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Belgium’s anti-racism law turns 40

© Unia

On this day, 30 July 1981, Belgium passed its first law outlawing “certain acts motivated by racism or xenophobia”.

The grounds covered included work, education, housing, goods and services and media.

Since then, the scope of the law has expanded to include discrimination in general. In 1999, on the grounds of gender. In 2003, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, beliefs and handicap.

In 2007, the previous legislation was consolidated in an anti-discrimination law that included all of the above, while retaining the existing anti-racism law and gender law. At the same time, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and for Combating Racism adopted the new and more manageable name of Unia.

The Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, however, retains its separate character, and has responsibility for one of the 19 discrimination criteria defined by law: gender. For language discrimination, no single institution has responsibility.

The remaining 17 criteria are the domain of Unia. They are:
nationality, national or ethnic origin, so-called race, skin colour and descent (Jewish origin), disability, religion or philosophy, sexual orientation, age, wealth, marital status, political opinion, trade union belief, state of health, physical or genetic characteristics, birth and social origin.

On this 40th anniversary, Unia welcomed the fact that in some cases, hate can be an aggravation of a crime – for example is someone was attacked for their skin colour. But that is not always the case, particularly for serious crimes like murder, robbery with violence or torture.

Those crimes already carry a maximum sentence laid down by law, and cannot bring an even more harsh sentence even if hate is a motive.

The organisation is now calling for the law to be changed to make and one of the 19 discrimination criteria a possible aggravating circumstance in any crime.