NI Human Rights Commission and Council for Minorities clash over racism

Mark Devenport has a very interesting entry on his blog on the BBC. The United Nation’s Committee for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination has been taking evidence in Geneva from various UK pressure groups, including a number of Northern Ireland-based lobbyists.

The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are in disagreement over whether or not to regard sectarianism as a form of racism.

In May, the NI Human Rights Commission made a written submission to the UN committee in which it argued that “sectarianism in Northern Ireland should be treated as a ‘subset’ or particular manifestation of racism”.
The commission argued that viewing sectarianism as “Protestant-Catholic religious prejudice, political factionalism, or even ‘tribalism’ ” placed it outside the context of well-established international human rights law, specifically the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which came into force back in 1969.
The commission said sectarianism could be looked at as a particular form of racism, on a par with anti-semitism or Islamophobia.

The director of the Council for Ethnic Minorities Patrick Yu (himself a former member of the Human Rights Commission) disagreed. The Geneva committee’s report of his submission stated:
Race relations were subsumed under a general “good relations” agenda, but the latter then focused almost exclusively on relations between the majority (Protestant unions) and minority (Catholic nationalist) communities. The Racial Equality Strategy was endorsed by all political parties but remained frozen.

Form the BBC: Mr Yu said that applying race relations law to sectarianism could draw the courts into disputes concerning parades and the Irish language.
“Separate provision exists in law, and police practices, to cover issues of sectarianism, and that is welcome, but using race relations legislation would in our view distract from the very real needs and concerns of the minority ethnic community in NI”

, , , ,

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Interesting one. They are related issues, but sectarianism isn’t really about race. It’s as bad as racism in many ways but I agree with Mr. Yu, we’ll never get anything done about the quite distinct racial prejudice problem if we simply lump it in with the sectarian problem. The latter will obscure the former and it will be another excuse for inaction. There are some very different issues involved in racial discrimination which need to be separately addressed.

  • Neil

    Agreed in that it’s an interesting one. However I find this from Yu noteworthy:

    To extend race relations law in this way, he maintained, would “draw the courts and others into disputes about parading, Irish language and issues that are ‘majority’ concerns in that they affect Protestants/unionists and Catholics/nationalists, but not the minority racial and religious groups found in NI.”

    Racism can also be a ‘majority’ concern. Look at the USA, where racism occurs primarily between white folks and black folks. They obviously make up the vast majority of the community.

    It would appear that Mr. Yu thinks that racism does not apply if it is not against a minority community. Understandable from the Director of the Council for Ethnic Minorities in a way, but in a more general way it seems that Mr. Yu is against it for the simple and incorrect view that racism must be against a minority to be racism, which clearly plays to his audience.

    That said, a better argument would have been (imho) ‘Racism?! Away and give yersell a shake, you’re all white Christians ffs.’

  • Cynic2

    “sectarianism isn’t really about race”

    I couldn’t disagree more. On both sides now the role of religion in society is hugely diminished and largely confined to a minority interest and convenient label to distinguish themuns from usuns.

    The fundamental ethos is that Loyalists see themselves as Ulster Scots racially separate from the heathen Irish while Republicans see themselves as descendants of the Gaelic Irish Race who are the true ‘owners’ of the land.

    Its all total nonsense. We are all interbred over so many generations. There are nearly as many french and Anglo Saxon genes in the Republic as there are in the North – indeed perhaps even more as the North West had a good bit more Viking blood injected at various stages of our history.

    So at the very bottom of sectarianism is a clash between two racial myths. It’s racist.

    I understand why NICEM don’t want it to be seen that way – because it would dilute the focus on discrimination against ethnic minorities – but at heart its a racial issue

  • Race isn’t just about the genes that make us a particular skin colour, bone structure size or shape – people can and do “choose” their race linked to their religious and cultural identity and ethnicity.

