This record is subject to correction.Corrections should be submitted in one of the working languages. They should be set forth in a memorandum and also incorporated in a copy of the record. They should be sent within one week of the date of this document to the Editing Unit, room E.4108, Palais des Nations, Geneva.Any corrections to the records of the public meetings of the Committee at this session will be consolidated in a single corrigendum, to be issued shortly after the end of the session.GE.0840770 (E) 280208 290208 UNITED NATIONS


International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination




29 February 2008

Original: ENGLISH


Seventy‑second session


Held at the Palais Wilson, Geneva,

on Tuesday, 26 February 2008, at 10 a.m.

Chairperson: Ms. DAH



Fourteenth and fifteenth periodic reports of Belgium (continued)


* No summary record was prepared for the rest of the meeting.

The meeting was called to order at 10.10 a.m.


Fourteenth and fifteenth periodic reports of Belgium (continued) (CERD/C/BEL/15; HRI/CORE/1/Add.1/Rev.1)

At the invitation of the Chairperson, the members of the delegation of Belgium resumed their places at the Committee table.

Mr. OUVRY (Belgium), replying to a question from Mr. Kjaerum, said that the concept of Belgian identity did not run counter to any regional or European identity. The Government’s efforts to build a Belgian identity were not currently relevant, given the political crisis involving the functioning of the country’s institutions.

In answer to Mr. Lindgren Alves and other Committee members, he said the teaching of second and third languages was important throughout the country. The ability to communicate in several languages was an economic, cultural and diplomatic asset, which formed an integral part of the Belgian identity.

Turning to Mr. Lindgren Alves’s question on the structure of the Belgian State, he said that the federal State was composed of three communities, who spoke Flemish, French and German respectively. The latter constituted some 60,000 people living in the east of the country. There were three regions: Wallonia, Brussels and the Flemish region. They were intricately interrelated, making the whole system highly complex, since there was no hierarchical structure. The various institutions functioned on a cooperative basis, which was a constant requirement. His country’s membership of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations, and its international obligations, imposed legal and economic structural frameworks to a significant degree. The political crisis was at the federal level; the community and regional governments and institutions continued to function normally.

In answer to Mr. Kjaerum’s question regarding the appeal of the Vlaams Belang party, under its former identity, the relatively powerful Vlaams Blok party had taken an anti‑immigrant stance that sometimes went beyond the norms and provisions on racism. In its current guise, the party’s appeal arose from several factors, including its right‑wing position in a political spectrum where most parties were in the centre. In the Belgian context, its nationalist and anti‑establishment stances were popular, as was its security policy. While it no longer used overtly racist discourse, its policies focused on minimizing immigration.

In reply to Mr. Kemal’s question on immigration policy, he said Belgium had organized an international conference on immigration in 2006. One of the main messages from that conference had been the added value of immigration for countries in the North and the South.

Mr. Kjaerum had asked about the attempts to limit the powers of the Centre for Equal Opportunity and Action to Combat Racism under the new Government. The party behind that move did not currently form part of the Government, nor would it in the medium term. The Centre had at times been opposed to government policies, but the current Government had no intention of limiting its powers.

The issue of the inclusion of non‑European citizens on the electoral roll should be seen in the wider context of the significant expansion of the right to vote. While non‑European citizens might eventually be allowed to stand for election, the existing legislation was already way ahead of that of many other European States.

It was difficult to reply to Mr. Prosper’s question on the current challenge posed by racism. From a structural viewpoint, education, employment and housing must be properly managed in order to promote integration. Every effort was being made, however, to avoid establishing a hierarchy of rights, in recognition of the fact that all human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, as stated in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Mr. SANT’ANGELO (Belgium), replying to the question regarding dialogue with civil society, said that in 2002 the Government had sent the draft periodic report to NGOs working to eliminate racism and racial discrimination. They had, however, made no comments. The delegation had taken the opportunity to discuss the periodic report and the shadow report with the NGO present at the current session.

Since 2004, the Centre for Equal Opportunity and Action to Combat Racism had been coordinating a unit monitoring anti‑Semitism, which had brought the authorities and the Belgian Jewish community into closer contact. There had, however, been no question of extending the use of Yiddish beyond that community. The Centre had held a meeting on intercultural and inter‑religious dialogue, which had agreed on the need to focus on coordination rather than introducing new regulations.

