacres of Jews and the slaughter and slavery in colonial territories defined an Apartheid system which for centuries received cultural sanction and religious indulgence.

The Nazi ‘Final Solution’ was a terrifying 'highpoint' of twentieth century prejudice. The later arrival of non-white immigrants in Europe gave another spur to bigotry.

Though racism and anti-Semitism survive to this very day, they are, by common consent, on the run. Better education, mass tourism, increased opportunities for social integration, marriage, the influence of cultural icons and a record period of peace and prosperity have combined to clear the public arena of overt expressions of prejudice.

This sea change in social attitudes has been accelerated by the increased vigilance of organisations and activists who have forced political and civil society to maintain the offensive against discrimination.

For the past 17 years, the independent European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has been a key partner in this transformation. The human rights monitoring body advises the 47 members states of the Council of Europe on policy measures needed to combat violence, discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of race, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin.

In its comprehensive reports, ECRI examines in each country the legal framework for fighting racism and racial discrimination, its practical implementation, the existence of independent bodies to assist victims of racism, the situation of vulnerable groups in specific policy areas (education, employment, housing etc.) and the tone of political and public debate around issues relevant for these groups.

ECRI counts as one of its most important achievements the adoption of Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This prohibition of discrimination which entered into force in April 2005, ranks as a high water mark in the legal challenge to racism.

The fight against discrimination is not over, of course but the work of ECRI and others has forced racists to adapt to a changed social and political environment. Public declarations of racial prejudice in the virulent terms of the 1960’s and 1970’s are seldom heard. Instead, the basis for intolerance has shifted.

''There has been a move from biological racism to cultural racism,'' an ECRI spokeswoman revealed, highlighting the new frontier in racist discourse.

She also pointed to a trend by governments towards discrimination in the name of integration and reverses of recent anti-discrimination gains, springing from the 'War On Terror,' as significant challenges to social cohesion.

The plight of Roma communities in Europe is another important concern. Already, the organisation has succeeded in gaining traction for its view that 'Roma-phobic' stereotyping is as unacceptable as racism.

''The media is doing good work in explaining the Roma situation with objective reports,'' the ECRI spokeswoman added. ''Roma can have the nationality of a country but do not take part in the life of the country. Political participation is a natural consequence of having real roots in a society. Roma should be encouraged to express themselves.''

ECRI’s policy advice and its educational work have helped to swing opinion in favour of the understanding that bigotry is as much a problem for the majority as it is blight on the affected minority.

''Everyone is endangered by discrimination,” the ECRI spokeswoman added. “No one can feel safe. Societies built on hatred do not work. Discrimination just doesn’t make sense.''



Monday, 9 August 2010

Child Protection Experts: Online Safety Needs More Than Panic Buttons

Dangers Of Online DatingImage by Don Hankins via Flickr
Child protection experts have warned that youngsters using social media websites need more than ‘panic buttons’ to protect them online from sexual predators.

The installation of the highly-visible button on all social networking web sites has been proposed as a response to the rape and murder of a British teenager who was lured to her death by a serial sex offender using a fake Facebook profile.

When installed, the panic button, pioneered by the British government’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), provides internet safety advice.

The Council of Europe (CoE), the region’s largest and oldest human rights intergovernmental organisation, says panic buttons can contribute to the fight against ‘internet grooming.’

But experts see the measure as just one ‘tool’ available to a strengthened public-private sector partnership geared to a policy of “robust law enforcement and determined child empowerment.”

This approach, outlined in the CoE’s 2007 Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, combines the punishment of offenders with an educational programme preparing children for the dangers they may face online.

“Panic buttons, like internet hotlines, are positive additions to any action plan to combat sexual violence against children,” a spokesman said.

“But they have to be part of a comprehensive system of robust law enforcement and determined child empowerment.

“That is why we urge countries to ratify the Council of Europe convention. We need law and punishment. We also need young people to be better educated about how they can use the internet in safety.”

The Council of Europe wants its 47 member states to ratify the 2007 treaty to clear the way for a public-private sector approach to tackling the sexual abuse and exploitation of youngsters.

It creates a multi-agency partnership of representatives from government, justice, education, social services and law enforcement and officials from information technology, the tourism and travel industry and the banking and financial sector.

The convention proposes that the government makes sure that confidentiality rules “do not constitute an obstacle” to the reporting of suspected crimes.

It also recommends that national law covers so-called ‘sex-tourism’ offences. This would allow courts to prosecute nationals suspected of committing criminal offences against children in foreign countries which decide not to bring legal charges.

Building a Europe for and with children

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Elderly across Europe live in extreme hardship and poverty

Older womanImage by pedrosimoes7 via Flickr
''Hundreds of thousands of elderly persons across Europe are struggling for their everyday survival. European leaders should develop adequate policies to improve the living conditions of this vulnerable group of people'' said the Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

''Many elderly suffer a shocking level of poverty. They tend to be ignored by politicians and are often seen as being non-productive and worthless in modern society. Their human rights must not be further undermined by governments’ austerity programmes.'' (more ...)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Interview: Barbara Blake Hannah - Film-maker and the first black journalist to appear on British television

1. How has the media changed since 1968 when you began working in British television?

There are, of course, a lot more brown faces and mixed-up accents on British and world TV. We now have women like Christianne Annampour with international, inter-racial backgrounds. I see a pretty African girl reporting for the BBC in Africa , as well as lots of Asian reporters.

