International Day Against Racial Discrimination: Recognise past abuses against minority groups

Brussels, 20 March 2015 – Ahead of International Day Against Racial Discrimination on 21 March, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) calls on EU institutions and Member States to recognise Europe’s role in past human rights abuses against minority groups – including slavery, the slave trade, colonialism, and the Jewish and Roma genocides during World War II – and their continuing impact on racism and racial discrimination today.

Many crimes against humanity and past abuses have not yet been officially recognised to the extent that they should be. For instance, the Roma genocide during World War II has been overlooked in many commemoration events. Similarly, claims for remembrance of and apology for the slave trade and colonialism have been ignored to a large extent.

Such recognition is crucial to ensure that the lessons of history are learned, that the root causes of current manifestations of racism can be understood and addressed, and that trust increases between minority and majority groups.

For instance, racism played a key role in the slave trade by constructing the European myth of an inferior Black race that served to legitimise systematic discrimination and violence against Black people. Although science has disproven these biological racism theories, hostility and prejudices towards Black people continue to be embedded – even unconsciously – in the idea of an inferior Black “race”. This legacy extends beyond States that were actively involved in the slave trade and has had a profound impact on the shaping of the European psyche towards people of African descent and Black Europeans. Similar stereotypes exist for other groups such as Roma, Jews and Muslims.

EU Member States should therefore publicly recognise the legacy of historical abuses, for instance by considering establishing truth commissions, producing history factsheets and educational material, reviewing curricula and related text books, and exploring national reparation schemes. These measures could be further encouraged and embedded in European strategies to combat specific forms of racism, as is the case in some countries’ national Roma integration strategies.

ENAR Chair Sarah Isal said: “Racism has been the bedrock of key events in European history – in particular the Holocaust, the slave trade and colonialism. Recognition of these past abuses is crucial to address the humiliation, discrimination and violence millions of people in Europe continue to face today because of their skin colour, ethnicity, culture or religion. Instead of proposing an increasing number of national laws aiming at disclaiming any responsibility in past abuses, legislators should take steps to overturn the tragic impact of these events on their fellow citizens. Peace is the result of acknowledging roles and responsibilities during the dark hours of the past, not of denying memories and their impact.”

For further information, contact:
Georgina Siklossy, Communication and Press Officer
Tel: +32 (0)2 229 35 77 - Mobile: +32 (0)473 490 531 - Email: - Web:

Notes to the editor:
1. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR aisbl) stands against racism and discrimination and advocates for equality and solidarity for all in Europe. We connect local and national anti-racist NGOs throughout Europe and voice the concerns of ethnic and religious minorities in European and national policy debates.
2. On 21 March 1960, 69 Black demonstrators were killed at a peaceful protest against apartheid laws in South Africa. As a result, 21 March was declared "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” by the UN in 1966. The theme of this year’s UN commemoration is "Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today":

- Press statement in French

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