    Racism and sectarianism are not mutually exclusive and the cynical part of me wonders if it is the F word (in this case funding) that keeps them apart.

  • Stewart

    This was talked about on Good Morning Ulster this morning, only heard the start but they had Dr Pete Shirlow from Queens on talking about it – would have been around 8.35ish if anyone wants to listen again.

  • Sectarianism and Racism are both very unpleasant things. But they are different (related but different).
    The underbelly of Irish Nationalism contains an element of exclusivity. The underbelly of British Nationalism also has an element of racial superiority.
    And clearly there is a ethnic dimension to our Troubles….ethnic Irish and ethnic British.
    But during the course of the Troubles I dont think anyone was killed for skin colour.
    Post Conflict we have both Racist and Sectarian incidents and possibly in the case of Eastern European there is an overlap.
    But the fact is that black and Asian people in Norn Iron do suffer abuse, largely because they are VISIBLY different.
    Have there been many fatalities?
    If all Catholics were painted Green and all Protestants painted Orange, frankly we would have fatalities.
    Makes ya think.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Why don’t we just have one large organization that looks after all discrimination, whether human rights, racial, monetary or sectarian, and then throw in all the victims groups as well.

    At least then we would have a consistency of approach applied, which is far from what we have at the moment, and could hopefully save some money with the removal of a massive duplication of effort. .

  • Simples.
    This way provides TWO jobs for the Golden Halo people instead of ONE.

  • ayeYerMa

    Here’s the OED definition of “race”:

    race2

    Pronunciation:/reɪs/
    noun

    each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics:people of all races, colours, and creeds
    [mass noun] the fact or condition of belonging to a racial division or group; the qualities or characteristics associated with this.
    a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.; an ethnic group:we Scots were a bloodthirsty race then
    a group or set of people or things with a common feature or features:some male firefighters still regarded women as a race apart
    Biologya population within a species that is distinct in some way, especially a subspecies:people have killed so many tigers that two races are probably extinct
    (in non-technical use) each of the major divisions of living creatures:a member of the human racethe race of birds
    literary a group of people descended from a common ancestor:a prince of the race of Solomon
    [mass noun] archaic ancestry:two coursers of ethereal race

    It an ambiguous term and isn’t just about skin colour as FJH suggests. There isn’t a clear difference between “ethnicity” and “race”. Neither is there a clear difference between “ethnicity” and “sects” as “sects” aren’t restricted to religion either.

    That’s why I’m always sceptical about laws which refer to such things as can be open to many different interpretations. On a similar note where is the line drawn between “culture” and opinion? Where is the line to be drawn between freedom of expression and unacceptable opinion? Where is a line drawn between selection on what you interpret to be the best opinion and “discrimination”? Is it right that those claiming a belonging to a particular group get extra protections than an individual who shows no allegiance to any such group and simply sees himself as an individual human being?

  • Cynic2

    The Race Relations Act 176 uses the definition

    ” “racial group” means a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins, “

  • iluvni

    How much do these two commissions/councils cost us a year….one A&E unit?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Cynic2,
    I don’t think we disagree really here – we both think perceptions of ‘race’ and group origins are part of the ethnic difference between the two communities in N. Ireland. But my point was that sectarianism isn’t ABOUT race (‘about’ meaning mainly centred upon), it’s much more about other aspects of ethnic difference, e.g. perceived group histories, religious affiliation, cultural affiliation, geographic affiliation and so on. Race is part of the ‘perceived’ bit of ‘perceived group histories’. It’s there but it’s not the issue except in a very stretched sense of the word.

    We’re two different ethnic groups, but not different racial groups. Genetically our make ups are not very different, if at all; our main differences are cultural. People coming to Britain from Asia or Africa have other issues to deal with, based on race, that we frankly don’t.

