National frameworks to address hate crime in Belgium

This page provides information on the national frameworks to address hate crime in Belgium. The information provided here should be viewed alongside data presented on Belgium's hate crime report page.

Hate crime recording and data collection

Hate crimes are not defined as such in Belgian legislation. Therefore, a specific code with which to record such crimes as a "hate crime" does not exist. Any violation of the non-discrimination laws that constitutes a criminal offence is registered in a general way as "discrimination" by the police or by the prosecutor's office. The databases of the police or the prosecutor's offices do not specify whether the incident is a hate crime or consists of discrimination.

The recording of discrimination and hate crimes is based on instructions that are published in a joint circular for police forces and public prosecutors. This "Circular on the investigation and prosecution policy on discrimination and hate crimes (including discrimination based on sex)" of 2013 (COL 13/2013) provides a policy framework to combat discrimination and hate crimes.

In particular, COL 13/2013 provides instructions for the police and the prosecutor's office on how to correctly register discrimination and hate crimes. When police discover an offence, the base crime is registered under the appropriate thematic code. If police also discover that the motive behind the offence is racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic or against persons with disabilities, the motive will be marked in the context field for the public prosecutor's office as a case of "discrimination and hate crime". Crimes for which a motive is indicated in the context field are registered in the data processing systems ("ISLP" for most local police districts and "FEEDIS" for most entities of the federal police).

The magistrate to whom the report is submitted checks to see whether the secondary prevention code is correct. If the motive is found not to be discriminatory based on the abovementioned criteria, this remark will be crossed out. If the facts of the case indicate that the crime was motivated based on protected criteria but the secondary prevention code has not been included, the magistrate of the public prosecutor's office will add the code.

Statistical data concerning discrimination are collected and provided by the College of Prosecutors-General based on the REA/TPI system or the IT-system "MaCH" used by the public prosecution.

Hate crime victim support

Belgium offers specialized support to victims of hate crimes. However, under Belgian law, victims of hate crimes do not have a particular status, rights or entitlements different from victims of other crimes. Only some categories of victims, such as victims of terrorism and juvenile victims, qualify for specialized treatment.

Victims of crime are provided with all necessary information by the police and Belgium's two equality bodies, Unia and the Institute for equality of women and men, which can also act as parties in judicial proceedings.

Various victim support services are available to hate crime victims. This includes initial legal advice and further assistance to deal with the consequences of the crime, namely emotional and psychological support, information on their rights, reparation of loss and assistance in contacting various institutions, such as insurance companies, the police, the judicial authorities, lawyers and hospitals. Victim reception offices located in law centres can provide victims with procedural information about the case. These offices also offer the necessary support and assistance throughout the legal proceedings. If necessary, and depending on the problem, staff at victim reception offices can refer victims to more specialized services.

Some victim support offices are organized by regional authorities. In Flanders and Brussels, there are 11 General Welfare Centres (Centra Algemeen Welzijnswerk). In the French-speaking part of the country, there is the Federation of Services for Help to Parties in Proceedings, which provides psychological, medical and social help and is supported by the government of the French Community.

Several civil society organizations (CSOs) assist and support victims of hate crime, including the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium (CCIB), LGBTI organizations running "Rainbow Houses", and Jewish community associations. The Social-Psychological Center (Sozial-Psychologisches Zentrum) is a CSO providing support to victims of crime in the German-speaking part of the country. In general, the work of CSOs is not formally integrated into the overall system of assistance to hate crime victims, although some CSOs have partnered with the national equality body. CSOs do not have structural subsidies to hire people to sustain their services and often rely on the help of volunteers.

On receiving a victim, the police offer practical assistance and information, prepare official reports and refer the victim to the appropriate unit. The attending police officer is obliged to ask the victim if they would like the support of a specialized police victim unit. In emergency or very serious situations, the attending police team asks for these specialized services automatically. If the case is handed over to the public prosecutor’s office, or in case of judicial investigation, the secretariat of the public prosecutor’s office immediately sends a copy of the initial statement and the victim’s details to the victim's assistance service of the relevant house of justice. Depending on the circumstances, the victim's assistance service contacts the victim, either by phone or by post, to specify the services they can expect from the judicial assistants. In some police districts, police officers use checklists to identify whether the act constitutes a hate crime. Some police districts provide template questionnaires to standardize interviews with the victim, witnesses and suspects. Such tools, however, are not always used in practice.

The police have in place standards on the sensitive treatment of victims of hate crimes, as well as policies on the investigation and prosecution of discrimination and hate crime cases. Police districts have appointed specialized reference officers for discrimination and hate crime cases. Within the prosecutor's office, reference prosecutors are appointed to specifically deal with such cases. There are joint guidelines for police and prosecutors on hate crimes.

The procedural rights of hate crime victims are the same as those of victims of all other crimes. A crime victim has certain individual procedural rights before, during and after the criminal proceedings. The Commission for Financial Aid for Victims of Deliberate Acts of Violence provides State compensation for victims of crime. Financial assistance is provided to the victims of intentional acts of violence and, in some cases, to their family members. Belgian law offers voluntary victim-offender mediation prior to court proceedings, which parties are not obliged to accept. In addition, the law allows for the possibility of plea bargaining.

Hate crime capacity building

Police officers take part in training courses on hate crime. These training courses are intended to make police officers aware of possible unconscious biases that can have serious consequences for both the public they serve and their colleagues.

Basic training for reference officers under COL 13/2013 (the joint circular for police forces and public prosecutors on the investigation and prosecution policy regarding discrimination and hate crimes) is provided regularly to new reference officers. It is updated according to the recommendations of the study of the National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology on under-reporting and dismissal of discrimination offences (2020).

The Belgian Judicial Training Institute (IGO-IFJ) is responsible for the training of magistrates and court staff.  The Insitute organizes a specialized training course on discrimination and hate crimes on an annual basis. The training is mandatory for the Belgian judicial trainees of the second year (future judges and prosecutors) and open for all the interested magistrates. It was developed in collaboration with Unia (the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities) and the Institute for the Equality of women and men. 

A training session on "Hate Crimes and Discrimination Specialized Training", which is open to all magistrates and judicial assistants of the public prosecutor's office and courts office, was organized in 2015 and in 2017. A new edition is currently in development. The training session aims to deepen participants' knowledge of hate speech and hate crimes.

A training session on "Diversity in the courtroom" provides an overview of how representations, prejudices and stereotypes can indirectly influence the judicial process. The training session has been organized since 2020 and is open to all interested judges.

Belgian judicial trainees visit the Kazerne Dossin (Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights in Mechelen) together with judicial trainees from other EU Member States taking part in the AIAKOS programme (an exchange programme for judicial trainees in Europe). In Belgium, participation in the AIAKOS programme is obligatory for all judicial trainees.