After Orlando: Minority groups united for universal human rights

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Promoting tolerance. Pro refugee March, Brussels. [Joel Schalit]

In the wake of the recent horrific homophobic attack in Orlando, some will use this attack to justify counter-terrorism measures that restrict human rights and lead to backlash against immigrants, Muslims and others, write  Michaël Privot and Evelyne Paradis.

Michaël Privot is Director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), and Evelyne Paradis is Director of ILGA-Europe, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

Now, more than ever, is the time to stay united, to tackle hatred and prejudice across all communities, and to recognise that people have multifaceted identities and face multiple discrimination.

Over the past year, we have seen (with growing alarm) attempts across the European Union to play out one group at risk of discrimination against another, using emotions to cultivate and justify a xenophobic political agenda. Women’s rights, LGBTI rights and the rights of certain religious or ethnic minority groups have in some instances been framed as ‘European values’ that need protection from ‘others’. This in turn has been used by some to justify xenophobic or Islamophobic policies or practices.

We will probably be seeing more of this in the aftermath of the Orlando attack. It will be all the more important to reaffirm that gender equality, protection of ethnic and religious minorities and LGBTI people’s rights are universal human rights. States have the duty to enforce these rights and protect every single individual against violence, without fuelling stigmatisation of specific communities.

The division between “EU values” and the rest of the world, in particular the “Muslim world” is artificial and unfortunately is used to swell the ranks of Daesh supporters. It is unacceptable that any government, political party or group pins the blame for discrimination and violence against women, LGBTI and Jewish people on refugees and Muslim communities alone, whilst they themselves have failed to protect all these groups from discrimination, wherever it comes from.

In addition, security measures have already led to human rights violations in some EU countries, such as discriminatory racial profiling and police abuse. Security concerns have also been used to limit the ability of NGOs to carry out their work or restrict the right to freedom of assembly. These actions not only restrict human rights but have also proven to be counterproductive in combatting terrorism by further alienating European Muslims, fuelling tensions between communities, and sowing the seeds of further radicalisation.

No community or culture is immune to homo- and transphobia, sexism, bigotry, racism and prejudice, or violence. The truth is that the rights of LGBTI people are sadly far from being protected and ensured across the board in Europe and the rest of the world. Violence against women, as well as homophobic and transphobic crime are structural and endemic, rooted in exclusion, inequalities and patriarchal values. Accusations that certain ethnic or religious communities are solely responsible for bias violence amounts to a denial – both of the full scope of such violence and the discrimination and the diversity of perpetrators and victims. It is a very convenient way for decision makers to deflect legitimate questions about their ongoing lack of action to tackle such forms of violence seriously, beyond cosmetic or symbolic declarations.

EU member states have a duty to enforce human rights and ensure that everyone feels safe in Europe. This means including human rights safeguards in EU and national counter-terrorism laws, and giving intelligence services, police and border authorities, and justice systems the financial and human means to ensure non-discriminatory, fair and efficient policing. It also means ensuring non-discrimination and equality legislation is respected and protects all grounds of discrimination.

It means tackling hate crime, including homophobic and transphobic crime, effectively across the EU and ensuring timely investigation, prosecution and sanctioning of racist violence or incitement to violence – whoever the perpetrators are.