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Hate Crimes

 A hate crime is a crime that is motivated by intolerance towards a certain group within society. For a criminal act to qualify as a hate crime, it must meet two criteria:

• The act must be a crime under the criminal code of the legal jurisdiction in which it is committed;

• The crime must have been committed with a bias motivation.

 “Bias motivation” means that the perpetrator chose the target of the crime on the basis of protected characteristics.

A “protected characteristic” is a fundamental or core characteristic that is shared by a group, such as “race”, religion, ethnicity, language or sexual orientation.

The target of a hate crime may be a person, people or property associated with a group that shares a protected characteristic.

While legislation that specifically addresses bias-motivated crime tends to enhance the criminal justice response, it is also important to note that the occurrence of these crimes does not depend on the existence of specific legislation. In that sense, the term “hate crime” describes a concept and not a legal definition. Crimes motivated by bias, prejudice or hate are committed to send a message to both the immediate victim, as well as the group with which the victim identifies him or herself. 

Recognizing the use of legislation to increase effective responses and punish such crimes proportionate to their increased harm to victims, targeted communities and greater social cohesion, OSCE participating States have agreed to address hate crimes through legislative means. Ministerial Council Decision No. 9/09 on Combating Hate Crimes (Athens, 2 December 2009) expresses the participating States’ commitment to, inter alia: “enact, where appropriate, specific, tailored legislation to combat hate crimes, providing for effective penalties that take into account the gravity of such crimes.”

The OSCE, and ODHIR in particular, is one of the few international organizations focusing on the issue of hate crime. ODIHR was tasked by the Ministerial Council to serve as a collection point on information about hate crime in the OSCE region and to make that information public.  Since 2005, ODIHR has been producing an annual hate crime report:  Hate Crime in the OSCE Region: Incidents and Responses. Additionally, ODIHR supports participating States in meeting their commitments on combating hate crime set forth at Athens in December 2009 through Ministerial Council Decision 9/09. To achieve this, ODIHR performs legislative reviews on proposed hate crime legislation, offers training and capacity-building activities for government officials, law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, and civil society organizations, and has a number of key publications on hate crimes designed for legislators and civil society.  More information about ODIHR’s activities on hate crime can be found on its Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Information System (TANDIS). 

 Posted in June 2012

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