12-7-2011By Paul LeGendre
Director, Fighting Discrimination
A December 2 Helsinki Commission hearing, chaired by Representative Christopher Smith and attended by Congressmen Frank Wolf, Eliot Engel, Trent Franks, and Mike McIntyre, reviewed U.S. government and civil society efforts to address violent and other manifestations of antisemitism at home and abroad, focusing on North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union and the 56 states from this region that are members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE has been a key actor in efforts to combat antisemitism, particularly since 2002-2003 when the incidence of antisemitic violence rose sharply in many parts of Europe. At the time, the organization mounted a credible response to the violence that eventually included new political commitments for States to combat antisemitic and other hate crime. The United States, with strong leadership from the Helsinki Commission, was influential in placing antisemitism high on the OSCE’s human rights agenda.
Human Rights First has since 2002 been documenting the problem of antisemitic violence as a serious human rights concern and pressing governments to enact comprehensive policies to address antisemitic and other forms of hate crime. Human Rights First continues to engage with the OSCE in an effort to press States to make progress in implementing their commitments as well as to advance the model of OSCE hate crime work in other regions of the world.
At the hearing, six witnesses represented key Washington government agencies and civil society research & advocacy groups tasked with monitoring and reporting on antisemitism globally.
One of the invited organizations, The Anti-Defamation League, has been a key partner in Human Rights First’s intergovernmental advocacy, and Stacy Burdett, Director for Government and National Affairs, argued at the hearing that the overall response to hate crime by OSCE governments remains inadequate. In a recent analysis paper jointly produced by ADL and Human Rights First, we observed that the full extent of hate crimes in the OSCE region continues to be obscured by a lack of adequate or reliable data. Governments are also slow in enacting tailored hate crime laws and using them on a consistent basis to prosecute perpetrators of violent attacks.
These shortcomings undermine the political commitments made by countries in the OSCE region. The failure of policymakers to take action to prioritize hate crime allows racist, antisemitic, homophobic, and other bias-motivated violence and discourse to proliferate. Antisemitic violence, for example, remains a serious global problem today, and a recent discussion between HRF’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino and the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Hannah Rosenthal zooms in on some key trends we observe around the world:
Hannah Rosenthal reiterated many of these concerns in her testimony, also accentuating the need for all countries affected by the Arab Spring to embrace religious tolerance and remember the mistakes of the past.
Human Rights First will continue to work with the State Department, members of Congress, and others urging them to champion smart solutions to combat violence motivated by antisemitism and other forms of intolerance. Our 2010 testimony on combating antisemitism at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, presented by Elisa Massimino, outlined specific recommendations for advancing effective responses:
- The United States should demonstrate international leadership in the OSCE by encouraging the implementation of commitments and by providing extrabudgetary contributions to specific initiatives to combat anti-Semitic and other hate crime. In particular, the United States should ensure active participation by experts in the Department of Justice in the OSCE’s group of National Points of Contact on Combating Hate Crime.
- The United States should advance efforts to combat antisemitism in bilateral relations by ensuring that the need to confront this problem is a part of regular discussions with other governments, and by offering technical assistance and other forms of cooperation, as appropriate.
- The United States should positively contribute to the strength of civil society actors on the ground a key factor in promoting a vigorous government response by ensuring that human rights defenders working on tolerance and nondiscrimination issues in their countries have access to the funds and training resources they need to succeed.