The Centre was constantly monitoring the activities of the Vlaams Belang party, as were the judicial authorities. A decision was still pending in the case concerning the withdrawal of federal funding from the party. The Centre had brought a case against one of the party’s local politicians who had disseminated pamphlets denouncing the wearing of the Islamic veil.

Turning to a question from Mr. de Gouttes, he said the Constitutional Court had not yet handed down a decision on the case brought by the Vlaams Belang party against article 21 of the anti‑racist act of May 2007. That case had been supported by an NGO called the Flemish Human Rights League.

Daniel Féret was no longer the lifelong National Front party leader. He was currently carrying out his community service. While the draft legislation to introduce the automatic suspension of some civil and political rights in the event of a conviction for racism had not yet been fully enacted, the practice was already being implemented, notably in the Féret case.

While the definition of racial discrimination was somewhat limited, owing to a Constitutional Court decision, the civil section of the anti‑racism legislation had facilitated more effective action against racism. Under civil procedures, victims of racist discrimination were often awarded generous compensation payments.

The number of complaints received by the Centre for Equal Opportunity had increased, particularly regarding material on the Internet. The Centre tried to foster dialogue and mediation, especially in matters concerning employment and housing. It also worked to raise awareness among the public and law enforcement officials about which acts constituted racial discrimination under the existing legislation.

The term, “Roma gypsies” was used to refer to those who came from Central Europe, in accordance with the Council of Europe consensus. Those from Western Europe who lived in caravans and travelled for part of the year for work or religious purposes, including the Manush and the Sinti, were referred to as Travellers.

Mr. HOEFMANS (Belgium), replying to Mr. Kjaerum’s question concerning the study on minors of foreign origin, said that all the necessary legislative instruments and structures were in place. The Government was currently focusing on implementing permanent awareness‑raising measures among the police, judiciary and other relevant actors, and improving institutional coordination.

The 2005 anti‑trafficking legislation had introduced the concept of aggravating circumstances, and in particular had identified minors, illegal immigrants and other vulnerable groups as being at risk. The new provisions were beginning to be applied in 2008.Training was provided to all relevant staff, particularly the police, on trafficking and sexual and economic exploitation.

Mr. DE VULDER (Belgium) said that the amendments to the policy on asylum‑seekers introduced in June 2007 had eliminated the question of admissibility. All asylum applications were therefore examined except those that fell under the Dublin Convention. Accommodation was provided for all asylum‑seekers while their applications were being examined. While they did not have access to the labour market, asylum‑seekers had the right to claim material support during such examinations and during appeal hearings lasting less than a year.

The Aliens Office would in future respect the ruling and comments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Riad and Idiab v. Belgium.

Emergency medical care was available to all foreigners. It was up to attending physicians to determine what constituted emergency care. All illegal minors and their parents had the right to receive medical care. Since the 2007 reform of the asylum procedure, illegal immigrants had had the right to request authorization to remain in Belgium on medical grounds, on production of a medical certificate, even if they did not require urgent treatment. Successful applicants were given a residence permit for 3 months, which could be extended.

Turning to the issue of lasting solutions for unaccompanied minors, family reunification was always regarded as the best solution. Every effort was made to identify the minor’s family, and the minor was provided with all the assistance necessary in the case of repatriation or family reunification. In practice, foreign minors were not expelled from the country if age‑appropriate reception measures could be provided. If unaccompanied minors could not be returned to their countries of origin, a temporary stay was authorized.

The human rights training provided for the police included training on diversity. The federal police were currently establishing diversity services, including a network of contacts. In 2003, 10 per cent of the federal police force had been composed of persons of foreign origin. By 2006, that figure had risen to 12 per cent.

Ms. NADI (Belgium) said all levels of government in her country were committed to combating racial discrimination and promoting diversity in the labour market. At the federal level funding was provided for diversity‑related initiatives; collective agreements in all sectors were expected to contain clauses recognizing the need for diversity. In Flanders over the past 10 years diversity in the labour market had also been a priority and support was provided to individuals and firms with a view to promoting diversity. All stakeholders, including workers’ and employers’ groups, had entered into agreements with the regional government aimed at encouraging diversity.

