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17 July 2003 Edition

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Sinn Féin launches Charter on Racism

Sinn Féin Councillors Alex Maskey and John O'Dowd last week launched an anti-racist charter for local councils and their members to sign up to. This initiative follows an increasing number of violent racist attacks in recent times and is an attempt to present a united political front to challenge those involved in these attacks.

"In recent times there has been a marked increase in the volume of racially motivated attacks, particularly here in Belfast and in parts of Upper Bann and in the activities of various right wing groupings," said Alex Maskey. "Those of us in political leadership have a responsibility to challenge this directly.

"This charter does not pretend to be a solution to these attacks or this activity. But we hope that it can become part of a political response to the upsurge in racism we are experiencing at this time.

"Political parties have to make it clear that there is no place in our society for the sort of racism and intolerance which has sadly been on the increase.

"The Good Friday Agreement is about creating a tolerant and peaceful society, not simply for nationalists, republicans, unionists or loyalists but for all who live here.

"Sinn Féin will continue to meet with and engage with ethnic minority communities across the island and we will continue to confront and challenge racism from whatever quarter."

Anti-Racism Charter for Councils and Members


This Council and its elected members who are signatories to this charter undertake to ensure that it's day-to-day activities are conducted in such as way that they do not incite hatred or prejudice on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, religious or political belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or membership of the Traveller community.

The Council and its elected members agree:

* To send a consistent and clear message to their constituents that racism cannot be accepted or tolerated.

* To challenge publicly and actively, any campaign materials or statements which incite hatred or express any form of prejudice on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, religious or political belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or membership of the Traveller community.

* To ensure that all debates which bare reference to any groups or individuals who may be potential targets of racism, such as Minority Ethnic groups, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Immigration Detainees and Migrant Workers, are conducted in a responsible way and with respect to the dignity and rights of all.

* To use appropriate and inclusive language when referring to people of different Ethnic backgrounds.

* To sign the following 'Declaration on Anti-Racism'.

Declaration on Anti-Racism

As a member of this Council, I reaffirm:

* Its commitment to work for the benefit of all in our constituency to enjoy equal rights and to be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, religious or political belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or membership of the Traveller community.

* Its commitment to working for, and maintaining a community free from intolerance on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, religious or political belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or membership of the Traveller community.

* Its commitment to publicly challenging all forms of racism and to work with our constituents to eliminate it from our society.

Council condemns racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with our basic human rights and right to equality.


Racially motivated hate crime on the rise


There is growing alarm at the rise of racially-motivated attacks and hate crimes taking place across the Six Counties and suspicions that far right unionist extremists are behind many of them.

The link between white supremacist groups like Combat 18 and other neo-Nazi organisations, and unionist paramilitaries in the North is well documented, but recent indications are that the problem is about to get much worse.

Neo-nazi groups have drafted members into the North for the mass distribution of leaflets and stickers over the past 12 months and some of this propaganda has been found at the scene of several attacks.

On Saturday, 5 July, around 2.30am, a mob of eight to ten men, armed with baseball bats and iron bars, attacked the home of a Muslim family in the predominantly loyalist Enniskeen area and threatened to burn them out of their home. The men violently smashed the kitchen windows and front door before retreating.

"They hit the front door with such force that the glass was sent to the landing at the top of the stairs," said one parent later. "They were shouting, 'we warned you to get out'. They said they were making sure the message was clear this time."

Six children were in the home at the time of the attack, one of whom is severely disabled.

The same family has been attacked with pellet guns in the past, and on one occasion had a shotgun fired through their window. They have vowed to leave the North after this latest incident, saying they are moving to England to escape the ongoing racial abuse.

Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan said there has been an increase in the activities of right-wing groups with links to unionist paramilitaries in the Upper Bann area. The ongoing assaults have also been linked to racist leaflets that have been appearing in the Craigavon area.

The leaflets invoke fears of "Al-Quaida-style terrorists operating in the area" and oppose the building of a Mosque in nearby Blery. Permission for the building was granted by Craigavon Borough Council last month, despite objections from unionist members.

A Muslim Women and Children's Group spokesperson said she was appalled at the latest attack against a Muslim family in the Craigavon area.

"It has been happening to a number of families in Protestant areas," she said. "Where are their rights to practise their religion? The people responsible just don't seem to want anyone different near them."

Racist attacks are not limited to unionist estates however. Over the course of the last few weeks, there have been two separate racially-motivated attacks along the Antrim Road in north Belfast.

"On Monday night of last week the owner of the Night of Bengal on the Antrim Road, who is originally from Bangladesh, was assaulted as he was closing up," said Sinn Féin Councillor Danny Lavery. "A torrent of racial abuse was hurled at him as he was kicked and beaten by two men. The two men then proceeded to smash up the shop.

