Just and Safer Cities for All: European initiatives to promote social cohesion

Discriminatory, group-specific violence is an expression and a result of social disintegration. Regarding this as a condition for an increased inclusion of marginalised groups and individuals, a variety of initiatives and programmes respond to the rise of such violence across the EU by making prevention and protection from violence their mission.

European foundations

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights (ECHR), which was drafted by the Council of Europe and entered into force in 1953, commits to the equality of human beings, regardless of “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status” (Art. 14 ECHR). The fact that the Council of Europe makes its ratification one of the conditions of membership, and has appointed monitoring organs to supervise its implementation and to evaluate progress, emphasises its relevance. While the ECHR prohibits discrimination regarding civil and political rights, the European Social Charter aims to supplement it and guarantee social and economic rights. The ESC mentions elderly individuals, children, disabled people and migrants as particularly vulnerable groups. As empirical surveys by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) or evaluations by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) show time and again, continued and intensified efforts to implement the Convention and the Charter in all member states are needed.

European initiatives on the local and regional levels

The goals of such contracts can only be reached if projects on the national, regional, and local levels promote their implementation. The  project “Just and Safer Cities for All”, led by the European Forum fro Urban Security (EFUS) and funded by the EU, traced such initiatives. 140 organisations, NGOs, local authorities, associations, businesses and private initiatives from 14 EU countries followed the call to submit best practices to counter and prevent hate crime and other discriminatory violence. A majority of submitted projects focus on racism and discrimination of ethnic minorities or migrants. Other initiatives are centred on the fight against homophobia, the exclusion of disabled and homeless people, or sexism. The concrete measures are as varied as the target groups. The EFUS-published handbook “Preventing Discriminatory Violence at the Local Level: Practices and Recommendations” categorises 50 selected projects according to the following focal topics:

Fostering Knowledge: One important problem is the lack of solid data on discriminatory violence. Politics, however, needs data for targeted action, to counter negative developments in a timely manner, and to evaluate the effectiveness of measures. This category comprises projects that collect data on and instances of violence and process them, focus on monitoring or research, etc.

Raising Awareness: The projects under this heading aim to raise awareness by for instance conducting campaigns, working with the media and promoting counter-narratives, i.e. reports that emphasise the achievements of marginalised groups for society as opposed to problems.

Empowerment: These projects start from the assumption that disadvantaged groups, but also the population as a whole, need to be empowered to make integration possible, to live inclusion and to acknowledge diversity as a social value. In many initiatives, the main focus is acquisition of skills – e.g. language skills or professional training – but also integration into the labour market.

Targeted Prevention: This includes projects that work with specific target groups (e.g. media representatives, law enforcement officers, religious leaders, teachers) in order to raise their awareness of the issue.

Victim Support: These measures provide direct support to victims of violence, but in fact also benefit the community and the state as violence comes with high social and economic costs that can be reduced or even avoided by extensive and professional victim support.

Transversal Strategy refers to measures that work across professions and sectors. Such projects respond to the complexity of discriminatory violence by involving different actors, support institutions, and stakeholders to counter and prevent violence in a concerted action.

This plurality of approaches and different foci illustrates once more that group-specific violence is many-faceted, but also the fact that a multi-perspective strategy is needed to work against violence and to foster solidarity. In the third blog of this series, we will address the strategic role of local authorities and institutions in promoting social cohesion.

This article is the second in a series of contributions from the IKF‘s “Just and Safer Cities for All” project.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS’

Helga Amesberger and Birgitt Haller are senior researchers at the Institute of Conflict Research in Vienna which is partner of the CPD cluster. Research on integration/ social inclusion and on prejudice is among the institute’s main fields of activities.