A human rights group has published research into incidents of violent hate crime against minority groups in 56 North American and European states.

New-York based Human Rights First said that targeting of minority groups is increasing or occurring at historically high levels in many of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) member states.

The 2008 Hate Crime Survey examines the rate of violent hate crimes by motivation – racism and xenophobia, antisemitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim bias, anti-Roma bias and bias against other religious minorities.

Release of the HRF report, which focuses on developments in 2007 and the first half of 2008, coincides with the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting this month in Warsaw.

At this annual gathering government and NGO representatives discuss human rights commitments including tolerance and non-discrimination.

“Few of the participating states in the OSCE track and provide official statistics on crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias,” the report said.

“Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the countries where such monitoring is most developed.

“Other countries, like the Netherlands and Norway, have also recently undertaken to monitor homophobic hate crimes.

“Even in those countries where data is collected, however, the number of incidents is generally thought to be highly under-reported.

“The lack of data on sexual orientation bias crimes for the vast majority of OSCE participating states makes it very difficult to assess the law enforcement response to violent incidents.

“Only 12 of the 56 OSCE states have legislation that allows for bias based on sexual orientation to be treated as an aggravating circumstance in the commission of a crime.

“These are: Andorra, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“As in the past, the years 2007 and 2008 saw the greatest public visibility for LGBT persons in the form of gay pride parades, although that visibility triggered violence and other manifestations of intolerance in several countries.

“The way in which recent gay pride events transpired in some countries—including Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania—suggest that the authorities took additional precautions against violent disruption in comparison to previous years.

“In other countries—such as Moldova and the Russian Federation—the authorities themselves continued to contribute to the danger faced by the participants in gay pride parades.

“In another group of countries—notably Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia—incidents of violence occurred despite apparently significant police preparations to protect the marchers.”

Human Rights First said that the international response to hate crimes against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is hindered by the fact that these forms of discrimination are not well-integrated into international human rights and anti-discrimination bodies and mechanisms.

There is no convention or treaty specifically focusing on the human rights of LGBT persons.

Among the report’s findings:

* Racially motivated violence in Russia rose 17.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, while racially motivated murders increased 36.5 percent.
* The number of violent assaults related to antisemitism in the United Kingdom rose dramatically last year, making 2007 the worst year on record since monitoring began in 1984.
* Incidents of violence against LGBT people in the United States went up 24 percent from 2006-2007.
* Despite ample evidence of acts of violence targeting Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims across Europe and North America, only five of the 56 OSCE governments publicly report on such incidents.

“Governments must address this growing threat to public safety and end impunity for these crimes, which strike at the heart of whole communities and the very notion of equality itself,” said Elisa Massimino, Human Rights First’s executive director.

“The European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE must act urgently to stem the tide of intolerance, by advancing region-wide standards, providing technical assistance to governments, and supporting and training civil society and community groups to combat hate violence.”

The report includes a Ten-Point Plan for all governments to strengthen their responses to violent hate crime, including by:

* condemning attacks when they occur and establishing a zero tolerance policy for violent hate crimes

* instructing and adequately training police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, working in partnership with victims, their communities and civil society groups

* improving monitoring, data collection, and public reporting to ensure accountability of law enforcement and sound public policy

* strengthening criminal laws to cover all forms of bias-motivated violence.

“While a few governments like France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States have undertaken to systematically monitor hate crimes, most governments don’t even collect baseline statistics on the problem. This reflects an underlying indifference on the part of many governments,” said Tad Stahnke, director of Human Rights First’s Fighting Discrimination programme.

A systematic survey of each of the 56 OSCE countries on the basis of their hate crime laws and systems of monitoring can be found on Human Rights First’s Web-based Hate Crime Report Card, available at: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/discrimination/index.asp.