UN committee concerned about rise in racist hate crimes after Brexit vote

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A United Nations body has expressed serious concerns about the increase in racist hate crimes in parts of the UK as a result of the Brexit vote.

The organisation's report found the European Union referendum campaign was marked by "divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric", and many politicians "not only failed to condemn it but also created and entrenched prejudices".

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's report raised concerns about the media coverage of immigrants and ethnic minorities, as well as the rise of online abuse.

The report by the international body said: "The committee is seriously concerned at the sharp increase in the number of racist hate crimes especially in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the weeks prior to and following the referendum on the membership of the European Union."

It added: "In particular, the committee is deeply concerned that the referendum campaign was marked by divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, and that many politicians and prominent political figures not only failed to condemn it, but also created and entrenched prejudices, thereby emboldening individuals to carry out acts of intimidation and hate towards ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities and people who are visibly different."

The committee raised concerns about the problem of under-reporting of hate crimes and the gap between reported cases and the level of successful prosecutions.

"As a result, a large number of racist hate crimes seem to go unpunished," the committee said.

It also remains concerned at the "negative portrayal of ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities, immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees by the media", particularly after terrorist attacks, and the "rise of racist hate speech on the internet".

The wide-ranging report also raised concerns about the Government's counter-extremism strategy, warning that the new legal duties imposed on schools and other public institutions to tackle the problem "have created an atmosphere of suspicion towards members of Muslim communities".

The committee urged the Government to review the so-called Prevent duty "to ensure that there are effective monitoring mechanisms and sufficient safeguards against abuse".

It also expressed reservations about the Government's plan to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights - a policy which was reaffirmed by Justice Secretary Liz Truss on Monday.

The committee said it was concerned the proposal "may lead to decreased levels of human rights protection" in the UK and urged the Government to "undertake meaningful and broad public consultation" on the plans.

Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman David Isaac said: "There is no place for racism and hatred in a modern Britain and we share the UN's serious concerns about the recent spike in race hate incidents.

"In the weeks before and after the Brexit vote we saw reports of race hate incidents rise significantly. We support the UN's recommendations for effective investigation and prosecution of all acts of racist hate crime and wide-ranging action better to deter and punish perpetrators.

"There are concerns that the acrimonious and divisive manner in which the referendum debate was conducted exacerbated worrying divisions in British society, and has been used by a minority to legitimise race hate.

"The recommendation that the UK should adopt comprehensive measures to combat racist hate speech and xenophobic political discourse is therefore a welcome one. Political parties need to come together and show leadership, working with the relevant crime prevention agencies.

"We also welcome the UN's recommendations to tackle race inequality in areas such as health, education, employment and criminal justice, following our comprehensive report on this issue last week."