Ethnic origin of offenders as hate speech


Yury Chumak, Human Rights Assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs, has written a critical article on how the law enforcement agencies talk about offenders, especially those from particular ethnic groups, and the negative impact this has.

He was prompted to address the issue by an article in the newspaper “In the Name of the Law”. The author there bewails the fact that people continue to be conned by people engaging in certain types of trickery.  The problem is that the people he is referring to are Roma people, and the general effect is to warn against them, and not against those dishonest people deceiving people.

“A very simple, primitive method for creating the image of an ideal enemy is to select facts which demonstrate the ill deeds of members of a particular ethnic group, present it as a pronounced trend and also produce some kind of “advice sheet” on how not to fall into the traps which these “criminal ethnic minorities” supposedly set at each step.”  The author believes the newspaper article to be an example of hate speech in the way that it foists ethnic stereotypes upon the reader

The author notes that there have been a number of cases in the Ukrainian media where stereotypes regarding criminal behaviour of certain ethnic groups are repeated from carelessly prepared Police Public Liaison Centre reports.

“Unfortunately the view is firmly entrenched among some employees of the law enforcement agencies,  that there are so-called “ethnic crimes” typical of certain ethnic groups living in Ukraine. Most often in police circles they mention gypsies (Roma), Crimean Tatars, people from the Caucuses, as well as from Africa and Asia, as groups “accustomed to committing crimes.

  As if it weren’t enough that such faulty stereotypes are typical for many police employees, they also reach the mass consciousness through reports from the Police Public Liaison Centre and various media outlets”

After a report from the Kharkiv Region Police Public Liaison Centre regarding “two women of gypsy nationality” who had alleged conned people out of their money and possessions was widely circulated in the press, the Human Rights Assistant to the Minister spoke with the heads of the Liaison Centre. A verbal commitment was made to not mention ethnic origin in such reporting, and it is now planned to formalize that legally at least for the Kharkiv region. The question has been passed for consideration to the Ministry of Internal Affairs Public Council for the Kharkiv region.

The newspaper “New Style” in March this year published an article with the telling title “Ukrainian tour of “the proud sons of the Caucuses” in which the author claims that “the large number of crimes committed by members of various nationalities of the Caucuses .. give grounds to residents of Kharkiv and the region, and especially law enforcement officers, to treat with entirely understandable and forgivable wariness people with features typical of those born in the south” (

One can cite dozens, even hundreds, of articles of this type. There are not, however, such articles written about ethnic groups which are in the majority in the country or a particular region, for example, Ukrainians, Russians (who are in the majority in the Crimea). “Such twisted presentation of information is nothing but the application of a certain discriminatory approach.”

Given the popularity of such criminal topics, the foisting of negative ethnic stereotypes and forming of a one-sided prejudiced attitude to migrants are of great concern. The authorities, politicians and the media concentrate on the negative consequences of immigration. According to a study by Parkhomenko and Starodub, “The Ukrainian media are more often likely to fuel the xenophobic superstitions, racial, national or religious prejudice of their readers than to try to orientate themselves in the situation and direct socio-political discourse in a realistic direction”.

Article 161 of the Criminal Code punishes for deliberate actions aimed at inciting ethnic, racial or religious enmity and hatred, at denigrating a person’s ethnic honour and dignity or causing offence with regard to religious beliefs.  The author considers the possibility of applying this law, however states that in the majority of cases it is a question more of inability to predict the effect the words will have on their audience. He stresses the need to bear in mind how unintentional action with elements of xenophobia or which provoke the public to such attitudes, incorrect use of words or attaching labels to ethnic groups, can be harmful.

In Russia where there has been a wave of racially-motivated crime, the Moscow police decided last year not to mention the nationality of offenders in their news releases which can intensify racial tension and prejudice. They are now supposed to say only Russian national or non-Russian national.

According to the Rotterdam Charter Policing for a multi-ethnic society: “The police should acknowledge that inaccurate reporting and stereotyping by the media has a harmful effect on community relations. Therefore particular care must be taken by police in interactions with the press to avoid perpetuating stereotypes in descriptions of minority ethnic communities. <> The danger of merely focusing on the crime rate in minority ethnic communities needs to be addressed. One must question whether such a focus is necessary and what its purpose is. There is a risk of stigmatisation of the whole ethnic community. Also, criminalised stereotypes are likely to be given publicity in the popular press and other mass media”

Recommendations on avoiding stressing the ethnic origin of offenders in police reporting for the media are also found in the Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe No. R (97).

  The Ukrainian journalist community has its own experience in drawing up preventive measures against hate speech. For example, in April 2001 the “Declaration of Main Principles for Journalists’ Work in Multi-ethnic societies” was passed at a meeting of journalists from southern regions of Ukraine in Yalta.

This states: “A journalist is not entitled to focus attention on racial, ethnic origin, political and religious convictions of the subject of the information. Exceptions are possible only in cases where this has independent significance as part of preparing the information. This principle particularly applies to material on crimes where mention of the suspect or criminal’s belonging to an ethnic, religious or other minority could lead to a negative attitude to those groups.”

  “Why then in the Ukrainian media do we quite frequently see material which does not, to put it mildly, do credit to those who, enjoying freedom of speech, themselves place the rights and freedoms of others in question? What is that – legal ignorance of police officers who provide the information and of the journalists who pass it on, or pandering to the so-called “mood of the masses”?  Or is it the conscious use of hate speech by those who inherited a totalitarian mentality from Stalinist times when they punished (sometimes for imagined faults) not specific individuals, but whole peoples and social classes?

  We need to understand that if in society xenophobia, and a variation of this – immigrant-phobia become stronger, this can lead to undesirable consequences and destabilization of the situation in the country. An analysis of the problem shows that at present in Ukraine there is no effective system for countering hatred, aggression, escalation of extremism and destructive processes are on the increase in society. There are the foundations for confrontations on political, social, ethnic and religious grounds. Preventive measures against the spread of extremist moods need therefore to be viewed in the general context of ensuring unwavering adherence to human rights and the safety of citizens”.

  The author hopes that mere commonsense and human conscience will make law enforcement officers and the media understand the need to not circulate material which gives negative assessments of members of certain ethnic groups.

Abridged from the article by Yury Chumak, Human Rights Assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs

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