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ADL Remarks at International Conference Against Hate Crimes

Remarks by Robert O. Trestan
ADL Eastern States Civil Rights Counsel
Istanbul, Turkey
April 16, 2011 

The Anti-Defamation League has been fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and bigotry for almost 100 years. We have known what many of you attending this conference know; that when one of us is targeted because of our religion, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, none of us is safe. Acts of violence motivated by hatred are an attack on all of us. Acts of hate and terror permeate nations around the world at every level of society. 

Hours after President Barak Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008, three white men went to a black church in Springfield, Massachusetts and set it on fire. The reason they burned the church was because they were angry that an African American man had been elected President. To these men the church represented the "black community," which made it a natural target of their anger. The message of hate was directed at the entire Black community, making them the victim. Two days ago the man who started the fire was found guilty. The jury concluded he was motivated by racism. The verdict was an important measure of justice for the community.

Hate crimes differ from every other crime and understanding their unique impact is part of addressing them effectively. The men who burned the church will now face a harsh sentence, not just because they set fire to a place of worship, but because they did it based on hatred of African-Americans.

In 2009 there were almost 7000 reported hate crimes in the United States. Although this total represented a decrease from the previous year, there remain concerns about under-reporting, inadequate training, and ineffective responses.

ADL has been monitoring and speaking out against prejudice and stereotyping in the United States since 1913.  In 1979, we launched our annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.  When, in the first three years we conducted that audit, we observed a substantial increase in reported anti-Jewish vandalism in the United States, we looked for ways to respond to that challenge.. We focused our efforts on media exposure; education, more effective law enforcement and new legislation to designed to combat hate motivated violence. This legislation is commonly referred to as a "hate crime law."

At the time there were no "hate crime laws" in America. The data told us that a problem existed and today 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes based on or similar to the law that we drafted to serve as the model.  

Hate crime laws will differ from country to country.  We understand that they need to reflect the history and experience of that country. The American experience does not easily translate to Turkey. Our Constitution differs from yours. However, it does provide practical insight into some effective strategies.

Hate crimes are immune to international borders. They happen in countries all over the world and at every level of society. This is why ADL has also been working closely with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to encourage the enactment and implementation of hate crimes laws by all OSCE member states.  The OSCE has made significant progress in moving this idea forward, and the Practical Guide they published, which is available on the OSCE website, is a very useful resource.

Regardless of country, all hate crimes have two common traits which make them unique: 1) they have a profound impact on the individual victim, and 2) they target the community within which the individual is identified, instilling a broad sense of fear and intimidation.

Hate crimes most often occur at the most personal locations -- where we live, where we pray, and where we bury our dead -- and legal protection must be afforded to people and to property. Laws should be designed to deter hate inspired vandalism and intimidation, and to facilitate prosecution for such attacks upon individuals and religious institutions.

Legislation represents one important tool to combating hate violence. But we cannot legislate our way out of the problem. Multiple strategies must be employed in conjunction with the law to properly address hate crimes. This afternoon I will highlight 5 strategies that can easily be adapted to be effective in Turkey.

Hate Crime Law Implementation Strategies

1) Enact a Law to Address and Recognize Hate Violence

The law must protect people and property associated with people who share a particular characteristic, for example a place of worship, cemetery and occasionally a business or home. Although the law must specify which group characteristics are protected, it must be drafted so that everyone is treated equally and afforded the same level of protection. This means a Turkish hate crime law protects each of us equally.

Hate crime laws in the United States, like those in many other European countries, identify bias as a specific aggravating circumstance in the commission of a wide range of crimes. A law that provides an enhanced penalty for acts motivated by bias sends a message to the community that act of hatred simply will not be tolerated, and should they occur, they will be dealt with harshly. 

Enacting a hate crime law is an acknowledgement of the particular kind injury to individuals and the community caused by hate violence. They offer justice not just to the personal targets but to communities they represent.

2) Acknowledge and Identify the Problem

Government officials, community leaders, and law enforcement will not be in a position to confront hate crimes effectively until the scope of the problem is known. This means that data collection is essential to supporting the enactment of hate crime legislation and reducing hate-motivated violence. 