2. What challenges did you face as the first black journalist to appear on British television?

I guess the challenge was 'acceptance,' although I did not know that I was under scrutiny until too late. I just felt it was another job. My former job was a grand one as PR for Jamaican tourism and government in a posh Park Lane PR company that often hosted Arab sheiks. I had no idea that my race and colour would have had such a impact on racist mentalities. I did TV show hosting in Jamaica and had appeared in a British quiz show and another show promoting Jamaica. The racism took me quite by surprise.

3. How much was ethnicity a factor in your career development?

My career developed in Jamaica , where I worked as a journalist on my father's news magazine. In England my ethnicity and the racism it generated was something one simply accepted, having come from a society that at the time accepted the world view that people of my race were 'inferior' to whites.

4. How would you respond to the view that the professional environment of the media prevents many black journalists from sustaining long careers?

I think problems arise when black journalists have to cover negative news about black communities. It's hard not to be considered biased and hard not to be biased. There were also few openings for black journalists when I was in England and few black newspapers to provide a living wage and career. I hope it's changed by now.

5. How might your career have been different if you had started in television journalism 20 years later?

My career would have been much different 20 years later, because the world view has changed and racism is recognised as something bad, rather than something accepted. The world recognises the contribution of black culture much better and don't forget, the white world is reminded more and more of its negative role in the history of black people. Music, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama - all have 'upgraded' people's opinion of and attitude to black people.

6. How would you assess the current participation of black and ethnic minorities in the media?

I see US television doing a commendable job of mixing it up among the races and I've already commented on the multi-ethnicity of BBC News reporters.

What I am surprised at though, is that there are so many BBC News programmes and stories about Asia, and even some on Africa, but so very, very few about the Caribbean , whose peoples constitute a large percentage of the current British population. Cuba, which is only 90 miles away from Jamaica, is featured often in news stories, but even our recent and historic elections didn't make it to BBC TV, and there are never, ever feature stories about the region.

7. What role should the media play in promoting diversity and social cohesion?

The media should give more opportunities for diverse peoples to tell their own stories. There should be space and time for this, not just in the form of the media holding up a mike or a camera to newsworthy subjects, but their own stories told by them. 'Slumdog Millionaire' won 8 Oscars because it told someone else's story, a new story never before seen or shown.

8. Should the media act as a 'responsible partner' in an increasingly multicultural environment?

YES, YES, YES. The media must give back to the subjects that fill their air time for free.

9. How would you respond to the complaint that freedom of speech allows extremists too great an access to the media?

That's the price of freedom of speech. You may disagree with what they say but their freedom ensures your own.

10. How would you respond to the complaint that media reporting of ethnic communities remains generally unfavourable?

International media portray Jamaica as (a) tropical paradise, or (b) drug-addicted, violent, dangerous island. Most of the time Jamaica is neither of these but a small heaven on earth, so we often smile or get angry at how we are depicted in these clichés. But I organise an annual festival of films featuring and/or containing reggae music and they show me that if the traditional media is reporting unfavourably about my country, another kind of media is reporting the exact opposite – a more accurate and true picture of life in Jamaica . As the media expands through YouTube, Facebook and other Internet programmes, the work of journalists is taken out of the hands of a few, often prejudiced, hands and expanded into the wider global media community.

This is the future of the media. As a film maker, I do what I can to use film as a true medium of communication. I am inspired by the great Cuban film maker Santiago Alvarez, who first introduced me to the power of the documentary film to convey messages to counteract misinformation. Michael Moore has continued this tradition so expertly, updating the genre in amusing ways.

11. What steps could be taken to encourage more ethnic minorities into the media?

Ethnic minorities should be given access to community cable channels and radio stations to broadcast their own cultural messages. This should be part of the Arts & Culture programmes of all developed nations with large ethnic minorities.

12. What measures still need to be taken by media organisations to adapt to Europe 's multi-cultural environment?

Education through media, especially through film broadcast on TV and the internet, is the best way to encourage acceptance of multiculturalism across Europe . Sadly, European countries will also have to suck the bitter lemon of accepting their historical role in the depressed social and economic conditions of the ethnic minorities. Some will have to apologise for their role in the brutal enslavement of Africans and other forms of genocide and until this is done, the scourge of racism will linger and fester and make its eradication even more difficult.

Barbara Blake Hannah

Monday, 2 August 2010

Roma Holocaust / Pharraimos Remembrance Day

Romani arrivals in the Bełżec extermination ca...Image via Wikipedia
Remembering the Roma Holocaust honours the “silent voices” of the many victims of the Nazi terror and gives meaning to the fight against racism and intolerance.

This was the message of Rudko Kawczynski, President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum today at a commemoration event at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

A minute's silence marked the deaths of the many thousands of Roma and Sinti people killed at the Aushwitz death camp on 2 August 1944.

Kawczynski said the holocaust, known as the Pharraimos, had affected greatly the Roma community.

“The Holocaust was a monumental crime," he added. "We approach life with fewer illusions.

“It's been a long struggle. Roma suffering went largely unnoticed for decades as nations pursued racist practices against Roma and Sinti.

“This holocaust memorial has a role to play in combating anti gypsyism. Racist ideologies have not vanished from our world. The suffering of millions should not be in vain."

European Roma And Travellers Forum

Council of Europe marks the Roma genocide