Yesterday a United Nations (UN) committee criticised Ireland for failing to uphold its obligations under international law. The Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) pointed to a number of ongoing human rights issues in the state. Included in this is the “high incidence of racial profiling by Irish police” and “the increasing incidence of racist hate speech” as well as hate crime.
A similar UN group has previously called out Ireland for its lack of action on hate speech and hate crime, urging the government to update the country’s laws in order to deal with the issues.
The UPR is, according to the website of the United Nations Human Rights Council, “a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States”. It takes place on a four-and-a-half-year cycle and is overseen by 47 members of the Human Rights Council. And it allows for governments to reveal what they’ve done “to improve the human rights situations in their countries”.
As the UPR detailed, Ireland has yet to form an anti-racism committee, something which the state is obligated to do. The committee also revealed that some of the functions of the former National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism had yet to be reassigned to other bodies. It noted that one such body, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, “was not explicitly mandated to address racism”. Given this, the UPR called on the government to “ensure no protection gaps existed” for groups at risk of experiencing racism. And it requires Ireland to create a National Action Plan Against Racism in keeping with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Another issue the UPR drew attention to is the “reportedly high incidence of racial profiling by the Irish police (Garda) targeted at people of African descent, Travellers and Roma”. Saying it was “concerned” about the problem, the report went on to to observe “the disproportionately high representation of those ethnic minority groups in the prison system”. Adding to this the UN group also highlighted the “lack of legislation” banning racial profiling as well as the non-existence of “related independent complaint mechanisms”.
Hate crime and hate crime speech
The UPR also said it’s “concerned” about an increase in hate speech, “particularly online”. Ireland’s current laws against the incitement of hatred, the UPR argued, are “ineffective”. As a result, it declared that Ireland must “strengthen its legislation on racist hate speech”. And that it must do more to deal with incidents of online hate speech in particular as well as investigating hate speech “committed by politicians”.
Ireland’s lack of legislation to deal with hate crimes came under scrutiny too.
The UN group remarked it’s “concerned about the reportedly high levels of racist hate crime targeted at ethnic minorities”. Worsening the situation it contended that there are currently no laws in Ireland which include “substantive hate crime offences or provide for aggravating circumstances for such a crime”. It called on the government to fix the legal gap and “introduce legislative provisions that included racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance”. What’s more, the UPR demanded that victims of hate crimes are treated appropriately and that members of the gardaí and legal system are given adequate training in how to identify, investigate, and prosecute such cases.
Previous calls for better action
This wasn’t the first time that Ireland faced criticism for its lack of action on hate crime.
In December 2019 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) told the government at the time that it needed to “intensify its efforts” in dealing with hate speech. Similar to the UPR report, it said the current law on the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred was “ineffective”. And it called on Ireland to “Strengthen its legislation” to deal with hate crime and hate speech.
Earlier this year the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) revealed an increase in reports of racism members of the public made to it. The group received 700 reports of racism in 2020 compared to 530 reports it gathered in 2019.
In April minister for justice Helen McEntee published the details of the proposed updating of Ireland’s hate speech laws. Under the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021, it’ll become a crime to target someone based on a “protected characteristic”. Cases of assault and harassment a person carries out based on a victim’s race, nationality, gender, disability, ethnic or national origin, and sexual orientation will now be classed as “aggravated offences”.
The bill also attempts to deal with online hate speech. A person is guilty of such an offence when “for the purpose of inciting, or being reckless as to whether such communication will incite, hatred against another person or group of people due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic”.
In introducing the bill McEntee declared “we are determined to stamp out prejudice and hate”.
Featured image via Flickr – United Nations Photo