In the Brussels region employers had signed charters on diversity and the local government funded diversity consultants who monitored implementation of diversity initiatives and acted as a resource for the development of diversity policies. Studies had been undertaken recently to develop data on diversity in the labour market. In Wallonia anti‑discrimination efforts aimed at the socio‑professional integration of minorities focused on training and assistance in finding employment. For the past two years diversity prizes had been awarded to firms judged to have developed best practices in the area of diversity that could serve as models for other firms.

Mr. VILLAN (Belgium) said that in Wallonia integration, as defined in the decree of 1996, was the promotion of the participation of immigrants in society. Cultural diversity was welcomed, with the proviso, of course, that all groups obeyed the law and respected basic values. Integration policy was implemented through various organizations and the regional integration centres. Grants were allocated to projects relating to the integration of immigrants based on such criteria as socio‑cultural interaction, information about rights and obligations, education, and understanding between foreigners and the local population. Support was also provided for the teaching of heritage languages to the children of immigrants.

There was no limit on the number of immigrants who could be allocated social housing; immigrants were assisted in their search for housing and received other assistance, for example in the form of removal expenses and the provision of emergency housing. There were real estate agencies specializing in social housing that managed private housing, helped private landlords make their properties eligible for social housing and assisted families in need, including the unemployed and immigrants. Asylum‑seekers, including those without residence permits, were entitled to social housing and literacy training was available for anyone in the country thanks in part to assistance from the European Refugee Fund. Organizations working to promote the social integration of immigrants were also subsidized.

The Walloon Region Travellers’ Mediation Centre had played a positive role in meeting the needs of that community and increasing awareness of their culture. Local authorities made use of the resources of the Centre, which was able to give local authorities advance warning of the movements of Travellers. In addition, mediators were available to help resolve disputes between local authorities and Travellers.

As to participation in the local elections of 2006, he said that since 2006 all foreign residents, including persons from non‑EU countries, had the right to vote in local elections, although more must be done to promote awareness of that right and increase the percentage of foreigners who registered to vote - at present approximately 14 per cent in Flanders, 24 per cent in Wallonia and 10 per cent in Brussels. Lastly, he said that affirmative action initiatives did exist, for example to assist disadvantaged students succeed in their studies and increase their ability to participate in society and the labour market on an equal footing.

Ms. MONCAREY (Belgium) said there was no law governing wearing of the headscarf by Islamic girls in school. Approximately half the schools in Belgium were private and half public; each school decided what its policy on the headscarf would be. Currently some 10 per cent of schools allowed headscarves to be worn.

Mr. MAENHAUT (Belgium), referring to the strengthening of a Belgian “identity”, recalled that the country’s two main regions had their own political and cultural identities. Flanders had mixed feelings about the promotion of an artificial Belgian identity, due in large part to the dominance of the French‑speaking elite in the past, and felt it was more important to highlight the idea of Belgium as a member of the EU. While he acknowledged the existence of extreme‑right nationalist parties in Flanders, such as the Vlaams Blok, which had a conservative populist agenda influenced by fear of migration and the effects of globalization, there were also underlying tensions inherent in the political system caused by disputes between the two main communities, including language issues. The main parties in Flanders in any case tended to distance themselves from the extreme right.

The government of Flanders had not signed the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities because there was still no consensus between the Flemish and Walloon communities on a declaration providing a definition of minority relating to the specific situation in Belgium. On the question of Kosovo, the regional government supported the integration of Kosovo into the EU and had promoted projects aimed at promoting, for example, entrepreneurship and multiculturalism in Kosovo.

The integration of immigrants was currently a government priority. That issue, somewhat neglected in the past when it had simply been assumed that immigrants would eventually get jobs and integrate into society, had been underscored by the rise of the Vlaams Blok. The Administration had therefore adopted a proactive policy to promote equality of opportunity in the areas of education and employment with a view to the voluntary assimilation of immigrants, while fully respecting their culture, and a bottom‑up approach for the development of projects aimed at promoting integration. A minorities forum provided an opportunity for dialogue between the authorities and minority representatives. All ministries were required to mainstream inclusion activities for minorities, and monitoring and evaluation would be undertaken pursuant to the provisions of the Decree on Civic Integration.

