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Hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.

"Hate crime" generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by hatred of one or more of the listed conditions. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters.


Concern about hate crimes has become increasingly prominent among policymakers in many nations and at all levels of government in recent years, but the phenomenon is not new. Examples from the past include Roman persecution of Christians, the Ottoman genocide of Armenians, and the Nazi "final solution" for the Jews, and more recently, the ethnic cleansing in Bosniamarker and genocide in Rwandamarker. Hate crimes have shaped and sometimes defined world history.

In the United Statesmarker, racial and religious biases have inspired most hate crimes. As Europeans began to colonize the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries, Native Americans increasingly became the targets of bias-motivated intimidation and violence. During the past two centuries, some of the more typical examples of hate crimes in the U.S. include lynchings of African Americans, cross burnings to drive black families from predominantly white neighborhoods, assaults on white people travelling predominantly black neighborhoods, assaults on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues and xenophobic responses to a variety of minority ethnic groups, as well as attacks against European Americans, such as the Murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom and the Wichita Massacre.

Hate crime victims

In the United States, anti-black bias was the most frequently reported hate crime motivation. (African-Americans constitute the second-largest minority group; Hispanics are the largest). Of the nearly 8,000 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 1995, almost 3,000 of them were motivated by bias against blacks. Other frequently reported bias motivations were anti-white, anti-Jewish, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Asian, anti-Native American, and anti-Hispanic.

Psychological effects

From a psychological standpoint, hate crimes may produce devastating consequences. A manual issued by the Attorney-General of the Province of Ontariomarker in Canada lists the following consequences:

  • effects on people – psychological and affective disturbances; repercussion on the victim's identity and self-esteem; both reinforced by the degree of violence of a hate crime, usually stronger than that of a common one.

  • effect on the targeted group – generalized terror in the group from which the victim belongs, inspiring feelings of vulnerability over the other members, who could be the next victims.

  • effect on other vulnerable groups – ominous effects over minoritarian groups or over groups that identify themselves with the targeted one, especially when the referred hate is based on an ideology or doctrine that preaches simultaneously against several groups.

  • effect on society as a whole – the stimulation of divisions in society, which would be an abomination against concepts like harmony and equality in a multicultural society.

Hate crime laws

Hate crime laws generally fall into one of several categories: (1) laws defining specific bias-motivated acts as distinct crimes; (2) criminal penalty-enhancement laws; (3) laws creating a distinct civil cause of action for hate crimes; and (4) laws requiring administrative agencies to collect hate crime statistics. Sometimes (as in Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker), the laws focus on war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity with the prohibition against discriminatory action limited to public officials.



Discriminatory acts constituting harassment or infringement of a person's dignity on the basis of origin, citizenship, race, religion, or sex (Penal Code Article 313). Courts have cited bias-based motivation in delivering sentences, but there is no explicit penalty enhancement provision in the Criminal Code. The government does not track hate crime statistics, although they are relatively rare.


Armeniamarker has a penalty-enhancement statute for crimes with ethnic, racial, or religious motives (Criminal Code Article 63).


Austriamarker has a penalty-enhancement statute for crimes with racist or xenophobic motivation (Penal Code section 33(5)).


Azerbaijanmarker has a penalty-enhancement statute for crimes motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred (Criminal Code Article 61). Murder and infliction of serious bodily injury motivated by racial, religious, national, or ethnic intolerance are distinct crimes (Article 111).


Belarusmarker has a penalty-enhancement statute for crimes motivated by racial, national, and religious hatred and discord.


Belgiummarker's Act of 25 February 2003 (“"aimed at combating discrimination and modifying the Act of 15 February 1993 which establishes the Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Fight against Racism"”) establishes a penalty-enhancement for crimes involving discrimination on the basis of sex, supposed race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, civil status, birth, fortune, age, religious or philosophical beliefs, current or future state of health and handicap or physical features. The Act also "provides for a civil remedy to address discrimination." The Act, along with the Act of 20 January 2003 ("on strengthening legislation against racism”"), requires the Centre to collect and publish statistical data on racism and discriminatory crimes.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker (enacted 2003) "contains provisions prohibiting discrimination by public officials on grounds, inter alia, of race, skin colour, national or ethnic background, religion and language and prohibiting the restriction by public officials of the language rights of the citizens in their relations with the authorities (Article 145/1 and 145/2).”"


