Project aimed at fighting hate crime acquires fresh urgency in light of migrant crisis

Photo: Gabriela Hauptvogelová

In 2015 the government launched a two year project to help fight hate crime directed against Romanies and other minorities in the Czech Republic. With the migrant crisis, the project acquired a broader scope and greater urgency. In Iustitia, an NGO that helps victims of hate crime was involved in the undertaking. I spoke to its founder, lawyer Klára Kalibová, to find out more.

 Klára Kalibová,  photo: Adam Kebrt
“In Iustitia was a partner in this project organised by the Office of the Government and the Agency for Social Inclusion which launched a campaign against racism and hate violence. The campaign targeted several areas such as the training of police officers and developing guidelines for the police -for which we were directly responsible, also the training of teachers, a public campaign on social media called Hate Free and research in socially excluded areas.”

Originally though it was linked to hate crime against Romanies, wasn’t it?

“Actually, the main impulse for this campaign were the demonstrations in Litvinov in 2008, violent demonstrations against the Roma inhabitants of socially excluded areas and the idea was to train people who could help hate crime victims to survive and to cooperate with the criminal-justice system. That is why police officers and teachers were given special training.”

So how are police officers trained in this respect?

“The training was to enhance the ability of the police not only to investigate biased motivation of hate crimes, but also to deal with hate crime victims to provide them with necessary assistance or to refer them to organizations that are service providers for victims of hate crime.”

But, one would have expected them to have this training already as police officers – so what are you actually training them in?

“It is crucial for victims of hate crime to know that the police are taking their situation seriously.”

“It is partially diversity training, hate crime victim oriented training which means that the people endangered by hate violence and their needs are at the centre of attention. We train the police to understand their needs, to detect them and to respond to them adequately. For people who are endangered by hate violence or victims it is crucial for them to know that the police are taking their situation seriously. They need to hear that and they need to hear it from the police.”

Who does this concern in the Czech Republic? How much hate crime is there and what kind of hate crime is it?

“Our organization engages in monitoring hate violence long term, we have statistics since 2011 that suggest hate violence is on the rise and the forms of hate violence and the target groups are changing. It is not only the Romany minority but also foreigners, Muslims and people who work in NGOs and human rights organizations that help potential targets and victims. That for us is rather surprising, that people who engage on behalf of refugees and the Roma are the third largest community endangered by hate crime. They get verbal abuse, threats, and even death threats.”

Originally hate crime was targeted against Romanies, has the migrant crisis worsened the situation, broadened the problem?

Photo: Gabriela Hauptvogelová
“For the Roma population it is still the same, a couple of dozen hate crimes a year, as regards migrants there has been a steep increase, as well as for human rights activists.”

You said the victims often don’t trust police officers. How was this campaign received in the ranks of the police?

“It was a surprise for me that the police management was really open to this kind of training and I believe that we can build on that. Sometimes we had issues with some individuals, but that occurs, and this is the very first training of its kind in that scope in the Czech Republic.”

You trained officers in two regions I believe?

“Yes, we trained officers in the Usti nad Labem region and in northern Moravia. ”

What were the most important lessons conveyed – apart for the need to take victims seriously?

“That was actually the most important lesson, because our police officers are actually quite good at investigating hate crimes but they need more experience in some areas of bias motivated crime, because the case law is developing, the situation is developing, the typology of perpetrators is changing…They actually know the law very well. Sometimes they are not able to apply it successfully and some of them are quite sceptical, because they do not see their efforts bear fruit. I have met many police officers who tried very hard in several hate crime cases and were not successful in filing charges because in the Czech Republic it is the state attorney who decides whether the case should go to court or not. And if that happens repeatedly those police officers lose the motivation to investigate this type of crime.”

“People who engage on behalf of refugees and the Roma are the third largest community endangered by hate crime.”

Do you feel that incidents such as that which happened at the Slavik music awards recently –that a band with racist lyrics took part and a Romany singer walked out of the ceremony – does this kind of thing fuel racism and intolerance in the Czech Republic. Do you feel that the band should not have been allowed to compete?

“Yes, I believe the band should not have been allowed to compete. That is the responsibility of the organizers of the contest. It is not just outrageous that the band was allowed to compete, but also that after another singer, Radek Banga, left the ceremony he was abused online, he was criticized by other singers and now he stands almost alone against incredible hatred.”

It is more than a quarter of a century since communism fell and borders opened. Have you not monitored any improvement over that time in terms of growing tolerance and less hate crime?

“In terms of physical violence there has been a significant improvement because in the 1990s things were much worse, then we had murders of Romanies and we do not have that now. But what we see is a general worsening in the attitude of the society, lack of social engagement, lack of common sense and decent behaviour. I wouldn’t say that the Czech young generation is more or less racist than that in Germany or Britain, but what we lack in post-communist societies is community engagement .”

There is a lot of hate speech on social networks -how can that be addressed?

“It can be addressed by law, it can be addressed by engagement and it can be addressed by diplomacy.”

People there obviously feel safer, they are anonymous….

“What we need here is real engagement on the part of Facebook to protect our society from hatred.”

“Yes, perpetrators feel they are safer and they are right, because Facebook at least does not protect people against hate speech sufficiently although here in the Czech Republic we have laws which protect people against these verbal attacks as well. Hate speech online is a crime but in my experience Facebook does not cooperate with the Czech police to investigate incidents of verbal crime and in those circumstances people really feel clueless and powerless. Sometimes they suffer more by being target long-term online than from an individual physical attack. So what we need here is real engagement on the part of Facebook to protect our society from hatred.”