No discrimination against immigrants was allowed in the area of housing, and every attempt was made to make appropriate housing available and improve communication between immigrant tenants and landlords. Immigrants were also provided with opportunities for learning Flemish and French. Although there had been controversy over a local initiative in the community of Zaventem, no official complaint had been filed with the relevant ministry. The complaint involved the issue of a language requirement for social housing and whether the Flemish Housing Code applied to social housing.

Efforts were also being made to meet the needs of the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities. The regional integration centres, for example, exemplified the comprehensive approach taken vis-à-vis those groups. A specific policy had been adopted to meet the education needs of the Traveller population. A social-mapping programme launched in 2008 to monitor and evaluate services for those groups should begin providing accurate up-to-date data by 2009. In addition, a sum of 4 million euros a year was being allocated to improving and adding to the number of sites available for Travellers, with a view to increasing the total number from approximately 500 to 1,200 by 2010.

Mr. LINDGREN ALVES explained that he had been commending the State party, not criticizing it, on the matter of obligations. He did have doubts, however, and asked whether, given NGOs’ insistence that Governments should respect immigrants’ traditions and customs, Belgian law would recognize the marriages of a man who came to Belgium with his four wives from a country in which polygamy was legal. In fact, that question could be asked of any country in Europe. He further asked if second-generation immigrants were considered to be Belgian citizens since they had been born in Belgium. He had never doubted Belgium’s openness to the world; his query was whether there was any logic in requiring foreigners to learn French or Flemish, as appropriate, so as to enable them to integrate into Belgian society when French‑speaking Belgians were not required to learn Flemish and vice versa in order to continue their studies.

Mr. EWOMSAN said that the issue of clandestine immigration had led to a tightening of procedures for issuing visas for the purpose of visiting European countries as a tourist, with the result that people resorted to corrupt measures to obtain a visa. Despite the fact that there were well-off people in Africa who wanted to see the world, there was a general impression that African people could not go to Europe because they would automatically be suspected of wanting to stay. He asked what measures could be taken to address that situation.

Mr. de GOUTTES said that although Belgium had copious anti-racism legislation, including the reforms of 2003 and 2007, which met the requirements of article 4 of the Convention, it appeared from the information and statistics provided in the periodic report (paras. 263-269 and annex A) that implementation of the legislation was rather disappointing. The report indicated that there had been an increase in the number of convictions for racist offences (from 2 in 1993 to 28 in 2003), but that there had been a much higher number of complaints (e.g. 806 in 2000, 796 in 2003) and dismissed cases (2,224 over four years); many cases had been dismissed for reasons of expediency and some had been terminated after investigations. For a country like Belgium, in which there were many sources of tension between communities, it was surprising that there were not more complaints. He recalled General Recommendation XXXI, paragraph 1 (b), and asked whether the small number of complaints, prosecutions and convictions relating to acts of racial discrimination in Belgium indicated that the police and judicial authorities were not sufficiently aware of offences involving racism.

Mr. THORNBERRY pointed out that if 10 per cent of schools in the French-speaking community permitted pupils to wear the Islamic headscarf, that would imply that 90 per cent did not. Given that the Belgian Constitution enshrined freedom of religion and the right to education, he wondered whether those pupils who were prohibited from wearing the headscarf simply removed it and continued with their education, or, if they refused to do so, how their right to education was respected.

Mr. ABOUL-NASR raised the question whether the negative reaction in Europe to the headscarf worn by Muslim women was a manifestation of xenophobia, which could in turn be considered to be an expression of the hatred against Muslims that had existed since the time of the Crusades. He asked whether any decisions had been taken by the courts concerning attacks against Muslims.

Mr. KJAERUM asked for clarification as to whether the social-housing associations which had applied for permission to allocate less housing to ethnocultural minorities had been granted such permission and, if so, what conditions had been set, given that, in the light of the Convention, categorizing people according to their ethnicity was a very sensitive issue. He asked for confirmation that there would be no further detentions in airport transit zones following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which had criticized the practice.

