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Northern Ireland in midst of ‘hate crime epidemic’ warning

‘We’re calling for a much more robust response from the authorities’ - Patrick Corrigan

Northern Ireland appears to be “in the midst of a hate crime epidemic” after a series of racist hate crimes were reported in recent weeks, said Amnesty International.

Amnesty is calling for a more robust government response to hate crime in Northern Ireland, including an independent review of the region’s laws.

In the latest incidents this week, a brick was thrown through the window of a Bangladeshi family in north Belfast, a brick was thrown through the window of a Belgian man in east Belfast injuring him, and a Syrian family suffered a series of attacks at their home in west Belfast.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director for Amnesty International, said:

“Northern Ireland appears to be in the midst of a hate crime epidemic. In the last year, the PSNI recorded 595 racist hate crimes in Northern Ireland. That means that twice a day someone is having their person or property attacked by racists.

“In most cases, no-one is ever held accountable. Police figures show that more than 80% of hate crimes result in no prosecution or even a warning for the offender. This is simply unacceptable and sends a worrying message to both perpetrators and victims.

“We’re calling for a much more robust response from the authorities. That must include bringing our race equality laws into line with the rest of the UK where Northern Ireland has fallen behind, and an improvement on prosecution and conviction rates for those responsible for these disgusting attacks.

“Stormont’s Department of Justice should follow the example of the Scottish government in establishing a comprehensive independent review of hate crime legislation to consider scope for improvement.

“Everybody in this community should be able to go about their lives in peace, without fear of attack from those who seek to sow hatred and division.”

Urgent action needed

In June, Amnesty published a briefing on hate crime in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

Amnesty is calling for the following steps in Northern Ireland:

*Strengthen race equality legislation to bring it into line with the UK Government’s international obligations relating to the promotion of human rights for racial minorities and other groups, and with the recommendations of international human rights monitoring bodies.

*In preparation for this, the Department of Justice should initiate an independent review of hate crime legislation to consider the scope for improvement of current laws.

*Ensure the adequate and appropriate collection and publication of detailed data on hate crime and public perceptions regarding hate crime, comparable with other parts of the UK.

*Publish the long-awaited sexual orientation strategy and action plan, and publish the gender equality strategy to demonstrate how government will tackle the negative attitudes which lead to hate crime.

*Take effective action to detect and prevent transphobic hate crime. The Department of Justice should amend the 2004 Criminal Justice (No 2) (NI) Order to include hostility towards transgender people as an aggravating factor for any crime.

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