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US criticises EU countries for human rights abuses

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Brussels, 27/02/2009 - Ethnic discrimination on the Belgian labour market, neo-Nazi extremism in Austria and abuses against Roma in nine EU countries are some of the findings of the 2008 US government report on human rights.

The report, issued on Wednesday (25 February) by the State Department for each country of the world, says that the Belgian government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens," but found several problems, such as overcrowded prisons, lengthy pre-trial detention, poor detention conditions prior to expulsion and "ethnic discrimination in the job market."

Roma are discriminated against and excluded in a number of EU societies (Photo: Studii Romani)

Labour discrimination was directed particularly against young men from the Muslim community, estimated at 450,000 people, principally of Moroccan and Turkish origin.

Discrimination regarding housing, restaurant access and an increase of racism on the internet were also noted.

"On July 10, the European Court of Justice ruled that a manufacturer of automatic garage doors had discriminated when he refused to hire a Moroccan applicant under the pretext that his clients would object to having a Moroccan worker in their homes. The case was referred to a labour court for sentencing under the antidiscrimination law," the report states.

Neo-Nazi incidents and "rightwing extremism and xenophobia directed against ethnic minorities" were a cause of concern in Austria.

"In 2007 the Ministry of the Interior recorded 240 neo-Nazi, right-wing extremist, and xenophobic incidents directed against members of minority groups. The government continued to express concern over the activities of extreme right-wing skinhead and neo-Nazi groups, many with links to organizations in other countries," the US report notes.

Despite being discriminated against in employment and housing, the situation of Roma people in Austria had "significantly improved in recent years," with children being moved out of "special needs" into mainstream classes. The government also initiated programmes in recent years to document the Romani Holocaust and compensate its victims.

This was however not the case in nine other EU countries: Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, where discrimination and even violence against Roma is on the rise.

On Monday, a Roma man and his son were shot to death in a village in Hungary as they were fleeing their home, which had been set on fire. The Hungarian ministry of Interior promised to step up policing in rural areas, but admitted that it could not prevent all racist incidents, which had increased in the recent months.

EU commissioner for social affairs Vladimir Spidla reacted to the incident, as well as other measures, such as Italy's controversial crackdown on Roma camps.

"The European Commission strongly condemns all forms of violence against Roma and calls upon the authorities of all Member States to guarantee the personal safety of all persons on their territory," he said in a statement.

Mr Spidla was "deeply concerned" that in some member states, "Roma have become the target of organised racist violence - fed by political populism, hate speech and media hype."

"In some cases, Roma are being made scapegoats for wider societal problems."

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