Mr. MURILLO MARTÍNEZ commended the State party for its active participation in the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, and for having hosted a recent meeting of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. He encouraged it to continue its efforts in the preparations for the Durban Review Conference. On the issue of the practical effects of implementation of anti-racism legislation, he asked whether the fact that the burden of proof, which was a very effective mechanism in the administration of justice, had been reversed for discrimination cases had had a positive impact.

Mr. SANT’ANGELO (Belgium) said that his country did not recognize polygamy under any circumstances or any secondary effects deriving from the illegal presence of a second wife on Belgian territory. Second-generation immigrants - those who were born in Belgium or who came to Belgium at a young age - could voluntarily and easily obtain Belgian nationality at the age of 18 by simply applying for it. No inquiry was conducted to ascertain whether the applicant was sufficiently integrated. The only possible restriction would be for reasons of national security or law and order, when the public prosecutor considered that the applicant had an unduly substantial criminal record. Third-generation immigrants - those who had been born in Belgium and one of whose parents had been born in Belgium - automatically obtained Belgian nationality at birth.

Mr. OUVRY (Belgium) acknowledged that the process of issuing visas was often very difficult, but it was important to emphasize that Belgium was a fundamentally open country. The rules governing visas were primarily determined at the European level, since Belgium operated under the Schengen rules. The rules were sometimes difficult, but the way in which they were applied was important. Systems were often established locally, which helped to facilitate the procedure and make it more efficient and user-friendly. In Casablanca, for example, where many visas were issued, an advisory system had been set up whereby officials were available to help each visa applicant to complete the necessary forms, provide the required documents, and so on.

Mr. DE VULDER (Belgium) added that information campaigns had been launched in Africa, including in Kinshasa, on possibilities for legal immigration to Europe and specifically Belgium, with the aim of averting further clandestine immigration.

Mr. SANT’ANGELO (Belgium) said that explanations had already been given concerning the number of dismissed cases. The complainant was always encouraged to submit an injured person’s statement, a procedure which allowed the complainant to be kept informed of the progress of his case and to consult his file to find out the reasons for dismissal. There was also the possibility of bringing a criminal indemnity action. Programmes were being conducted to raise awareness among judges, police officers and other personnel of the importance of the anti‑racism campaign. However, if the prosecution considered that the charges in a particular case were not sufficient, it might not refer the case to the courts in order to avoid overburdening the justice system. Further use should be made of judicial and extrajudicial mediation measures to address that problem, which would be in the interests of complainants since it was unacceptable that cases could currently take up to six years to be resolved.

On the issue of the Islamic headscarf, schools democratically established their own provisions concerning all religious or philosophical symbols, and practices varied according to the community concerned. The case law of the European Court of Human Rights was very precise on the matter. Nothing prevented parents or other parties from bringing an action against those provisions, but there had been no such cases and the right to education was being fully realized. Proceedings were currently under way against a priest for verbal and written incitement to hatred of Muslims.

Ms. MONCAREY (Belgium) said the fact that 10 per cent of schools in the French‑speaking community allowed the headscarf to be worn did not mean that 90 per cent prohibited it, since many of those schools were not affected by the question.

Mr. MAENHAUT (Belgium) said that the main principle used in assigning social housing was the chronological order of applications. The maintenance of a certain level of diversity and the rational use of the available social housing stock were also taken into consideration. Eligibility for social housing was based on objective criteria, such as income.

Mr. OUVRY (Belgium) said that those principles had not resulted in the issuance of any instructions regarding specific quotas for beneficiaries, although the matter was under consideration.

Mr. DE VULDER (Belgium) confirmed that foreign asylum-seekers who were refused entry at the border were no longer placed in detention in airport transit zones, but, in keeping with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights mentioned previously, were placed in specialized centres pending resolution of their case.

The reversal of the burden of proof was possible in civil cases; however, in criminal cases, the principle of the presumption of innocence could not be reversed. The reversal mechanism was being used increasingly by the courts in civil cases involving discrimination.

Mr. PROSPER requested information on the accountability of law enforcement officials for enforcing anti-discrimination regulations and on the types of disciplinary action that could be taken against officials who failed to comply with those regulations.

Mr. HOEFMANS (Belgium) said that his Government was very attentive to violations of anti-racist legislation and took disciplinary measures in response to such violations. That had been demonstrated by the case of a police officer who had been convicted for the use of violence against a particular group of individuals.