Bulgarianmarker criminal law prohibits certain crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia, but a 1999 report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance found that it does not appear that those provisions "have ever resulted in convictions before the courts in Bulgaria."


Croatianmarker law allows for consideration of any extenuating or aggravating circumstances in sentencing, but no explicit provision is made for bias-based motivations.

Czech Republic

"The Czechmarker Criminal Code defines racist motivation as a specific aggravating circumstance that judges are required to take into account in sentencing, as well as defining specific racist acts as crimes. Section 196 punishes “'violence against a group of inhabitants and against individuals on the basis of race, nationality, political conviction or religion.”'"


Although Danishmarker law does not include explicit hate crime provisions, "section 80(1) of the Criminal Code instructs courts to take into account the gravity of the offence and the offender's motive when meting out penalty, and therefore to attach importance to the racist motive of crimes in determining sentence." In recent years judges have used this provision to increase sentences on the basis of racist motives.

Since 1992, the Danish Civil Security Service (PET) has released statistics on crimes with apparent racist motivation.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, hate crimes may be physical attack, verbal attack, threats or insults and will be considered a hate crime if they are motivated by the victims race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality or national origins, religion, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.


Finnishmarker Penal Code 515/2003 (enacted January 31, 2003) makes "committing a crime against a person,because of his national, racial, ethnical or equivalent group" an aggravating circumstance in sentencing. In addition, ethnic agitation ( ) is criminalized and carries a fine or a prison sentence of not more than two years. The prosecution need not prove that an actual danger to an ethnic group is caused but only that malicious message is emissioned. A more aggravated hate crime, warmongering ( ), carries a prison sentence of one to ten years. However, in case of warmongering, the prosecution must prove an overt act that evidently increases the risk that Finland is involved in a war or becomes a target for a military operation. The act in question may consist of
  1. illegal violence directed against foreign country or her citizens,
  2. systematic dissemination of false information on Finnish foreign policy or defence
  3. public influence on the public opinion towards a pro-war viewpoint or
  4. public suggestion that a foreign country or Finland should engage in an aggressive act.


In 2003, France enacted penalty-enhancement hate crime laws for crimes motivated by bias against the victim's actual or perceived ethnicity, nation, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The penalties for murder were raised from 30 years (for non-hate crimes) to life imprisonment (for hate crimes), and the penalties for violent attacks leading to permanent disability were raised from 10 years (for non-hate crimes) to 15 years (for hate crimes).


"There is no general provision in Georgian law for racist motivation to be considered an aggravating circumstance in prosecutions of ordinary offenses. Certain crimes involving racist motivation are, however, defined as specific offenses in the Georgian Criminal Code of 1999, including murder motivated by racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance (article 109); infliction of seriousinjuries motivated by racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance (article 117); and torture motivated by racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance (article 126). ECRI reported no knowledge of cases in which this law has been enforced. There is no systematic monitoring or data collection on discrimination in Georgia."


The German Criminal Code does not know any direct penalty-enhancement laws in connection with hate or bias. In the German legal framework motivation is not taken into account while identifying the element of the offence. However within the sentencing procedure the judge can define certain principles for determining punishment. In section 46 of the German Criminal Code it is stated that "the motives and aims of the perpetrator; the state of mind reflected in the act and the wilfulness involved in its commission." can be taken into consideration when determining the punishment. In the past hate and bias was regarded here.

