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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 10:36 pm on March 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-discrimination, , , , , , , , , ,   

    Not a very good day for equality in Germany 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Last week the highest appellate court in Germany ruled that hotels could turn away right-wing extremists on grounds of the latter´ political views.

    The case that received considerable domestic attention concerned a hotel in the state of Brandenburg which, in 2009, refused to provide a room to the former head of the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD), Udo Voigt. Voigt sued the hotel for discrimination, for banning him on the grounds of his political opinions. The hotel argued that the right-wing extremist´s presence was detrimental to the hotel´s image and reputation. The lower instance courts found in favor of the hotel.

    The Federal Court of Justice ruled that while the hotel could not retroactively cancel the booking, because it failed to demonstrate how Vogt had previously upset other guests with his presence, the hotel was fundamentally “free to decide whom it accepts and whom it does not.” The highest Court admitted that the case raised extremely difficult legal issues, including whether hotels (and by extension restaurants, discos, shops, etc.) are public spaces open to everyone. The case also pitted personal freedom/autonomy against equality. Article 3 of the German Basic Law bans discrimination, inter alia, on the basis of religious or political views. However, the Court stated this principle may not apply between private people and companies.

    This is where the Court, in my opinion, was monumentally wrong. First of all, the principle of discrimination does apply in both public and private sphere. Although the concept may be still new and even somewhat alien in Germany, the EU Race Directive, which Germany had to transpose, extends prohibition of discrimination to both public and private sector. Article 3.1(h) of the Race Directive specifically stipulates non-discriminatory “access to and supply of goods and services which are available to the public, including housing.” Second, the German Basic Law (Article 18) contains a clause whereby persons abusing their constitutional rights could forfeit those rights. The German Court chose instead to conclude that private establishments are free to choose whether and to whom render their services.

    So, before we yield to the temptation to celebrate that neo-Nazi thugs would from now on sleep in the streets instead of hotels, let´s consider implications of the ruling. In reality, what is more likely to happen and in fact happens practically on a daily basis: that private service establishments would turn away white right-wing extremists, or unpopular immigrants/minorities? This was a rather unique case involving the known neo-Nazi, that is, someone a priori rejecting the very principle he tried to invoke. But with this ruling, the Court has handed German private establishments a legal license to discriminate.

    All in all, not a very good day for equal treatment in Germany.

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 4:17 pm on March 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-discrimination, , , , , , national bodies, ,   

    Anti-discrimination bodies in Spain: myth or reality? 

    For months now the team of CIDH Pro Igual has been trying to find out who to turn to in Spain in case of ethnic/racial discrimination. (Stress on discrimination – not hate crimes, or gender violence, or illegal immigration). The mission appears impossible.

    According to the EU equality provisions (inter alia, the Race Directive), the EU states must establish independent equality bodies in charge of providing assistance to victims of discrimination. Spain was quite late to establish such a body, the European Commission even started proceedings against it. But finally such body or rather bodies were established. The EU website provides links to the Institute of the Woman, the Spanish Ombudsman and the Disability Council, while the Equinet points to OBERAXE (see below). With the Disability Council things are clear — it deals with discrimination on the ground of disability.

    The Spanish Ombudsman, on the other hand, can address discrimination on any grounds, including racial or ethnic origin. A slight problem: it only deals with acts of discrimination or injustice allegedly committed by public bodies. It specifically states that it is not competent to deal with conflicts between private parties, which incidentally present a very large portion of discrimination cases. This is true of the National Ombudsman as well as the Ombudsmen and Ombudswomen of autonomous communities.

    Spain also has Ministry of Equality. Under Ministry´s auspices, besides the Disability Council, there is also the Non-Discrimination Council/Racial and Ethnic Origin. But it is proving quite elusive: there is no contact for this Council. Contact information provided on the website of the Ministry of Equality leads to the Institute of the Woman, that is, issues of gender discrimination/violence, and to the Observatory of Racism and Xenophobia (OBERAXE).

    On the website of OBERAXE, the email address provided for contact is incorrect or outdated: oberaxe@mtas.es (letters that the CIDH Pro Igual tried to send to that address bounced, on file). Then there is also contact information for other competent authorities in charge of dealing with discrimination cases, by province: http://www.oberaxe.es/creadi/. It leads to: local governments (ayuntamientos), Ombudsman of a respective autonomous community, and … NGOs. (Interestingly enough, NGOs are apparently regarded as state agents in this case.)

    But then things get even more interesting. Some provinces are better endowed with civil society organisations than others. Somebody lucky enough to live in Madrid or Barcelona has at his or her disposal an impressive list of anti-racism NGOs that can assist with filing claims, offer psychological and other help. Somebody living in a smaller and more remote/less cosmopolitan area has the local government, and maybe a church to turn to. Still many other of the so-called contacts provided on the Observatory´s website are outdated and lead nowhere.

    But even when the organisations are valid, the question arises: are NGOs really equipped to take on the role of the national equality body? There is not a single nongovernmental organisation in Spain that is big enough to reach to all corners of the country or cover all grounds of discrimination. Nor do they get sufficient resources for this task. Has the Spanish state simply created a ghost body without real tasks and pushed its own responsibility for anti-discrimination work onto NGOs?

    Last but no least, a special mention should be made of the police. In communications between CIDH Pro Igual and the Ministry of Equality (on file), a representative of the Ministry of Equality suggested that in case of ethnic/racial discrimination an alleged victim should go to the police, furnishing as much proof of discrimination as possible. It seems rather strange that the police would deal with non-violent cases, such as a polite refusal to let minority persons to a private disco or a shop, especially if some sort of an excuse is offered. Some NGOs (SOS-Racismo Madrid) have claimed that, on the contrary, if persons complaining of discrimination did not have valid residence papers, the police would open deportation proceedings against them. Well, in that case the police may be effective in reducing the number of potential victims of discrimination by removing them from the country, rather than having a real impact or deterrence on the actual phenomenon of discrimination.

    The question, however, remains — where CAN a victim of alleged racial (nonviolent) discrimination committed by private parties turn to in Spain?


  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 10:27 am on February 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-discrimination, , , , , , , ,   

    Hello world! 

    Welcome to a new blog of Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIDH) Pro Igual, a non-profit non-governmental organisation dedicated to the defense of human rights, above all the right to equality and nondiscrimination on any grounds and in any sphere of life. CIDH Pro Igual subscribes to a holistic approach to equality, which entails: equal treatment before laws; prohibition of direct and indirect discrimination on any grounds; countering intolerance; promoting respect for everyone´s dignity and identity; promotion of social inclusion and participation in society for all, and providing meaningful equality of opportunities for everyone.

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