Mr. SANT’ANGELO (Belgium) said that there were several mechanisms whose action could result in disciplinary sanctions for law enforcement officials. The first option was a non‑judicial, internal inspection mechanism within the police force that was competent to receive all complaints and conduct an internal inquiry, which could eventually result in the imposition of disciplinary sanctions. The second option was for complainants to lodge a complaint with the parliamentary “Standing Committee P”, which was an external, independent body. That option could be taken even if disciplinary sanctions had been imposed. The third option was to file a complaint before the criminal courts, as in the case of the police officer, mentioned previously, who had been found guilty of assault with the aggravating circumstance of racist intent.

Mr. de GOUTTES requested additional information on the use of mediation techniques to resolve interracial and inter-ethnic conflicts. He asked what outcomes had been achieved by the initiatives described in paragraphs 48 to 51 of the periodic report involving regular consultations with religious communities in an effort to develop interfaith and intercultural dialogue as a means of promoting greater acceptance of cultural minorities.

Mr. SANT’ANGELO (Belgium) said that mediation services were carried out on the initiative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office; regrettably, judicial staff did not resort to judicial mediation as often as they might. That was despite the fact that the Centre for Equal Opportunity and Action to Combat Racism frequently suggested, both in its training programmes and in the complaints it filed, that judicial mediation should be considered as an option. An increasing number of bodies had become specialized in providing mediation services. Given the proven effectiveness of such bodies, the Centre tended to offer conciliation services, but to refer cases for mediation to those bodies.

The monitoring unit that had been set up in 2004 on the initiative of the Federal Government and was operated by the Centre had initially dealt with anti-Semitic incidents, the number of which had increased since 2000. As a result of the interaction between representatives of Jewish organizations, the Ministry of Social Integration and Interculturalism, and the Centre, many important results had been achieved, not the least of which was that the confidence of the Jewish community in the Belgian authorities - in particular, the police - had been restored. The situation had improved to such an extent that it had given rise to the notion that similar efforts might be employed successfully to improve the situation of the Muslim population in Belgium. Incidents were dealt with in conjunction with ongoing intercultural, interfaith dialogue between the public authorities and the Centre, on the one hand, and representatives of the various religious faiths and trends of philosophical thought, on the other.

Mr. VILLAN (Belgium) said that, in conjunction with the Council of Europe, Belgian authorities had participated in the drafting of a white paper on intercultural dialogue, which had stressed the fact that such dialogue did not exclusively concern religious issues, but also many other cultural and intercultural considerations. To speak of dialogue was to assume that each party not only recognized the other, but that they were all on equal footing with respect to such issues as minimum access to housing, employment and education, which frequently was not the case. Given that the European Commission had declared 2008 to be the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, more thought needed to be devoted to that topic.

Mr. THORNBERRY asked whether pupils who were expelled from school for refusing to remove their headscarves or other religious symbols could find other schools to accept them. Had any mediation facilities been set up at the local level to facilitate resolution of such conflicts between representatives of the schools and the ethnic or religious communities involved?

Mr. SANT’ANGELO (Belgium) said that persons who considered themselves to be aggrieved by rules prohibiting the wearing of headscarves could contact the Centre for Equal Opportunity and Action to Combat Racism, where conciliation would be set up between the pupil and the school. If no agreement could be reached, the families of such pupils always had the possibility of instituting legal proceedings; however, families usually preferred to find an alternate school for the pupil so as not to interrupt her schooling. For that reason, there was very little jurisprudence available concerning such issues.

Mr. KJAERUM, Country Rapporteur, said it was clear from both its periodic report and its replies that Belgium had adopted a serious and focused approach to ensuring the integration of minorities within its society. It was also clear from the diversity approaches that it had adopted in such areas as the public administration and law enforcement system that Belgium had moved beyond assimilationist integration policies towards policies aimed at ensuring respect for diversity and building a truly inclusive society. He thanked the delegation for its participation.

Mr. OUVRY (Belgium) said that the dialogue with the Committee had been a valuable experience; his delegation looked forward to continuing the dialogue on a regular basis.

The discussion covered in the summary record ended at 12.25 p.m.