The only section in the German Criminal Code where hate and/or bias could be taken into consideration (more or less) directly in case of a violent hate crime is 211 (Murder). The qualification for murder (imprisonment for life) instead of manslaughter (imprisonment not less than five years) is stated in paragraph 2 of section 211: "A murderer is, whoever kills a human being out of murderous lust, to satisfy his sexual desires, from greed or otherwise base motives, treacherously or cruelly or with means dangerous to the public or in order to make another crime possible or cover it up." In the past judges confirmed racial hate and xenophobia as being "otherwise base motives" that enhances a manslaughter to murder.

Besides that the German Criminal Code holds sections against hate speech. Sections 86, 86a were introduced to defend against the ideas of National Socialism. The underlying principle is that propaganda material from forbidden organizations and parties (to which the NSDAP but also modern hate groups belong) can affect the public peace and safety as well as the Free Democratic Basic Order of Germany and therefore may lead to violence.

Section 130 states:"(1) Whoever, in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace:1. incites hatred against segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or2. assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population,shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to five years.(...)(3) Whoever publicly or in a meeting approves of, denies or renders harmless an act committed under the rule of National Socialism of the type indicated in Section 220a subsection (1), in a manner capable of disturbing the public peace shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine."

Again the public peace and safety is protected and not the bodily integrity of an individual. Especially paragraph 3 shows a huge difference between Germany and (for example) the U.S. in defining the freedom of speech. In this case the so called "Auschwitz lie" – denying, approving or rendering harmless the Holocaust – is considered to disrespect the suffering of all victims. The legally protected interest of the human dignity (in Germany section 1 of the Grundgesetz (constitution)) limits the legally protected interest of freedom of speech (section 5 of the German Grundgesetz). In the U.S. this would be vice versa.


Article Law 927/1979 "Section 1,1 penalises incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence towards individuals or groups because oftheir racial, national or religious origin, through public written or oral expressions; Section 1,2 prohibits theestablishment of, and membership in, organisations which organise propaganda and activities aimed at racialdiscrimination; Section 2 punishes public expression of offensive ideas; Section 3 penalises the act of refusing,in the exercise of one’s occupation, to sell a commodity or to supply a service on racial grounds." Public prosecutors may press charges even if the victim does not file a complaint. However, as of 2003, no convictions had been attained under the law.


Violent action, cruelty, and coercion by threat made on the basis of the victim's actual or perceived national, ethnic, or religious status are punishable under article 174/B of the Hungarianmarker Criminal Code.


Section 233 of the Icelandic Penal Code states "Anyone who in a ridiculing, slanderous, insulting, threatening or any other manner publicly assaults a person or a group of people on the basis of their nationality, skin colour, race, religion or sexual orientation, shall be fined or jailed for up to 2 years." (The word "assault" in this context does not refer to physical violence, only to expressions of hatred.)

Icelandic Penal Code (in Icelandic)


Iranian constitution's article 19 states: All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.

Iranian constitution's article 20 states: All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.

Iranian constitution's article 14 prohibits the maltreatment of the non-islamic recognized minorities: In accordance with the sacred verse "God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with those who have not fought against you because of your religion and who have not expelled you from your homes" [60:8], the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights. This principle applies to all who refrain from engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In spite of this, it is well known throughout the international community that Iran has and continues to have state-sponsored torture and executions of homosexuals, as sexual orientation is not recognized as a protected class within the state and homosexuality is treated as a violation of Islamic law.


"The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989" makes it an offense to incite hatred against any group of persons on account of their race, color, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, or membership of the Traveller community, an indigenous minority group."

Irelandmarker does not systematically collect hate crime data.


Italian criminal law, at Section 3 of Law No. 205/1993, contains a penalty-enhancement provision for all crimes motived by racial, ethnic, national, or religious bias.


In Kazakhstanmarker, there are constitutional provisions prohibiting propaganda promoting racial or ethnic superiority.


In Kyrgyzstanmarker, "the Constitution of the State party prohibits any kind of discrimination on grounds of origin, sex, race, nationality, language, faith, political or religious convictions or any other personal or social trait or circumstance, and that the prohibition against racial discrimination is also included in other legislation, such as the Civil, Penal and Labour Codes."