    Racial difference is not just about a set of beliefs or cultural assumptions, it is about human appearance. We are all mixes of some sort and it is a question of degree. But when your appearance marks you out, that creates a different set of issues you have to deal with than if you look like people around you. I’ve had the experience plenty of times in Africa of being the only white person around and it wasn’t unreasonable for my whiteness to be the first thing people noticed about me there.

    I would be disappointed for non-white people in Northern Ireland if their specific issues, which are acute in some places, were squeezed into a sectarianism-shaped box. Particularly as we have adopted a kind of tolerance of peaceful sectarianism so as to avoid its evil twin violent sectarianism (a dubious strategy if ever there was one). If I were a non-white person in NI, I’d feel like lumping them in together was like kicking my racial discrimination issues into the long grass.

  • For reference this is the NIHRC’s submission to the UN:

    http://tinyurl.com/3sst28y (pdf)

    The report continually refers to the existance of two, easily packageable ethnicities.

    A further factor to bear in mind with this outbreak of turf war amongst the various local human rightists is that Monica’s replacement at the NIHRC, Professor O’Flaherty, has specialised in the area of racism. He’s presently on the board of the European Roma Rights Centre and also has acted as adviser to the Un on ethnic rights in in Bosnia and Sierra Leone. He is Secretary of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

    Moving the hatred for which we are world-renown for (and without which there would in all likelihood be no NIHRC) into the “racism” box thus raises the NIHRC’s profile and helps maintain O’Flaherty’s place at the big table.

  • wild turkey

    “Moving the hatred for which we are world-renown for (and without which there would in all likelihood be no NIHRC) into the “racism” box thus raises the NIHRC’s profile and helps maintain O’Flaherty’s place at the big table.”

    O’Neill. on first read i thought you were suggesting that O’Flaherty is a quangocrat on the make (excuse the tautology). if you are suggesting that NIHRCs proposal to stuff sectarianism into the racism box is an example of an organisation seeking market dominance thru horizontal integration, i’m in full agreement.

    ah, can anyone out there list , since its inception, 3 achievments of NIHRC that have a discernible impact on the lives of most, or at least some, of us in NI?

  • wild turkey,

    O’Neill. on first read i thought you were suggesting that O’Flaherty is a quangocrat on the make (excuse the tautology).

    If he’s giving up his various other international positions and responsibilities to take over the allegedly full-time position of operating the parish pump that is the NIHRC, then it would be a very strange suggestion to make- sacrificing up all that UN meaningful stuff to reinvigorate the BOR that almost everybody has given up as dead.

    No… more charitably, an internationally well-known anti-racist expert conveniently at the helm as sectarianism becomes *recognised* as anti-racism should help such a N.Irish human rights institution as the NIHRC in its future good-doing shouldn’t it?

    ah, can anyone out there list , since its inception, 3 achievments of NIHRC that have a discernible impact on the lives of most, or at least some, of us in NI?

    It helped remove several highly irritating figures from under our public noses and put them in a place where the damage they could cause was greatly limited due to their own incompetence and over-inflated self-opinions.

  • granni trixie

    What racism and sectarianism have in common is that they are based on prejudice.Prejudice can impact on practices and negatively impact on the creation of a fair society. Arming children through education about the nature of prejudice can help its elimination.

    I seem to remember that the gov. CSI consultation doc lumped racism and sectarianism together. Friends from ethnic minority communities (OK, two people I know) disagreed with me that it was not productive to do so. I concluded that they had such a view from the experience of regular racism.

    However the reason for my view was that I feared that given the historical denial in NI that sectarianism even existed (hence the problem was not addressed) would lead to it being downgraded as something which needed to be addressed,racism being the ‘new’ problem into which sectarianism would be subsumed.

    It is possible that the BBC reporting has lead to an unfair analysis of the issue as ‘turf wars between NIHRC and NICEM’. It would be so unfortunate if a potentially productive debate within NI is sidelined through the way they brought their differences into an international arena.

