The conference follows from an initiative taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, as part of our current EU Presidency to initiate a debate on how to protect fundamental rights and promote the Rule of Law in Europe.
Speaking today, Minister Shatter said "Last January’s Informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers held in Dublin Castle afforded me the opportunity to put this important issue on our agenda. I tabled a paper for discussion on EU action to protect freedom of movement for EU Citizens and social integration by encouraging effective action and enhancing cooperation between justice systems in countering hate crime, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and homophobia.
"The paper I tabled recalled that the genesis of the European Union lies in the aftermath of the Second World War. The founding states determined that war and genocide should never happen again on European soil. We recalled that in the Holocaust the Roma, Slav and above all the Jewish populations of Europe were targeted in mass killings organised with an industrial efficiency. Sadly, intolerance, anti-Semitism and xenophobia still persist in Europe. But memories are fading. And so a new generation must learn afresh about the perils and injustice of prejudice. New generations must learn and understand the lessons of Europe’s history and of the need to ensure that horrors of the past do not become the present.
"I see this Conference as a significant milestone in a debate that Europe needs to have with itself to rediscover its purpose, its historic mission and its soul. We need to stop a slide backwards and to counter the emergence of attitudes and actions towards minorities and towards the exercise of political power that we had thought had been thoroughly exorcised from the free half of our continent.
"The noble aspiration [of the original Single market] was – and remains - to create a zone of peace and prosperity and to bind the nations of Europe so closely together in ties of solidarity that the horrors of the past - wars and industrialised genocide - could not be repeated, because they had become unthinkable."
"Recent reports by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) document the incidence and impacts of hate crimes in Europe. The FRA concludes that crimes motivated by racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, extremism and intolerance of the other remain a daily reality across the European Union. The resurgence in anti-Semitic attitudes and statements in some quarters, including by people in leadership positions, and the growth in anti-Semitic crimes from within, but not confined to, migrant populations in Europe are particularly worrying. The Agency recommends action to make hate crimes more visible and to acknowledge the rights of victims at three levels: legislation, policy and practice.
"Hate crimes have a particular impact not only on the victim, but on society as a whole. This is recognised in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, in which the ECtHR has consistently argued that hate-crime victims have the right not only to be generally acknowledged as victims of crime, but also as having suffered victimisation specifically because of the biased attitudes of the offenders.
"New legislation may not be required, but what we certainly require is more effective collection and analysis of data on hate crimes so that their true incidence and impact on society can be fully understood. At a practical level, measures to encourage victims to come forward with complaints and to support victims and witnesses to participate in the criminal justice process have had a significant impact in ensuring that crimes are reported and offenders punished. These also have a positive educative impact on the wider society, by showing that the authorities take such crimes seriously and that offenders will be prosecuted.
We also need to ensure that persons in a position of leadership, including political leadership, actively uphold European values and foster a climate of mutual respect for and inclusion of persons of different religious or ethnic background or sexual orientation.
"At my suggestion – made following discussion in advance and agreement with Vice President Reding - Justice Ministers agreed to invite the [European] Commission to give further consideration to this matter.
"We have been in discussion with the Commission and with a number of Member States about how we could pursue the following steps:
· contribute to such a public debate (which, as I have said, needs to be given time and will span the lifetime of several Presidencies).
· start developing agreed understandings on the scope of a Rule of Law mechanism, including questions of definition and measurement, and what a future mechanism might look like.
· focus on shared values that are universal values, and not separate Europe standards, but identify the added value of EU action and coordination.
· start reflection on possible approaches that could be accepted by all Member States and that could have a real impact on the lives of ordinary citizens over the medium term, rather than being simply an academic or legal exercise.
"Very clearly, this is something that needs to be carefully considered and crafted sensitively, in a way that is respectful of the different legal traditions of member states and of the division of competencies as between the Union and Member States. The Irish Presidency acknowledges that there are clearly sensitive issues at the heart of these questions for many, if not all, Member States."
A full copy of Minister Shatter’s speech is available on: www.justice.ie