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August 19, 2022



Czech Republic: Education of Romani children has not changed much since Strasbourg judgment

Prague/Strasbourg, 13.11.2013 17:47, (ROMEA)
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Six years have passed since the groundbreaking judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of D.H. and Others vs. the Czech Republic. That judgment confirmed that the Czech Republic discriminates against Romani children by disproportionately sending them to what are today called "practical schools" (previously "special schools").

Despite international criticism, this problem persists. The Czech government, according to the judgment of 13 November 2007, violated the rights of 18 Romani children from the Ostrava region to education and to freedom from discrimination by assigning them to the "special schools". 

The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR overturned the initial judgment from a lower level of the court on appeal. The final judgment was adopted by the justices 13:4.

According to the judgment, the Czech Republic violated the article of the European Convention on Human Rights banning discrimination and the article of a protocol to that convention on the right to education. "The court has rendered an historical judgment according to which discrimination has no place in 21st-century Europe. Romani children now will have the same access to quality education as everyone else," James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative and legal adviser to the plaintiffs, said at the time.

"Our efforts took almost 10 years and we are very glad to have succeeded. The NGOs and parents warned that the primary school system has a fundamental problem because the 'special schools' segregate Romani children and the quality of education in those schools is poor. The parents are here with me and they are very enthusiastic," activist Kumar Vishwanathan told news server on the day the judgment was announced.   

"This is an enormous step forward in the European fight against discrimination. The forced assignment of Romani students into inferior schools is now illegal," declared Vera Egenberger, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) on the day the judgment was announced.

The Romani plaintiffs' legal representatives originally filed a complaint with the Strasbourg court in the year 2000 alleging the violation of a greater number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court, however, accepted just the two articles mentioned (discrimination and the right to education) for review and originally ruled 6:1 that neither had been violated.

At the time, the court said that even though the complaint was based on several serious arguments, the court itself was not competent to evaluate an entire social context, just individual cases. The court also expressed the opinion that the rules for accepting children into the "special schools" did not have a racial basis and that the government had proven that the schools did not accept Romani children only.

The Grand Chamber, of course, took the opposite position. In its final judgment, the court said the documentation presented by the plaintiffs, which contained data about the number of Romani children in the "special schools", should be considered sufficiently reliable to form the basis for a strong presumption of indirect discrimination.

The court also referenced data from several international organizations and the Czech Government itself about the high number of Romani children in the "special schools". The Court also stated that it shared the uneasiness of other Council of Europe bodies about the lower overall level of the programs in the "special schools" and especially about the segregation resulting from the system.

As far as the tests used as the basis for placing the plaintiffs into the "special schools" were concerned, the court said there is a risk that they were marked by prejudice and that their results had not been evaluated in the light of the specific situations of the Romani children who were subjected to them. As for the consent of the parents to their children's enrollment into the "special schools", which was, according to the judgment, the main argument of the Czech Government, the court said it was not convinced that the parents of Romani children were capable of evaluating all aspects of the situation and the consequences of their consent. 

"Because it was proven that the application of the relevant Czech laws had, during the time period under discussion, a disproportionately harmful impact on the Romani community, the plaintiffs, as members of that community, were necessarily exposed to that same discriminatory treatment. The Court has therefore come to the conclusion that Article 14 of the Convention (concerning the ban on discrimination) has been violated in combination with Article 2, Protocol 1 of the Convention (on the right to education)", the ECtHR concluded.

Four members of the Grand Chamber provided dissenting opinions, including the Czech member, Karel Jungwiert, and the Slovak member, Ján Šikuta. "I strongly disagree with the opinion of the majority in this case," Jungwiert wrote at the start of his five-and-a-half page explanation as to why he voted against the final judgment.

The judgment, now six years old, has not changed much about the Czech approach, however. Czech Education Minister Ondřej Liška attempted inclusive education during his time in the Topolánek cabinet, but the ministers who followed him discontinued the processes he set up.

The return to discriminatory behavior was primarily the doing of Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš during his time in the Nečas cabinet. In June 2011, at a personal meeting with Czech PM Petr Nečas, the American philanthropist George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundations network, called on the PM to enforce particular measures on this issue.         

Those measures would have included, for example, creating a support system for mainstream primary schools so they would be able to include all children in their classes, including those with special educational needs (inclusive education), and bring pupils currently attending the "practical schools" into mainstream ones. The "Together to School" coalition also called on the Education Ministry to take action that same year.

"Four years after the judgment, the Czech Republic is not upholding its obligations. The 2009 Institute for Information in Education report, the March 2010 Thematic Report of the Czech School Inspectorate, and the November 2010 report by Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg have all found that discrimination against children in their access to education continues unabated," the coalition wrote in a 2011 press release.

"The Education Minister and the Government must understand that sending Romani children to the 'practical schools' is a fundamental problem, as inferior education predetermines their futures and pushes them into social exclusion. Inclusive education can contribute toward reducing the number of people who find it difficult to assert themselves on the labor market and therefore the number of people dependent on welfare. Better integration will also lead to greater social calm," Robert Basch, director of Open Society Fund Prague, said in November 2012.     

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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