International Community Can and Must Do More to Confront Hate Crimes

By David Weinberg | Washington Representative for International Affairs and Susan Corke | Director of Countering Antisemitism and Extremism at Human Rights First

August 15, 2018

The Hill

In 2017, when the number of homophobic hate crimes increased in Norway, the Oslo police force marched in the Pride parade as a show of solidarity. When Canadian synagogues were threatened, authorities denounced the threats as antithetical to Canadian values, and police promised to proactively ensure security at Jewish facilities. And when two Indian men were shot in Kansas, the attack was condemned by authorities and prosecuted as a hate crime.

Hate crimes are despicable and destructive acts that not only hurt the immediate victim, but threaten social cohesion, basic security, and democratic ideals. In these examples, authorities reacted swiftly and addressed the broader societal dimension of the crime. But in too many instances, hate crimes are not addressed, prosecuted, or reported.  

Fifty-seven national governments in Europe, Eurasia, and North America have committed to combating this scourge by tracking and submitting hate crime data to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a regional security institution. However, the latest round of national data submitted to the OSCE shows that many participating governments, including the United States, are not meeting this commitment to its full extent.

Since 2010, our two organizations, the Anti-Defamation League and Human Rights First, have jointly authored an annual report on hate crime statistics submitted by national governments to the OSCE. We are sad to report that most of these governments are still doing a shamefully inadequate job.

Tracking and reporting disaggregated hate crime figures are essential. This data helps identify when particular communities are in crisis and provides law enforcement authorities and policy-makers with accurate information for allocating resources. As our report explains, “when a Muslim woman is attacked for wearing a hijab, or a Jewish man is beaten for wearing kippah, the effects ripple far beyond the individual incident.” They strike fear into the hearts of an entire community and threaten people’s right to live freely in accordance with their faith and identity.

When individual incidents are not well-tracked, the danger of recurrence is high. Unfortunately, our latest annual report finds that of the 57 participating governments, 21 of them did not submit data at all for the most recent reporting period, and another 15 submitted data that was not disaggregated by bias type, meaning that they did not bother to identify which communities were disproportionately impacted by such crimes – a crucial piece of information without which the figures have little meaning.

Of the 21 states that did not submit data to OSCE, some - such as Norway and Bosnia and Herzegovina - have previously reported data and have well-established data collection systems, but still inexplicably failed to submit data in the most recent cycle. This is unacceptable, both because of the lack of accountability that it signals and the impact on the credibility of the OSCE program for monitoring hate crimes.

The United States has done a noteworthy job of issuing detailed data to the OSCE in line with its commitments. However, problems remain with our reporting; a 2013 Department of Justice study found that more than half of hate crimes go unreported. Furthermore, authorities in over 90 American cities with over 100,000 residents either affirmatively reported zero hate crimes in their jurisdictions during 2016 or outright ignored the FBI’s request to provide hate crime data. These problems are not unique to the United States, but they show how much more there is to be done to ensure that hate crimes are recorded, especially at a time when minority communities already have many tragic reasons to mistrust law enforcement authorities.

Indeed, our report makes clear that every state needs to strive to improve its hate crime reporting mechanisms. Government agencies, in partnership with NGOs, experts, and community groups, need to ensure that victims can efficiently report hate crimes without fearing for their safety and to assess local participation in their national reporting mechanisms. States also need to improve training for police officers, so that they may better counter their own biases, investigate all hate crimes, and report them as such. Finally, they need to codify all types of bias in their hate crime laws so all vulnerable communities are protected.

In April 2017, when Sarah Halimi, an elderly Jewish woman, was murdered in her apartment in France, it took 10 months for the antisemitic character of the attack to be included in the case. All too often, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and state officials are reluctant to identify a crime as bias-motivated.

Governments must make addressing, identifying, and reporting hate crimes a true priority. Until they do, hate crime will put the security and unity of the entire population at risk.

While the governments of some OSCE states have much farther to go than others at reaching this goal, we encourage all to make continuous improvements in their hate crime reporting, and we encourage the U.S. government to help lead the charge, both by persuasion and by example.