Article 299 of the Criminal Code defines incitement to national, racist, or religious hatred as a specific offense. This article has been used in political trials of suspected members of the banned organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir.


In Scottishmarker Common law the courts can take any aggravating factor into account when sentencing someone found guilty of an offence. There is specific legislation dealing with the offences of incitement of racial hatred, racially-aggravated harassment and offences aggravated by religious prejudice. A Scottish Executive working party examined the issue of hate crime and ways of combating crime motivated by social prejudice, reporting in 2004. Its main recommendations were not implemented, but in their manifestos for the Scottish Parliament election, 2007 several political parties included commitments to legislate in this area, including the Scottish National Party who now form the Scottish Government. The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 19 May 2008 by Patrick Harvie MSP, having been prepared with support from the Scottish Government, and passed unanimously by the parliamentmarker on 3 June 2009.


Article 22(4) of the Spanish Penal Code includes a penalty-enhancement provision for crimes motivated by bias against the victim's ideology, beliefs, religion, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.


Article 29 of the Swedish Penal Code includes a penalty-enhancement provision for crimes motivated by bias against the victim's race, color, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or "other circumstance" of the victim.

Eurasian countries with no hate crime laws

Albaniamarker, Cyprusmarker, Estoniamarker, San Marinomarker, and Sloveniamarker have no hate crime laws.

North America


Constitutional scholar Joseph Magnet argues that Canada has more hate crime legislation forbidding certain ideas from being promulgated than any other country in the world. Since 1966 the Canadian Criminal Code has included a penalty-enhancement provision for crimes "motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on racial group, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor." In Section 319 the Code punishes anyone who "advocates or promotes genocide" with genocide defined to require that acts be committed "with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group". "Identifiable group" is defined as "any section of the public distinguished by skin color, racial group, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." Civil remedies are also available in Canada for discriminatory acts.

United States

Defined in the 1999 National Crime Victim Survey, "A hate crime is a criminal offense. In the United Statesmarker federal prosecution is possible for hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, or nation origin when engaging in a federally protected activity." In 2009, the Matthew Shepard Act added perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability to the federal definition, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbiamarker have statutes criminalizing various types of hate crimes. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have statutes creating a civil cause of action in addition to the criminal penalty for similar acts. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics

According to the FBImarker Hate Crime Statistics report for 2006, hate crimes increased nearly 8% nationwide, with a total of 7,722 incidents and 9,080 offenses reported by participating law enforcement agencies. Of the 5,449 crimes against persons, 46% were classified as intimidation and 31.9% as simple assaults. 81% of the 3,593 crimes against property were acts of vandalism or destruction.

However, according to the FBImarker Hate Crime Statistics for 2007, the number of hate crimes decreased to 7,624 incidents reported by participating law enforcement agencies. These incidents included 9 murders and 2 rapes(out of the almost 17,000 murders and 90,000 forcible rapes committed in the U.S. in 2007).

Attorney General Eric Holder said in June 2009 that recent killings show the need for a tougher U.S. hate crimes law to stop "violence masquerading as political activism".

Deliberate attacks on the homeless as hate crimes

A 2007 study found that the number of violent crimes against the homeless is increasing. The rate of such documented crimes in 2005 was 30% higher than of those in 1999. 75% of all perpetrators are under the age of 25. Studies and surveys indicate that homeless people have a much higher criminal victimization rate than the non-homeless, but that most incidents never get reported to authorities.

In recent years, largely due to the efforts of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and academic researchers the problem of violence against the homeless has gained national attention. The NCH called deliberate attacks against the homeless hate crimes in their report Hate, Violence, and Death on Mainstreet USA (they retain the definition of the American Congress).

The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino in conjunction with the NCH found that 155 homeless people were killed by non-homeless people in "hate killings", while 76 people were killed in all the other traditional hate crime homicide categories such as race and religion, combined. The CSHE contends that negative and degrading portrayals of the homeless contribute to a climate where violence takes place.

