ODIHR trains the trainers to help battle hate crimes
For the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), one thing is clear: Hard times breed hate crimes.
As the world attempts to deal with the fallout from the global economic downturn, ODIHR has been warning for months that minority groups are becoming scapegoats for the hardships incurred.
"We can see an increase in openly expressed hostility towards minorities...and reports of increasing numbers of hate crimes," ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic told the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Hate Crimes organized by the Office in Vienna in May.
Lenarcic was referring to data received from participating States for the annual report Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region - incidents and responses, which was published on 16 November.
This rise in intolerance across the OSCE region is bad news, of course - not just for the victims of hate crimes, but for the societies in which they occur.
"Of all crimes, hate crimes are most likely to create or exacerbate wider tensions, and these can in turn trigger civil disturbances and even riots," observes Matilde Fruncillo, Adviser on Civil Society Relations in ODIHR's Tolerance and Non-discrimination Department.
Nipping hate crime in the bud
ODIHR has campaigned long and loudly for hate crimes to be recognized and countered appropriately. Earlier this year, for example, the Office published Hate Crime Laws - A Practical Guide, aimed at providing States with benchmarks for drafting hate crime legislation.
But ODIHR also works to help stop hate crimes occurring in the first place.
That is one reason why Fruncillo and her colleagues are rolling out a series of training courses for members of civil society, OSCE field operations personnel and government officials, designed to boost their knowledge of hate crime characteristics and help them to devise effective training courses in their own regions.
The initiative is underpinned by a newly-published resource guide for NGOs, Preventing and responding to hate crimes, conceived as a teaching aid for such workshops.
For Stephen Wessler, who led the first "train the trainer" event, a regional workshop in Warsaw in early September, bolstering the non-governmental sector, in particular, is a logical move.
As Executive Director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence in Portland, Maine, USA, and a former state prosecutor who has conducted scores of workshops on hate crimes, Wessler knows what he is talking about.
"Civil society actors are often positioned to be the first to recognize the early signs of intolerance and discrimination and do something about them, so it's in everyone's interest for ODIHR to lend its support," he points out.
Pipe cleaner "sculptures" raise eyebrows
The ODIHR September seminar - attended by 25 members of NGOs and intergovernmental organizations across Eastern Europe - comprised two parts.
In the first half, participants reviewed information on the general nature and specific characteristics of hate crimes, as well as the kind of impact they can have on communities. They also learned how to recognize danger signs - attitudes or behaviour that can lead to hate crimes - and how to respond to them.
The second part of the course focused on strategies and skills useful in conducting workshops.
Some participants admit that they were initially a little bemused by one or two of the techniques they encountered.
A few, for instance, raised their eyebrows at an exercise in which everyone was given three coloured pipe cleaners and asked to create a "sculpture" of three interlinking shapes.
"Each shape is supposed to represent one aspect of what you consider to be an essential ingredient of your character - it could be your wife, your love of music, your favourite sports team - or equally your sexuality or religion," explains Dmitry Dubrovsky, Associate Professor and Director of the Human Rights Programme at the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, who took part in the exercise.
Participants were then invited to choose which piece of their personal sculpture they could take away while still retaining the basic core of "the whole person". Most found it impossible - and thought-provoking.
"Before we actually got around to making our sculptures, I confess I was very sceptical," smiles Ganiev Shuhrat, Director of the Humanitarian Legal Centre in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
"But let me tell you: A couple of weeks later, I delivered a hate crimes training session to a group of policemen - a pretty cynical bunch of cops. In the anonymous questionnaire I gave them afterwards, they rated the pipecleaners task as one that really made them sit up and take notice," he says.
Another tool in the box
ODIHR staff stress that the primary responsibility for combating hate crimes and the social harm they foment remains with the participating States.
They hope, however, that the seminars can be a valuable complement to other activities. As ODIHR head Lenarcic writes in the foreword to the latest edition of Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region: "With its expanding toolbox of knowledge and expertise, ODIHR can provide targeted technical assistance to States and NGOs in their efforts to combat hate and intolerance."