Europe is not doing enough to protect human rights, especially when it comes to safeguarding children’s needs, according to the director of the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights – FRA.

“We need to invest far more in a culture of human rights, a culture where no decision can be taken, no policy developed and no government action implemented without asking the question: how does this strengthen respect towards the human rights of every person in society,” Michael O’Flaherty said when contacted.

Prof. O’Flaherty was speaking ahead of a symposium being held in Brussels today in collaboration with the Maltese Presidency of the European Council and which President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca will be addressing.

Themed ‘Is Europe doing enough to protect fundamental rights?’, the event will take stock of human rights developments in the EU over the last 10 years.

“Europe is not doing enough to protect human rights. We can always do so much more,” Prof. O’Flaherty said, noting the symposium would acknowledge how much has been achieved and what had to be done.

One such example is the migration crisis.

Though he is impressed with the improvement in reception facilities, he says “there is still a lot going wrong”.

“We’ll be speaking about this in the context of protecting children’s rights. Much more needs to be done in terms of looking after their needs and rights.

“We still need to do a better job of housing children in appropriate reception centres and provide them with basic needs such as access to education and the right to play, which are important for childhood development and are still not adequately addressed.”

Prof. O’Flaherty also referred to the “very uneven patchwork” of guardianship laws in Europe, which, he said, impeded the reception of children across Europe and the protection of their rights and needs.

READ: One in two locals believe women 'make up or exaggerate' rape claims

Asked about racism and xenophobia, he noted that all hate speech, including that directed at people of different sexual orientation, religious views and ethnicities, had to be counteracted “very vigorously” through criminal law.

“We also have to do better in investigating and prosecuting hate crime. We have to do a better job of understanding the patterns of hate crime and that’s where FRA’s surveys and research come in because we talk to groups that find themselves targets of hate crime again and again and we capture their experiences.

“We have to work hard to build up public values and that’s why we speak of the importance of civic education in schools and elsewhere. It’s only when we challenge these issues from different directions that we’ll see the difference that we need,” he continued.

Prof. O’Flaherty was also asked about recent data, quoted in a FRA report, which showed that nearly half of the Maltese believe women exaggerate rape or abuse claims.

While he was not in a position to comment about such figures, since they originated from a different European source (Eurobarometer survey published in November), there was a “very serious problem” of violence against women in EU states.

“We have to engage with attitudes that tolerate violence against women and the common fear of reporting. Just like with hate speech, we have to hold people accountable and liable under law,” he added.

Commending the EU’s commitment to the Istanbul Convention, Prof. O’Flaherty said the instrument sent a clear message that violence against women was one of the outrages that had to be tackled.