Studies have revealed that some of the most likely targets of hate violence are the least likely to report these crimes. In addition to cultural and language barriers, some immigrant victims, for example, fear reprisals or deportation if incidents are reported. This makes collecting accurate data particularly challenging. 

In the absence of a Turkish hate crime law, NGO's should take the lead in encouraging ethnic and racial minorities and the LGBT community to report indents. It is incumbent upon you to document what is happening in your communities, much like ADL did in the 1970's. Pamphlets and other resources explaining how to report a hate crime and rights and responsibilities under the law will help spread the message. NGO's are in the unique position to establish a relationship of trust with victims which will foster greater reporting. 

Finally, to the extent that the Government collects data, it should publicize or at a minimum make such data available to the public upon request. When civil society has no access to data, they are severely handicapped in their efforts to engage in discussions about the nature and scale of hate crimes as well as ways to combat them. A mandate and institutionalized mechanism to collect data must be part of the overall strategy to combat hate crimes.

3) Provide Law Enforcement with Training and Resources

Police officers must be trained to identify, report, and respond to acts of hate-motivated violence. Including prosecutors within the training framework helps assure police officers that their efforts will be acted upon. A commitment to training demonstrates a resolve to treat these inflammatory crimes seriously and as a priority. These positive steps can be amplified by involving representatives of civil society organizations and minority communities in the training sessions. Prosecutors must similarly be trained to bring bias motives to the attention of the courts and apply legal mechanisms to prosecute hate crimes.

4) Establish Coalition Communication Networks

Hate violence and terror attacks around the world demonstrate the growing need for innovative and nimble collaborations between governments, NGOs, and community-based organizations to leverage each institution's experience, networks, and on-the-ground resources.  Such collaborations create programs to address increase safety and reduce hate-motivated violence.

NGOs can act as an important resource for law enforcement officials, particularly during the initial phases of implementing data collection and training programs. NGOs may be in the best position to encourage individuals – especially their own constituents – to report incidents to the police. Implementing hate-motivated data collection efforts in partnership with community-based groups can greatly enhance police-community relations. Community groups can often act as the voice of credibility during the implementation phase.

Lack of communication and trust hampers efforts to address hate violence. Success requires that these barriers be broken down. This is an opportunity to find ways to build the capacity of NGOs and community organizations to monitor and respond to hate violence and to provide victim assistance where other sources of support may be lacking. Working together in partnership will make a difference in this effort. 

5) Encourage and Maintain the Expectation of Leadership 

The NGO community should seek out every opportunity to speak out against hate motivated incidents and violence. Along with the commitment to fight hate crimes comes the responsibility to speak out against them and encourage others to do the same, especially government officials and leaders within civil society. The police need to treat these cases as a priority and they will have difficulty doing so without being supported by the community and the country's highest officials.

Hate speech not only comes up in the context of hate crimes but in our daily lives; on the street, on television and in the media. Just as hate violence must be condemned, so must hate speech. Freedom of expression remains fundamental to a democratic society; with that comes the responsibility to take a stand against hate speech. When elected officials or journalists spew hatred, we must simply not tolerate it.

Government and civic leaders set the tone for national discourse and have an essential role in shaping attitudes. When they do not condemn hate violence when it occurs, their silence sends a message of acceptance. They must speak out against all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and the targeting of ethnic minorities. This includes hate crimes and terror attacks wherever they occur. Their consistent leadership is critical to the success of reducing hate violence.

Hate crime laws in the United States were enacted because people, like everyone in attendance today, drew attention to the problem, relentlessly pressured leaders to speak out and pursued solutions. Even with laws in place, ADL and others understand the need to keep the pressure on. Just as hate violence transcends borders, so do the people and organizations working on the solutions. For as long as hate has existed, there have been people fighting back. We share the same goal of eliminating hatred and it is honor to be working alongside of you.

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Hate crimes are immune to international borders. They happen in countries all over the world and at every level of society. This is why ADL has also been working closely with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to encourage the enactment and implementation of hate crimes laws by all OSCE member states.

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