Anyone in Belgium who has been the target of discrimination or a witness to it can turn to Unia. We will inform you about your rights and to help you look for a solution. Unia also mounts campaigns for equal opportunities and against discrimination, formulates recommendations for government authorities and generates tools, publications and statistics.
Unia is an independent public institution that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities. Our independence and engagement in favor of human rights is recognized by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. We have interfederal competence, which means that, in Belgium, we are active at the federal level as well as the level of the regions and communities.
What does Unia do?
Unia encourages society as a whole, and particularly government authorities, public institutions and companies, to combat discrimination and segregation. We also provide support to citizens who have experienced discrimination.
We are authorised to address discrimination on various grounds, such as: race, faith or creed, disability, age and sexual orientation. Click here to view the 17 grounds for discrimination for which Unia is authorised. There is a separate Institute for the promotion of gender equality: the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men.
Anyone in Belgium who feels that he or she has been discriminated against or has witnessed discrimination can report it to Unia.
Unia always first tries to reach an amicable solution, but if this does not prove effective, then, with the permission of the person affected by discrimination, Unia can file a lawsuit or participate in one. However, there are only a limited number of cases in which Unia will effectively take the matter to court.
Awareness raising, prevention and recommendations
Unia also organises campaigns for raising awareness and informing the public. Through our online training on antidiscrimination laws (eDiv), we answer questions about diversity in the workplace. We also offer customised training and provide tools for fighting for equal opportunities and against discrimination, as well as formulating targeted advice and recommendations for organisations and government authorities.
Unia is a knowledge and expertise centre. Through our publications and statistics, we inform the government and numerous specialised organisations on discrimination and diversity.
Finally, Unia promotes and protects human rights in Belgium. How does it do this? Unia is recognised as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI with B status). As such, Unia contributes to the evaluation of Belgium in terms of respect for human rights. Read more about the evaluation by the United Nations and the role of Unia. Unia should not be confused with the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (IFDH).
Unia strives to ensure inclusive and equal participation for all, in all areas of society. Our work is based on legal expertise, knowledge of the social reality and experiences of people who have been discriminated against.
Our mission (based on the goals that have been set in a partnership agreement between the federal government, the regions and the communities) encompasses three major areas:
- Promoting equal opportunities and participation for all, in all areas of society (employment, housing, education, welfare, leisure, culture, citizenship, etc.), irrespective of origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or philosophy of life.
- Cooperating with the major actors in our society: political and public authorities, citizens, civil society, professions, social partners, academic world, international organisations, etc.
- Promoting knowledge and respect of constitutional rights, more particularly antidiscrimination law, to ensure that these rights are respected and applied in Belgium.
Unia comes from the Latin unio (meaning unity, togetherness, 'I unite'). A term which neatly describes the philosophy we aim to bring across in our work: initiating dialogue, strengthening the social fabric, concentrating on the things that unite us, rather than on those which divide.
On 1 February 2016 Els Keytsman and Patrick Charlier were appointed co-managers of Unia.
Els Keytsman has been the director of Unia since 1 February 2016. Following a degree in Business Management and Applied Economic Sciences, she gained extensive management experience in the social and public sectors, in positions such as director of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen vzw (Flemish Refugee Action) and head of the Politics Department of Oxfam-Wereldwinkels vzw (Oxfam-Worldshops). She began her career as a civil servant in Flanders, later working as a ministerial cabinet member and a policy officer for a political party.
Actively engaged in equal opportunities and discrimination internationally as well, she represents Belgium in the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and is also a member of the Council for Dutch Language and Literature (Raad voor de Nederlandse Taal en Letteren or RNTL).
Patrick Charlier holds a degree in law. He has previously worked for the Liga voor Mensenrechten (Human Rights League), first as legal adviser (1992-1996), and then as director (1996-2001). In 2001, he joined Unia, where he has held various positions: originally in the Department of Racism and the Migration Observatory, later as coordinator of the Department of Discrimination.
Unia's board of directors was officially set up on 3 February 2015. The Board is made up of 20 members plus a representative from the German-speaking Community (for matters relevant to that community). Members are appointed on the basis of their expertise, experience, independence and moral authority and are drawn from the academic world, law, civil society, social partners, etc.
Bernadette Renauld and Fahim De Leener are elected chairpersons of the Board of Directors.
On 15 February 1993, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism was established. The legal responsibilities of the centre covered two key elements:
- Combating discrimination and encouraging equal opportunities
- Safeguarding the fundamental rights of foreigners, aiding the fight against human trafficking and informing government authorities about the nature and extent of migration flows.
Over the years, the competencies of the Centre have been further expanded to include 'non-racial' forms of discrimination. The Centre has also been given the authority to intervene on the grounds of the law against negationism.
On 12 June 2013, the federal government, the regions and communities signed a partnership agreement officially making the former Centre an interfederal institution for combating discrimination.
- The responsibilities regarding migration, the fundamental rights of foreigners and their humane treatment were assigned to a separate federal structure: the Federal Migration Centre, that was renamed Myria on 3 September 2015.
- Combating discrimination and promoting equal opportunities became the responsibility of the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities, which was renamed Unia on 22 February 2016.
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