The Crime and the Trial
On September 13, 2002, François Chenu was attacked by three skinheads in Leo Lagrange park in Reims, France. Chenu resisted, but he was beaten unconscious and thrown into a pond, where he drowned. The three attackers, Michael Regnier, Fabien Lavenus and Franck Billette, were soon apprehended by the police. The three young men, including one who was a minor at the time, said they had gone into the park to attack “an Arab,” but instead focused on Chenu, targeting him because he was gay.
In 2004, Regnier, Lavenus and Billette were tried for Chenu’s murder. Maroud Benkoussa served as the lawyer for the three attackers, and in making his case he emphasized their own experiences of violence and poverty. Regnier and Lavenus received 20-year sentences, while Billette, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sentenced to 15 years. Billette’s parents, who burned Chenu’s identification card after being told of the crime, were convicted of destroying evidence.
Chenu’s parents, Jean-Paul and Marie-Cecile Chenu, and sister followed the proceedings closely, keeping in contact with the prosecutor as well as the defense attorney. While they mourned the loss of François, they worked to overcome the desire for vengeance, insisting only that justice should be done through the courts. After the trial, they wrote a letter to the perpetrators and offered to open a dialogue.
» “A Family Struggling to Heal.” Matt Zoller Seitz. The New York Times. June 15, 2007.
» “L’après-crime homophobe.” Liberation. March 14, 2007.
» “Le courage.” Liberation. March 15, 2006.
» “Agressions homophobes : une rue pour François Chenu.” September 12, 2005.
Hate Crimes: Human Rights Abuses
Hate crimes endanger the lives of thousands every day across Europe and North America and beyond. Hate crimes attack the very identities of their victims, and studies have shown that they can thus have further reaching psychological consequences than violent crimes not motivated by bias. Hate crimes also threaten whole communities, affecting those who identify with the victim because of race, religion or other attributes. As a result, hate crimes leave many living in fear and feeling alienated from the larger society.
Members of communities targeted for violence cannot move freely in towns and cities, much less participate fully in the larger society. Even where hate crimes don’t involve severe violence, they may result in progressive marginalization and exclusion, largely barring those under threat from the exercise of rights taken for granted by others. The right to live and worship where and how one pleases, to participate fully in political life and to enjoy economic, social and cultural rights — including equality in employment, education and access to social services — are all affected. By undermining the shared value of equality, hate crimes threaten the very fabric of the increasingly diverse societies in which we live.
Because of their consequences for individuals, communities and societies as a whole, hate crimes are particularly pernicious forms of discrimination, threatening the equal enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
» Human Rights First
Hate Crimes in France
SOS Homophobie, a French advocacy organization, cited 132 acts of violence targeting gay and lesbian people in 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available — a decrease of 14 percent from 2006. The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), a French government agency, reported an overall reduction in the number of hate crimes targeting minorities in that year as well.
In 2003, France enacted legislation to impose stiffer penalties on crimes in which a victim was targeted due to membership (or perceived membership) in a racial, ethnic or religious minority group. Shortly thereafter, the law was amended to include protection for victims targeted due to their sexual orientation.
» “2008 Hate Crime Survey.” Human Rights First.
» “Hate Crime Report Card — France.” Human Rights First.
» Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (CNCDH), “La Lutte Contre le Racisme et la Xenophobie: Rapport d’activite 2007, ” 2007, Section I, p. 13, available at: Criminal Code of France (accessed on June 11, 2008), Articles 221-4, 222-10.
Hate Crimes in the United States
A survey in the United States found that crimes targeting LGBT individuals rose by 24 percent in 2007, as compared with the previous year. The report also notes a stark increase in the number of murders classified as hate crimes — from 10 nationwide in 2006 to 21 in 2007. Research suggests that many LGBT people regularly experience hostility and/or bias based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Laws in the United States addressing hate crimes vary widely. A majority of states have some form of hate crime legislation, but the protected parties are different in each state. Efforts to expand federal law to cover hate crimes targeted at LGBT individuals have been unsuccessful. In 2007, under threat of a veto from the Bush administration, Congressional leaders withdrew their support for the Matthew Shepard Act, which would expand protection to victims targeted due to gender, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. Currently, federal law considers acts that target individuals or groups based on their race, color, religion or national origin to be hate crimes. The Obama administration has pledged its support for the bill and has called attention to the substantial number of hate crimes targeting LGBT individuals.
» “Hate Crime Report Card — LGBT.” Human Rights First.
» “The Agenda: Civil Rights.” The White House.
» “Congressional Maneuvering Dooms Hate Crime Measure.” Carl Hulse. The New York Times. December 7, 2007.