Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

Interview

Hate speech costs lives, EU warns

  • Jourova: "I wouldn’t recommend to a same-sex couple to move to Poland" (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Hate speech, whether homophobic or islamophobic, can prompt violent crime, the EU justice and gender equality commissioner has warned in the wake of the Orlando and Jo Cox killings.

Vera Jourova, a Czech politician who works on fighting Islamist radicalisation as well as on protection of minorities, spoke to EUobserver shortly after two hate crimes, one on either side of the Atlantic, grabbed world attention.

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  • Commission to sponsor boat in Amsterdam flotilla, but Jourova might not take part (Photo: Bob Lefevere)

On 12 June, a gunman claiming to act on behalf of the jihadist group Islamic State killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Four days later, a man claiming to “protect British independence”, murdered Jo Cox, an outspokenly pro-immigration and pro-EU MP, in Birstall, in the UK.

Jourova declined to comment directly on the Cox case, which is politically sensitive due to the upcoming British referendum on EU membership.

But she said the “atmosphere is worsening in society” on both sides of the Atlantic due to the proliferation of hate speech in society in general and by populist right-wing politicians.

“We must use all the possibilities we have to decrease the level of hatred, to reduce hate speech because we the result of it in the horrible attack in Orlando,” she said.

“We see it everyday, not only online, and we see the results of hate speech, which has the potential to incite violence in the real world”.

“In light of the brutal attack, we should be more vocal and visible in supporting LGBTI people”, the commissioner added.

She said responsibility lies with civil society and with media as well as politicians.

The commission is, for the first time ever, also sponsoring a boat in the Amsterdam Pride flotilla later this summer.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven has, in reaction to Orlando, pledged to attend Stockholm Pride.

But Jourova said she was still “considering” whether to take part in the Amsterdam event “in light of other duties I have”.

Collective punishment

With US presidential candidate Donald Trump again lashing out at Muslims in reaction to the Orlando killings, Joureva said Muslim minorities are at risk of “collective punishment” for the actions of individual terrorists or petty criminals.

Looking at the European reaction to reports that Muslim migrant men sexually assaulted local women in Cologne, Germany, last New Year’s Eve, she said: “Among the real problems we have is the collective punishment [of Muslims] that we saw being incited after the Cologne attacks”.

“We must make sure people understand that everybody is equal under the law,” she said. The phrase "'equal rights' is too technical - dignity and human rights out to be at the centre of our efforts" she added.

Joureva has made big promises to gay rights campaigners in Europe.

In her 18 months in office, she steered through a bill that enables same-sex couples who are registered in EU states that do it to have their rights recognised in 18 EU countries, including several that do not legally recognise such partnerships. It will soon be 19 when Estonia joins the group.

She aims, next year, to revive a bill on minority rights in access to goods and services in the single market.

The bill has laid buried in the EU Council for more than 10 years, largely due to German complaints that installing better access to facilities for disabled people would be too costly for small businesses.

As things stand, Joureva’s only legal instrument for defending LGBTI rights in the EU is a previous law on minority rights in the workplace.

She said last week’s talks in the EU Council showed that there has been “zero progress” among members states in terms of passing the services bill.

Shared values?

Jourova also said some member states are unwilling to enshrine homophobic hate crimes as a specific type of infraction, alongside racist crimes, in their penal codes.

The laws on rights of same-sex couples, contained in a wider bill on matrimonial rights, was adopted by 18 states out of the 28 EU members in so-called “enhanced cooperation” because Hungary and Poland, among others, did not want to take part.

But Joureva said the same model would not be appropriate for the services bill because it covers EU “core rights” and “shared values” which should be adopted by consensus.

With Hungary and Poland opting out of the couples law, Joureva noted that that consensus is still lacking in the LGBTI arena due to the different “histories and traditions” of EU states.

“I wouldn’t recommend to [a same-sex couple] to move to Poland”, she told EUobserver.

Jourova will speak about her plans to advance gay rights in Europe at an annual gala in Brussels next Wednesday organised by Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO.

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