Belgium must halt police race violence and end racial profiling, says UN committee

Belgium must take action to tackle "police-related racial violence" and end racial profiling, according to new recommendations by a UN committee published on Monday (3 May). EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL

Belgium must take action to tackle “police-related racial violence” and end racial profiling, according to new recommendations by a UN committee published on Monday (3 May).

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recommended that Belgium “take measures to ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all allegations of racist incidents caused by or involving the police.”

It also called for an explicit prohibition of racial profiling, and establish an independent system for dealing with complaints related to racial profiling.

Elsewhere, the Committee also raised concerns that Belgium’s nationality code effectively created two categories of Belgians, which itself led to discrimination.

There should also be ethnic diversity within the police force, the UN committee concluded.

In response, Tine Claus, a leading official in Belgium’s Federal Public Service for Justice, told the Committee that tackling police violence and racism was a government priority and that racial profiling on the sole basis of ethnic origin was already illegal.

The death of Jozef Chovanec, a Slovak national, following police brutality after he was arrested at Charleroi in 2018, and scenes of police violence in response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, are among a series of recent incidents which the UN committee referred to.

However, the CERD, which is composed of 18 independent experts, also welcomed recent Belgian government measures including reforms to the Social Criminal Code and the Royal Decree to prevent racial discrimination in the workplace.

The UN committee, which monitors the 182 countries that have signed up to a UN convention on eradicating racism, also expressed concerns at reports that there has been an increase in police violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and at recent anti-racism demonstrations.

The recommendations follow a two-week dialogue between the CERD and Belgian authorities between 18 and 30 April. All governments are required to submit regular reports to the UN Committee on what measures they are taking to ensure adherence with the convention.

Race and race relations remain sensitive issues in Belgium, a country that has only recently started to grapple with the consequences of its colonial history. Responding to questions about education on racism and Belgium’s colonial past, the Belgian authorities said both primary and secondary curricula in the Flemish system now addressed the matter of colonialism.

The EU has also identified gaps in Belgian race relations law. In February, the European Commission told five EU countries, including Belgium, to “fully transpose” into national law EU rules that criminalise “serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia”.

The EU executive also noted that legislation in Belgium did not identify racist or xenophobic motives as an aggravating element in crimes.

Complaints of racism rose by almost 50% in 2020, according to Unia, the national authority on non-discrimination. Incidence of hate speech, racism and discrimination, both on and offline, have spiked over the past year, with authorities such as the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency blaming the pandemic.

In 2020, at the initiative of then Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, Belgium established an inter-ministerial conference on the fight against racism and anti-Semitism to better coordinate the actions of the country’s various authorities.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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