    As for remarks about O’Flaherty – come on guys give him a break – he hasn’t even started with HRC -surely he deseves a fair wind? And I for one welcome someone with his track record.

  • Isn’t it strange that I consider myself Irish (second to human) and yet I have lots of English and some Scottish relatives? Separate races? I don’t think so.

  • Kevsterino

    I think that all racism is a form of sectarianism, with the hate object one or more races. As to what constitutes a race, I think for most folks it pertains to the outward physical characteristics that identifies the individual as being an “other”.

    Sectarianism is a different kettle of fish, in that people can’t change their race, even if they wanted, nor is it race as easily concealed.

  • Cynic2

    “can anyone out there list , since its inception, 3 achievments of NIHRC that have a discernible impact on the lives of most, or at least some, of us in NI”

    1 Paying large amounts to lawyers to lose hopeless cases

    2 Demonstrating its own uselessness and ineffectiveness

  • Fair comment, Cynic2. Do you think it’s because of the individuals in charge or the whole concept?

  • Granni Trixie

    However the reason for my view was that I feared that given the historical denial in NI that sectarianism even existed (hence the problem was not addressed) would lead to it being downgraded as something which needed to be addressed,racism being the ‘new’ problem into which sectarianism would be subsumed.

    But that is surely not an objective or definitive reason why they should be categorised together but one based on a fear that if they aren’t then one or other of them will lose its importance?
    How do we define “sectarianism”?
    How do we define “racism”?
    Are those two definitions compatible?
    That should be the only issue to be debated here.

    As for remarks about O’Flaherty – come on guys give him a break – he hasn’t even started with HRC -surely he deseves a fair wind? And I for one welcome someone with his track record.

    From what I’ve read of his career and a little bit of second hand knowledge (re the ERRC), I’d have no concerns regarding his ability or professionalism. The fact that he also has been involved with the promotion of women’s reproductive rights (and wider gender issues) is potentially good news (only “potentially” because I’m sure vested political and religious interests here will fight tooth and nail to ensure women continue to be denied the rights enjoyed by their counterparts in the rest of the UK).

    It’s that track record ironically which bothers:

    1.Why would someone with that kind of record and international involvement give it all up to take over something so hopelessly parochial as the NIHRC? Not only that but why risk his international standing and reputation trying to pull round an an organisation which has no chance of achieving of its core target and which operationally and staff-wise (morale is apparently at a very low ebb), has been an unmitigated disaster during Monica’s reign?

    2.If he’s not giving up those external posts and responsibilities how can he run the NIHRC as full-time leader?
    More pertinently, why should we, as UK tax payers, be paying him that full-time wage?

  • Reader

    granni trixie: Arming children through education about the nature of prejudice can help its elimination.
    But, as another poster suggested above, our local solution has been to kick the sectarianism problem into the long grass – separate development, in all but name. And yes, I know Alliance are not to blame for that!
    So if we merge ordinary racism into our local system we are effectively agreeing not to actually tackle racism head on, just to mitigate its effects. We would be passing up the opportunity to get things right this time.

  • Neil

    I still find it hard to accept the idea that we, for the most part white people who for the most part are from a faith which follows a guy called Christ, believes in a place called heaven and all the rest.

    I know little of Protestantism, but I would imagine there are subtle differences between the various types of Protestant religious groups? You wouldn’t start subdividing Protestantism into the Baptist race, the Presbyterian race, the Methodist race etc., so why would we subdivide the Christians out into Catholic and Protestant races.

    Otherwise, historically, there are cultural differences, (though not these days as we listen to the same music, read the same papers, watch the same shit soaps etc) but then you could probably say the same about people from two different regions in France/Germany etc.

    We’re the same, more or less. That’s why we fight so much, like two family members trying to choke each other to death at the Christmas dinner table.

  • Framer

    Intriguing precedent set here as NIHRC is for the first time concerning itself with “Violence by non-state actors.” This is in its 34-page report to the UN about racial discrimination in Northern Ireland.

