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ECRI report calls on UK Government to establish “real dialogue with Muslims”

ECRI report calls on UK Government to establish “real dialogue with Muslims”

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday October 04 2016

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published its country report on the UK, part of the human rights organisation’s regular monitoring of Member States of the Council of Europe.

The report has garnered some media coverage in the UK papers with Sky News and The Independent drawing on ECRI’s criticism of British politicians and the media for the “considerable intolerant political discourse focusing on immigration and contributing to an increase in xenophobic sentiment”.

The report further states that “Muslims are portrayed in a negative light by certain politicians and as a result of some policies.”

The report highlights a number of areas for improvement by the UK on tackling hate crime, enhancing equality and addressing policy failures on integration and counter-terrorism strategies.

The report highlights the discriminatory impact of the Government’s Prevent strategy on British Muslims and calls on the British Government to adopt an inclusive dialogue with Muslim communities and to “consult them on all policies which could affect Muslims.”

The report states: “The popular reaction is to associate all Muslims with extremism and terrorism. As observed previously, this has led to a large increase in hate speech and violence against Muslims. Added to this are a number of policies which may have the effect of further stereotyping Muslims, albeit indirectly. One of these is the Prevent Strategy, which is part of the United Kingdom Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.”

The report states: “ECRI is concerned that all this has created a feeling of anxiety and insecurity within Muslim communities. ECRI considers that it may also lead to increasing marginalisation and alienation of Muslims by the majority population. It recalls the recommendation it made in its fourth report to pursue and strengthen dialogue with representatives of Muslims on the causes of Islamophobia, emphasising the need for an overall strategy against it.”

The report refers to the under-reporting of hate crime in the UK, comparing data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (2012/13 and 2014/15) with police recorded crime data published by the Home Office last year. While the CSEW estimates hate crime over the last two years to average 222,000 incidents per year, police recorded crime data for the period 2014/15 was 52,528.

The report also highlights the rate of prosecution of hate crime, reinforcing findings from recently published data by the Crown Prosecution Service which shows that only one in four hate crimes are currently prosecuted by the CPS.

The report further notes the “filtering out” of the aggravated element in race hate crime cases by the police, CPS or judiciary “through a combination of unwillingness to recognise racist motivation, the reclassifying of racist attacks as disputes or other forms of hostility, and the over-strict interpretation of the provisions on racist motivation.” Just last week we highlighted a case in which the racially aggravated charges were “left on file” by the CPS. The result is racially motivated hate crimes are not sufficiently handled by the criminal justice system and victims are left suffering the consequences of attacks without due redress.

The report draws attention to the media’s role in stoking anti-Muslim prejudice and mentions The Sun story last year, “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ jihadi sympathy”, which we successfully challenged. The ECRI report includes among its recommendations a call for “the authorities [to] find a way to establish an independent press regulator according to the recommendations set out in the Leveson Report [and] recommends more rigorous training for journalists to ensure better compliance with ethical standards.”

ECRI highlights the unequal protection in the law on racial and religious hatred stating “ECRI also regrets that the grounds of race and religion are not treated in an identical manner.”

Further, the report mentions the paucity of prosecutions advanced under the existing incitement to racial and religious hatred laws.

Disappointingly, the report positively appraises the UK’s efforts on hate crime data collection noting the Government announcement last year that police forces would begin to record Islamophobia as a separate category of crime. ECRI notes the commitment by the Government stating:

“ECRI welcomes the above initiatives and particularly applauds the third-party reporting and data sharing systems which it highlights as best practice. Further, it welcomes the fact that from spring 2016 the police will provide a breakdown of religion-based data, including anti-Muslim hate crime, which should increase consistency and provide a broader evidence base for tackling hate crime.”

Unfortunately, practice lags further behind the aspiration. From our FOI requests to police forces seeking disaggregated data on religion hate crimes based on victim religious identity, we have been told by a number of forces that they are not obligated to record the victim’s religious identity (in the period April 2015 – March 2016) and that religion categories were introduced as of April 2016, for trialling, before more systematic rules apply from April 2017.

The National Police Chiefs Council in an email responding to our request for disaggregated data stated: “The Home Office have committed to collate disaggregated religious hate crime data within the national crime statistics from 1.4.2017, with a voluntary collection commencing on the 1.4.16.”

It would seem forces are yet to begin recording religious hate crime in a comprehensive manner and data derived from police recorded crime may not be available for another two years yet. Given that official statistics on anti-Semitism were first published in 2010, the time taken to put Islamophobia on the same footing is lamentable.

As for third party reporting centres (TRCs), in our PCC manifesto we highlighted the low number of third party reporting centres which catered for Muslim communities. The Government’s new Hate Crime Action Plan affords more attention to establishing more TRCs to ensure victims are provided alternative avenues to report hate crime, but existing practice suggests the Government, local councils and police forces are not doing enough to tackle the steep level of under-reported hate crime.

It is also disappointing to see ECRI give little attention to assessment of anti-Muslim hate crime based on police recorded crime figures. Relying upon third party reporting centres which report Islamophobia figures in the hundreds is a vast underestimation of the actual scale of the problem, as the 44% and 43% increase in religious hate crime in 2013/14 and 2014/15 respectively would suggest. The CSEW for 2012/13 – 2014/15 noted that Muslims are 12 times more likely to be victims of race hate crime than Christians or Buddhists, for example. Given the year on year increase in racial and religious hate crime and the fact that the two together account for almost 85% of all recorded hate crime, citing data collected from a single third party reporting unit is a gross distortion of the level of hate crime occurring in the UK and affecting Muslim communities. Little wonder the Government has been slow to respond to calls from Muslim community organisations to do more to tackle Islamophobia.

Islamophobia in the UK, from hate crime to anti-Muslim prejudice fomented by the media, is a problem that deserves serious attention. Compelling police forces to publish data that fully reflects the biased motivation, establishing third party reporting centres that meet the needs of victims who are unwilling or unable to report directly to the police, calling upon the Crime Prosecution Service to improve prosecution and conviction rates, encouraging Police and Crime Commissioners to establish robust hate crime strategies in consultation with local communities and local constabularies, and requiring Government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with a cross section of British Muslim community organisations are just some of the improvements that are desperately needed. The ECRI report is a helpful contribution to this end.


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