COMECE: “national level is best placed to fight against hate crimes”

In a recent contribution to a public consultation of the European Commission on Fundamental Rights, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) condemns the grave phenomenon of hate crimes and reiterates the Church’s commitment to tackle it with effective policies.

(Credit: web)

The European Commission has consulted stakeholders on the proposal to extend the crimes on which the EU can legislate, including hate crimes and hate speech.

In its contribution, COMECE underlines that “hate crimes are more and more common and are cause for increasing concern. They are a grave phenomenon to be condemned without reservations. The Church is committed, at the national and global level, to tackle the phenomenon by proposing effective policies”.

While giving policy recommendations, COMECE expressed perplexity on the inclusion of hate crimes and hate speech in the list of “EU crimes”.

Due to concerns related to legal certainty and to a sound protection of Fundamental Rights (e.g. freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of science, freedom of education and of teaching), COMECE considers that “the national level is the appropriate and better placed to address related, highly sensitive questions, in accordance with respective legal traditions and approaches”.

In general, through the criminalisation of hate crimes, criminal sanctions may strike at the mere expression of an idea – or action carried out by the Church in the exercise of its magisterium, -teaching activities – regardless of the intentions of the speaker, the expressions used or the context.

Due to the unsure borders for conduct and expression, COMECE highlighted the risk of a chilling and self-censoring effect on democratic debates and open discussions in society. In this context, the COMECE contribution recalls the reference in the Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti to a “cultural covenant”, “…that respects and acknowledges the different worldviews, cultures and lifestyles that coexist in society”.

Moreover, concerning the online hate crimes and hate speech, COMECE supports the idea that citizens, associations and communities can contribute to create a real “online ecology”.

An eventual inclusion of hate crimes and hate speech in the list of crimes on which the European Union can legislate, should be accompanied by elements such as:

  • Covering ‘hate crimes’, not ‘hate speech’ – the latter being generic and not being covered by any globally agreed definition in international human rights documents;
  • Inclusion of robust and not merely symbolic clauses to protect the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
  • Avoiding prioritising certain protected grounds/characteristics over others. Religion must be included among the grounds protected by the relevant EU legislation;
  • Adopting a terminology that strictly adheres to the formulations of EU primary law;
  • Establishment of specific aggravating circumstances as a possible, less radical option.