"I dare say that if the owner of the shop had not had the shop grille to retreat behind, we could very well be dealing with a far more serious outcome. There is no place whatsoever in our society for this kind of narrow-minded bigotry."

The attack on the Indian takeaway was followed by an assault and robbery on a Chinese restaurant down the street just a few days later.

Two male youths, between 16 and 17 years of age, entered the fast food establishment in the early evening and went under the shop's high counter into the back kitchen. One of the youths then demanded money as he brandished a broken bottle and threatened the young Chinese woman, who was in the shop on her own.

The woman refused to give the pair anything, and the two hoods struggled with her before stabbing her in the face with the bottle and grabbing the restaurant till. The two ran off in the direction of the Waterworks Park with the young woman in pursuit, bleeding from her face. The till was later recovered but the two attackers escaped.

These three incidents are only the latest in a series of escalating racially motivated attacks that have plagued the Six Counties in recent months. Less than two weeks ago, two pipe bombs were left outside the Belfast homes of two different black families from South Africa. The devices were left outside houses on the same street in the unionist Village estate, days apart. Although no one was directly injured in the incidents, both families were deeply traumatised. One woman who was targeted had been living alone with her eight-week-old twins at the time of the attack.

Both incidents have been linked to Briish National Party hate literature, which had ppeared in the area just prior to the attacks.

According to Dr Joseph Uhomoibhi, chairperson of the Belfast based African Cultural Centre, seven black African families have fled the Village area in recent weeks and over the course of the last two months.

Loyalists linked to white supremacist organizations have also subjected several African families in the Village to abuse and hate mail.

"There was always name-calling, graffiti, car tyres slashed, that sort of thing," says Dr Uhomoibhi. "Then three weeks ago, an African man came home to find two live bullets on his doorstep. He ran for his life and hasn't been back to the house since."

Racist graffitit and graffiti refering to hate groups like Combat 18, the KKK, and the National Front has appeared on walls, telegraph poles, and buildings in the area. Dr Uhomoibhi says there have also been attacks on Africans living in Ballymena, Coleraine and Craigavon.

In his annual report, PSNI Chief Hugh Orde stated there had been almost 700 racist attacks in the Six Counties in the past three years - and that 226 incidents had been reported in the 12 months prior to this April.

Another report, issued by the Equality Commission, stated that there is a higher rate of racist attacks in the Six Counties than in England and Wales.

In the past several years, the homes of Filipino nurses have been targeted in Ballymena, Portuguese workers have been subjected to racism in Portadown and Coalisland, and two Italian men working at the Ballylumford power station in County Antrim were attacked and badly beated by an armed gang at Ballycarry.

Meanwhile, British Secretery of State Paul Murphy has promised an immediate investigation into sectarian and racist messages found on loyalist band websites. Murphy has also agreed to examine the link between loyalist bands, loyalist paramilitaries and white supremacist groups, whose logos and messages are promoted on the websites.

The websites of several "kick the Pope" bands openly carry messages of hatred against ethnic minorities, and in particular, people whose skin colour is black. Campaigners have called on the PSNI to monitor the sites and to prosecute and fine the service providers who enable the websites to operate. They have also called on the Parades Commission to examine the websites before making determinations in relation to marches requested by those bands.

Combat 18, which is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous racist groups, has been publically linked to the UFF and LVF, particularly during the Drumcree standoff. A Combat 18 wreath was present at the funeral of unionist paramilitary Billy 'King Rat' Wright.

Several well known loyalists have been regularly spotted at far-right rallies in England and there have been regular visits to the North by far-right English football hooligans, the British Ulster Alliance.

In April of 2000, Sinn Féin warned that the group was behind sectarian attacks on Catholics in the mainly Protestant town of Rathfriland in County Down. Five months later, a wreath bearing the Combat 18 name was seen at the funeral of unionist paramilitary Steven McKeag.

In November of the same year, a guman who was jailed for life for his part in the gun attack on the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel, Co Down, was also linked to the group. The horrific attack left eight people dead.

A PSNI spokesperson stated this week that "we are aware of link between some right-wing mainland groups and a number of loyalist persons in Northern Ireland", but did not elaborate.

The British government is to announce the outcome of a consultation in the North on "racist and sectarian offences" in September of this year.

Stiffer sentances for racist crimes have existed in England since 1998. These were extended in 2001 to cover sectarian crime, but the North had been left behind and the NIO extended those measures at the end of February. One observer remarked that, given the recent upsurge in racist attacks, the government may have missed an opportunity to send a powerful message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

Patrick Yu, of the Six County-based Council for Ethnic Minorities, warned that white supremacist groups would continue to attempt to draw people to their cause and act against those they targeted for abuse.

"Racism comes as a result of fear and ignorance and the best way to stamp it out is through education," he said.


An Phoblacht
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