The Council of Europe's European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) [official website] reported Thursday that racist violence and rhetoric has risen [report, PDF; press release] in Europe during 2009, following the recent economic crisis [JURIST news archive]. According to the report, the economic crisis has led to a rise in the unemployment rate and a decrease in social services in many countries, with immigrants being blamed for the resulting hardship. The report cites increasing hostility toward the Roma minority [JURIST news archive] as well as the continuing discrimination against Muslims as two examples of groups facing more discriminatory actions. The ERCI specifically pointed to the recent trend in some parts of Europe toward banning the wearing of the burqa [JURIST news archive], noting that the legislation is targeted towards Muslims, and called on countries to encourage religious diversity and acceptance. In order to combat the rising incidents of racism, ERCI is urging the 29 Council of Europe members that have not yet ratified Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights [materials], which prohibits racial discrimination, to do so. They are also advising countries to enforce existing laws against racism and to enact new laws in order to "fill the legal gaps that still exist."
Members of the Roma minority have been frequent targets of discriminatory government actions throughout Europe. In March, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment text] that the practice of segregating Roma primary school students in Croatia from other pupils is discriminatory [JURIST report]. Also in March, the US State Department released their 2009 human rights report [JURIST report] noting an increase in the killings of Roma people in Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. In February of last year, Italian authorities dismantled illegal immigrant camps [JURIST report] heavily populated by members of the Roma minority following the alleged rape of a 14-year old girl by East European immigrants, which led to public outcry and vigilante reprisals. In July 2008, the Italian government began recording the fingerprints [JURIST report] of thousands of Roma, including children, ostensibly to reduce street crime and begging. Later that month, the European Parliament [official website] called on EU member states to repeal all anti-Roma laws and the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights urged Italy to change its "severe" policies [JURIST reports] on Roma people.