South America


In Brazilmarker, hate crime laws focus on racism, racial injury, and other special bias-motivated crimes such as, for example, murder by death squads and genocide on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. Murder by death squads and genocide are legally classified as "hideous crimes" (crimes hediondos in Portuguese).

The crimes of racism and racial injury, although similar, are enforced slightly differently. Article 140, 3rd paragraph, of the Penal Code establishes a harsher penalty, from a minimum of 1 year to a maximum of 3 years, for injuries motivated by "elements referring to race, color, ethnicity, religion, origin, or the condition of being an aged or disabled person". On the other side, Law 7716/1989 covers "crimes resulting from discrimination or prejudice on the grounds of race, color, ethnicity, religion, or national origin".

In addition, the Brazilian Constitution defines as a "fundamental goal of the Republic" (Article 3rd, clause IV) "to promote the wealth of all, with no prejudice as to origin, race, sex, color, age, and any other forms of discrimination".

Support and opposition

Support for hate crime laws

Justifications for harsher punishments for hate crimes focus on the notion that hate crimes cause greater individual and societal harm. It is said that, when the core of a person’s identity is attacked, the degradation and dehumanization is especially severe, and additional emotional and physiological problems are likely to result. Society then, in turn, can suffer from the disempowerment of a group of people. Furthermore, it is asserted that the chances for retaliatory crimes are greater when a hate crime has been committed. The riots in Los Angelesmarker, California that followed the beating of Rodney King, a Black motorist, by a group of White police officers are cited as support for this argument. The beating of white truck driver Reginald Denny by black rioters during the same riot is also an example that would support this argument.

The U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker unanimously found that penalty-enhancement hate crime statutes do not conflict with free speech rights because they do not punish an individual for exercising freedom of expression; rather, they allow courts to consider motive when sentencing a criminal for conduct which is not protected by the First Amendment. (However, freedom of religion and expression of one's beliefs are; see below.)

When it enacted the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, the New York Statemarker Legislature found that:

Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens.
They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society.
Crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs.
Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is essential to healthy democratic processes.
In a democratic society, citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them.
Current law does not adequately recognize the harm to public order and individual safety that hate crimes cause.
Therefore, our laws must be strengthened to provide clear recognition of the gravity of hate crimes and the compelling importance of preventing their recurrence.
Accordingly, the legislature finds and declares that hate crimes should be prosecuted and punished with appropriate severity."

Opposition to hate crime laws

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that hate crime statutes which criminalize bias-motivated speech or symbolic speech conflict with free speech rights because they isolated certain words based on their content or viewpoint. Many critics further assert that it conflicts with an even more fundamental right: free thought. The claim is that hate-crime legislation effectively makes certain ideas or beliefs, including religious ones, illegal, in other words, thought crimes.

In their book Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics, James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter criticize hate crime legislation for exacerbating conflicts between groups. They assert that by defining crimes as being committed by one group against another, rather than as being committed by individuals against their society, the labeling of crimes as “hate crimes” causes groups to feel persecuted by one another, and that this impression of persecution can incite a backlash and thus lead to an actual increase in crime. Some have argued hate crime laws bring the law into disrepute and further divide society, as groups apply to have their critics silenced. Some have argued that if it is true that all violent crimes are the result of the perpetrator's contempt for the victim, then all crimes are hate crimes. Thus, if there is no alternate rationale for prosecuting some people more harshly for the same crime based on who the victim is, then different defendants are treated unequally under the law, which violates the United States Constitution.

Critiquing Reliance on the Prison Industrial ComplexThere are also those who oppose hate crimes laws because of the power such legislation gives to the prison industrial complex. The critiques from such a point of view are extensive and include, "Hate crime law sets up the State as protector, intending to deflect our attention from the violence it perpetrates, deploys, and sanctions. The government, its agents, and their institutions perpetuate systemic violence and set themselves up as the only avenue in which justice can be allocated; they will never be charged with hate crimes." See a compilation of critiques at

See also


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