    The actors concerned are of course Loyalists. However this could presage a whole new area of activity for NIHRC, especially if the Commission also turn its attention to non-state Republican actors, assuming they can be racist.

    “ARTICLE 5(B): Violence by non-state actors

    The 2010 Criminal Justice Inspection report into hate crimes highlighted a number of recent ‘critical incidents’ in Northern Ireland: In the past 12 months there have been three critical incidents which projected a negative image of Northern Ireland on a world stage. They were: the intimidation of Polish and Eastern European residents in the ‘Village’ area of South Belfast following the behaviour of football supporters attending the Northern Ireland v Poland football match in Belfast; a sectarian murder in Coleraine; and the intimidation of Roma families in South Belfast and the exodus of some 100 Roma back to Romania.

    The Commission has commented that within the draft CSI strategy to combat racism and sectarianism there are no proposals for more proactive measures to monitor and address the existence and ideology of groups behind many such attacks, and other sectarian and racist intimidation. There is also the context of the involvement of illegal paramilitary groups, with evidence having emerged that orchestrated racist attacks have involved elements of Loyalist paramilitarism (Loyalist refers to loyalty to the British Crown). It is a matter of concern that this context is only intermittently referred to in official policy and strategy. The matter was referenced in statements by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) set up by the British and Irish governments to monitor paramilitary ceasefires “with a view to promoting the transition to a peaceful society and stable and inclusive devolved government in Northern Ireland”.110 In this context, in a report published by the UK Parliament, the IMC stated that an “important step would be for loyalist paramilitaries, including the UDA, to stop targeting (Irish) nationalists and members of ethnic minorities”.

    The Committee may wish to ask the UK about specific steps taken to combat Loyalist paramilitary involvement in hate crimes.”

  • Neil

    Don’t worry Between the Bridges will be along to obfuscate, draw up straw men and attempt to derail the discussion, because the Loyalists aren’t to blame, the people observing the Loyalists are the real one’s at fault. If they didn’t report on it, there would be no problem ergo it’s not the fault of the violent criminal scumbags who do this, it’s more the fault of the media?

    He’ll then underline the strength of his argument by calling people some variation of their handle, the way he ingeniously change the ‘e’ to an ‘a’ in Neil to make, wait for it, Nail!! Hilarious, and smart, the guy has all the answers.

    But whatabout the IRA he’ll say, they killed lots of people.

    Yes, BTB they did, but we’re talking about the crimes being committed by people now, not the crimes that groups stopped committing ten years ago. Do you support Loyalist racism and do you respect Loyalist’s tendencies towards murdering civilians for no reason other than sectarianism? Or do you condemn it?

    Or do you just make bad jokes and try to derail the actual topic?

  • Framer,

    The Committee may wish to ask the UK about specific steps taken to combat Loyalist paramilitary involvement in hate crimes

    I would have been happier to read:

    The Committee may wish to ask the UK about specific steps taken to combat hate crimes

    But maybe that’s just me.

  • Sectarianism and Racism by legal definition are different but both are a form of wrongdoing.

    If discrimination in the workplace occurs on the basis of race, you take an action under the Race Relations Act 1976 (or the Race Relations NI Order 1997). If there is religious discrimination, you take an action under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (or under theThe Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998).

    There are also other forms of “ism” which are also discriminatory wrongs – sexism, disabilatism, homophobia.

    The Commission’s motive for changing the definition is set out in this post

    “[the current definition] ….placed it outside the context of well-established international human rights law, specifically the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which came into force back in 1969.”

    But just because the definition does not suit the Commission’s agenda, is twisting a definition the right way to address it?

    Should they not instead be pushing for a new International convention to recognise these other forms of discrimination…….

    …….or instead shut up, trim their staff to save public money and stop wasting everybody’s time. Their role relates to Northern Ireland and we already have plenty of law to deal with sectarian abuse – thank you very much