Flanders launches its own human rights institute

The Flemish Human Rights Institute (VMRI) is officially launching today. The new institute was created after Flanders controversially withdrew from the existing Belgian equal opportunities centre, Unia, which was deemed "too left-wing activist". 

When taking office in 2019, the government of Flanders made the controversial decision to end its cooperation with Unia, Belgium's interfederal equal opportunities centre. The ruling party N-VA (Flemish Nationalists) argued that the centre was too left-wing and activist. 

"For us, Unia is an activist institution that has made it its mission to show that our society is structurally racist and that we are all steeped in racism," said N-VA politician Nadia Sminate in 2022.

The controversial exit heralded the creation of a new Flemish Human Rights Institute, which officially opened its doors today. People will be able to turn to the regional Institute with complaints about all kinds of discrimination.

Several civil society organisations are disgruntled by the creation of the new institution. "In our opinion, the decree for the establishment of the Flemish Human Rights Institute is a step backwards for victims of discrimination, instead of a step forward." Kati Verstrepen, president of the Human Rights League, told De Standaard in February.

Flemish Minister for Equal Opportunities Bart Somers (Open Vld, Flemish Liberals) believes the new institute will be more rather than less effective. The federal level is fragmented because people have to go turn to different institutions depending on the type of complaint, says Somers. In Flanders, the VMRI will be responsible for both discrimination and human rights complaints.

The new institute is not yet in full swing. "We should be up and running by the autumn," Stefan Sottiaux, constitutional expert and chairman of the VMRI board, told VRT. VMRI will continue to refer complaints about issues that are not Flanders' responsibility to Unia, the VMRI chairman added.


#FlandersNewsService | Flemish Minister for Equal Opportunities Bart Somers (Open Vld, Flemish Liberals) © BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE

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