In November 2018, a first of its kind event co-organized with the Open Society Justice Initiative, brought together more than 30 Equality Bodies from across Europe with civil society representatives and other expert speakers to discuss equality bodies’ roles in countering ethnic profiling. The seminar provided a forum to discuss good and promising practices by equality bodies, brought in the perspective of law enforcement authorities and NGOs working on the ground and added lessons learned from Canada on police oversight and community involvement.
The Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey conducted by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in 2017 showed that ethnic profiling is a persistent problem across the EU. Ethnic profiling by police in Europe is a widespread form of discrimination that violates international and EU human rights norms. It refers to law enforcement actions by the police, security, immigration or customs officials, including stops (and searches), identity checks and levying fines, initiated solely or mainly on the basis of individuals’ personal characteristics rather than on their behaviour or objective evidence. Such acts are not just unlawful, they can lead to stigmatisation of individuals and communities as a whole, undermine the trust in law enforcement and damage community relations. Moreover, ethnic profiling is an ineffective policing strategy that results in stopping a large number of innocent people.
The context under which profiling is taking place has changed significantly in the last years:
While existing EU norms already outlaw racial discrimination, EU-wide guidelines on ethnic profiling would be useful to ensure that those norms are implemented in practice. International organisations such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations have adopted positions on the matter.
At the same time, equality bodies across Europe have been playing an increasingly important role in the fight against ethnic profiling. Equality bodies have been involved in high-profile cases in recent years on this issue, underlining their significant contribution to litigation efforts. Furthermore, several equality bodies have recently engaged to raise awareness around this issue. Ranging from hosting major conferences and conducting research projects to a joint project with the Fundamental Rights Agency.
The seminar allowed for in-depth discussions on the work equality bodies already conduct to counter ethnic profiling and ways forward in the fields of research, legal casework, raising awareness and engagement with law enforcement.
For the latter, the seminar showed that equality bodies possess rich experience in providing training to police officers. A key lesson learned to increase the impact of such trainings is their combination with long-term cooperation that addresses monitoring and leadership within the police. One example for such a long-term and comprehensive engagement with police forces is the Stop and think again project by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain.
A key challenge for equality bodies in countering ethnic profiling remains the collection of data and evidence. At the same time, equality bodies are particularly well-placed to address these gaps. Discussants highlighted that equality bodies’ research often enjoys high levels of credibility among governmental actors and civil society organisations. The Research and consultation report on racial profiling by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Canada provided a rich example for the active involvement of affected communities in research and building relations for further action.
The seminar made clear that the cooperation between equality bodies and civil society organisations can make a crucial difference. In a case of ethnic profiling of Roma, the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee strategically complemented their mandates to achieve a settlement. The seminar underlined the need for more fora to take different initiatives forward, such as more structural involvement of NGOs in equality bodies’ work or raising awareness by equality bodies among affected communities about rights and complaint mechanisms.
Building on existing legal standards, equality bodies can be key actors in driving investigations or taking cases before the court. The litigation on principles of stop and search by the French Defender of Rights shows how an equality body can advance legal cases with the support of its own research. The seminar finally highlighted the availability of guides and toolkits available to those committed to put an end to discriminatory and damaging policing practices.
To harness the results of the seminar and to make the discussed lessons learned available to everyone, Equinet and OSJI will soon publish a fact sheet on good and promising practices by equalities bodies countering ethnic profiling.