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Countering disability hate crime by increasing awareness and data collection

3 December 2015

On the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, we examine the issue of disability hate crime and the importance of addressing the gaps in data on this issue.

Over a period of four years Dalibor Đorđevic, a Croatian man with a physical impairment and a learning disability, and his mother were the subjects of ongoing abuse and harassment from neighbourhood youth. Beginning with name-calling and insulting graffiti in front of their flat, he was also subjected to violent physical assaults. Police intervened when called upon, but no concrete solution was offered. This constant harassment took its toll on Dalibor and his mother, who had to change their daily lives because they lived in constant fear of harassment.  

Dalibor's case is only one example of the type of prejudice and hate crime that people with disabilities can face. For example, bias against people with disabilities can be based on the belief that people with physical or mental impairments are inferior. This is in addition to the challenges that people with disabilities face to fully participate in society. Lack of access to public transport and other basic services are common experiences, as well as entrenched prejudices that affect opportunities in all spheres of life.

Unfortunately, the barriers that people with disabilities face are still widely unrecognized, as there is a significant need for more data collection on the challenges, discrimination and hate crimes encountered by people with disabilities.  

Collecting data to recognize the full extent of the problem

The need for improved data on the situation of people with disabilities was one of the main themes of the 2015 International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The lack of systematic data on disability and the situations of people with disabilities contribute to their invisibility in official statistics, which challenges the development and implementation of inclusive policies. 

For its 2014 reporting on hate crime, ODIHR received civil society or official information on disability hate incidents that took place in nine OSCE participating States, a number that reflects a need for greater efforts on a number of levels: in facilitating reporting for victims, and in strengthening the recording capacities of local authorities.  

In 2014, five participating States submitted official data on disability hate crime, compared to six in 2013 and seven in 2012. Ukraine's parliament also adopted amendments adding disability to the list of protected characteristics in the criminal code's hate crime provisions, joining 20 other OSCE participating States that include disability in their hate crime provisions. However, the increasing inclusion of disability hate crime in national legislation is not reflected in the number of annual official data submissions to ODIHR.  

Civil society groups also report information on incidents motivated by bias against people with disabilities. For 2014, six civil society groups submitted hate crime incidents that took place in five participating States.

Overcoming challenges to reporting disability hate crimes

There are a host of challenges for people to report hate incidents, notably the victims' potential isolation, the fear that their request will not be taken seriously and the risk that law-enforcement officers will not recognize the severity of this type of hate crime.

Understanding disability hate crimes and the steps needed to report them are the subject of a guide released by the European Network for Independent Living (ENIL) in co-operation with ODIHR and the Office of the Ombudsman for Persons with Disabilities of the Republic of Croatia.

This guide is part of ODIHR's ongoing work in addressing hate crimes against people with disabilities, which began with an initial workshop in Dublin organized in co-operation with ENIL in 2012. Since then, ODIHR and ENIL have held five events around Europe, including two recent events held in Zagreb with the Croatian Office of the Ombudsman for Persons with Disabilities. This guide and related workshops are part of wider efforts by the Croatian government to address discrimination, intolerance and hate crime against people with disabilities in recent years.

As states, civil society groups and individuals recognize disability hate crime and its impacts, increased awareness, reporting by victims and recording by states will help reveal the full magnitude of the problem and enable policy-makers to create the appropriate responses.

As for Dalibor Đorđevic, in 2012 the European Court of Human Rights stated in a landmark ruling that the state had failed in its responsibility to protect him. This was a victory for Dalibor and for people with disabilities who face intolerance in their daily lives, squarely re-emphasizing the role authorities must play to effectively counter disability hate crime. 

2014 Findings on Disability Hate Crime