LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Hate crime & hate speech

The definitions: what is hate crime and hate speech?

Hate crime is any form of crime targeting people because of their actual or perceived belonging to a particular group. The crimes can manifest in a variety of forms: physical and psychological intimidation, blackmail, property damage, aggression and violence, rape, and murder.

Hate speech is public expressions which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred, discrimination or hostility towards a specific group. They contribute to a general climate of intolerance which in turn makes attacks more probable against those given groups.

LGBTI-phobic hate crime and hate speech is violence and speech and/or aggression towards LGBTI people due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and/or sex characteristics. It includes homophobic and transphobic hate crime and hate speech.

Why is it important to focus on hate crime and hate speech against LGBTI people?

LGBTI people fear violence and hate everywhere in Europe. More than 1 of 4 LGBTI individuals has either experienced physical/sexual violence or threats within the last 5 years, according to the 2012 survey conducted by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

In general, hate crime and hate speech aim to undermine the dignity and value of a human being belonging to a particular social group – based on their skin colour, ethnicity, religion/belief, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. On a wider scale, it sends a negative message to LGBTI communities, their supporters and rest of the society. It implies that a particular social group does not deserve recognition, respect, equality and tries to legitimise attacks  on members of that group.

What are the numbers?

There is a serious lack of systematic monitoring, documenting and data collection of hate and violence against LGBTI people. Nevertheless, the FRA’s first ever LGBT survey conducted in 2012 confirmed the universal nature of this problem:

  • 26% of LGBT people who answered the survey had been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years.
  • 66% of respondents across all EU Member States were scared of holding hands in public with a same-sex partner.
  • For gay and bisexual men respondents the figure was about 75%.

All European states have also committed to collect data and communicate it tothe Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for its annual hate crime report entitled ‘Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region – Incidents and Responses. In practice however, only a minority of States do so in the case of LGBTI-phobic crimes. The official data collected represents only a fraction of the real situation.

What are the reasons for underreporting of LGBTI hate crime?

LGBTI people are one of the vulnerable groups which have historically experienced hostility from the law enforcement institutions. This situation has considerably improved in some countries; but in others there still is a lack of mutual trust and confidence between LGBTI victims and law enforcement authorities. These are just some of the reasons why too many LGBTI-phobic crimes remain unreported. The 2010 FRA survey supports this fact, as half of all victims of violence and harassment felt that the police would do nothing. Additionally, reporting LGBTI-phobic hate crimes carries a risk and fear of disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. All these factors significantly contributes towards underreporting of LGBTI-phobic crimes.

What are the European institutions doing?

  • European Union: Currently the EU law does not require its Member States to recognise sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression as a bias motivating factor in criminal law. The EU only recognises racism and xenophobia in its 2008 Framework decision on combatting racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. However, the EU’s Directive on the rights of victims recognises that the nature of bias crimes and the victim’s personal characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, have to be part of the assessment of the existence of specific protection needs.
  • Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe:  OSCE institutions and participating countries made a number of commitments tackling all forms of hate crimes.  The organisation produces an annual report Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region – Incidents and Responses which maps all reported hate crime incidents in the OSCE region. The work on hate crimes is being carried out by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) office within the OSCE.
  • Council of Europe: In 2010, the Committee of Ministers adopted a historical recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Recommendation includes concrete measures to combat LGBTI-phobic crime, ensure effective systems and procedures for data collection and victims’ protection.
  • National level: The legislation varies a lot from country to country. In some EU member states, homophobia and transphobia are an aggravating factor in sentencing crimes. Incitement is also punished in penal law in some jurisdictions.

How do ILGA-Europe work on hate crime and hate speech?

ILGA-Europe want to make sure there is consistency at European and international level on hate crime and hate speech. We monitor the way EU member states implement their various commitments. We are also working for the EU to extend its anti-racist legislation so that hate crime and hate speech law becomes consistent and covers homophobia and transphobia in all 28 Member States.

We work with our members at national level, where we promote evidence-based advocacy to aim for the adoption of legislation and policies by national law-makers and governments.

ILGA-Europe work with professional organisations to encourage training of police staff, prosecutors, judges, lawyers). We also promote the collection of factual evidence by our membership, and we help members to build their capacities in that respect. The Documentation and Advocacy Fund has been mobilised at different times for this purpose.

We also support and assist with litigation cases in the European courts.