Director, Fighting Discrimination Program
Human Rights First
On a dark night in 2002, three young men, believers in a supremacist neo-Nazi ideology, waited in a park in the French city of Rheims to "do an Arab." Instead, they settled on attacking a gay man, who was just as foreign to them and therefore just as suitable as a target. Francois Chenu was brutally beaten and murdered because he was gay.
Beyond Hatred is a haunting portrayal of the immense damage caused by one violent hate crime in one city in France. Yet tens of thousands of violent hate crimes motivated by a wide range of prejudice occur every year across Europe and North America — indeed all around the world. Most are never reported, often due to mistrust of the authorities. Among those that are, accountability is unfortunately rare. While still relatively few hate crimes end in death, as occurred in the case of Francois, each of them — especially when a swift government response is lacking — chips away at our societies' professed values of equality and nondiscrimination. Francois's family members are courageously seeking to live "beyond hatred" in the film. The quest for justice — before the law — plays a key role in that process, as it does everywhere there is hate crime.
Reports indicate that homophobic violence is a significant portion of hate crime overall. Violent acts motivated by homophobia are also characterized by levels of physical aggression that in many cases exceed those for other forms of reported hate crimes. But all such acts — whether motivated by bias based on the victim's ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or another similar factor — have far-ranging consequences. Apart from having a profound impact on the victim and the victim's family and friends, hate crimes send a message of hatred to the larger community that may identify with the victim — precisely because such crimes attack a person's very identity. Even further, as Francois's parents so poignantly articulate, hate crimes collide with the republican values of France (and those of other democratic societies) that represent first and foremost an open and pluralistic society where individuals of different backgrounds can coexist peacefully.
The intolerance that drives hate crimes is deeply disturbing. Beyond Hatred demonstrates how the beer-guzzling, Hitler-chanting, neo-Nazi youths who murdered Francois were trapped in a vacuum of ignorance where the act of hating those who were different gave meaning to their lives.
Addressing the intolerance at the root of violent hate crimes is no easy matter and requires action on many levels. The criminal justice system has a major role to play in ensuring society's condemnation of such crimes. The film takes us on a journey in which the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice becomes an important step in the family's grieving and recovery. Accountability before the law — while it cannot bring back a life senselessly lost — can help to reassure communities and society at large that hate violence will not be tolerated.
For more information on Human Rights First's work to combat hate crime across Europe and North America, visit our website.
Human Rights First is a non-profit, non-partisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. We work to strengthen the response of North American, European, and Eurasian governments to racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, homophobic and similar forms of bias motivated violence across all 56 OSCE countries. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence. We advocate for change at the highest levels of national and international policymaking. We seek justice through the courts. We raise awareness and understanding through the media. We build coalitions among those with divergent views. And we mobilize people to act.
As director of the Fighting Discrimination Program, Paul LeGendre leads Human Rights First's effort to combat discrimination by reversing the tide of antisemitic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim violence and reducing other bias crime in Europe, the Russian Federation, and North America through research, analysis, and advocacy. Prior to joining Human Rights First, Paul worked for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International League for Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists and for CAF-Russia, a Russian non-profit resource center.