ERRC: On the Eve of the EU Roma Summit, Respect for the Human Rights of Roma is an Unfulfilled Promise
Member States of the European Union and candidate countries are meeting today in Brussels, just before International Roma Day on 8 April, to assess progress in addressing the problem of Roma exclusion in Europe. Unfortunately, the commitment to combatting discrimination and human rights abuses against Roma remains largely no more than a promise, despite the creation of an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies and the Decade of Roma Inclusion. Throughout the EU and the countries aspiring to join the EU, Roma face significant rights abuses with an inadequate state response. A few examples illustrate the persistence of some of the most egregious abuses in EU Member States and candidate countries, relating to segregation, violence against Roma, and forced evictions leading to homelessness.
Intentional Segregation in Substandard Education in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic continues to segregate Romani children as well as children with disabilities in inferior schools and classrooms. Almost seven years ago, in a case brought by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Czech Republic discriminated against Romani children by placing them in substandard schools designed for pupils with intellectual disabilities and disproportionately attended by Roma (D.H. v. Czech Republic). Today, these schools continue to serve as warehouses for Romani children and children with disabilities alike, in violation of Czech obligations under EU and international law. Romani children and children determined to have intellectual disabilities continue to be trapped in low-quality segregated education, ensuring a cycle of poverty as they leave school unprepared for the workplace. The Czech government has failed to address the problem of discrimination against Romani pupils in education and has failed to establish an inclusive education system for all as a matter of priority, and it has not carried out the necessary systemic reform in order to comply with the D.H. decision.
Forced Eviction to a Waste Dump in Romania
Three years ago, Romani families in Cluj-Napoca were forcibly evicted from their homes to the edge of a toxic waste dump, where, despite a court finding that the eviction was illegal, they remain to this day.
On December 17 2010, around 270 Romani individuals were evicted by local authorities from their homes in Cluj-Napoca and moved to Pata-Rat, a Roma ghetto located at the site of a waste dump. They were given less than 48 hours notice, and the eviction was carried out in temperatures that reached minus 10 degrees Celsius, in contravention of a prohibition on evictions during winter months in Romania. Their homes and their possessions were immediately demolished. Some of the families were provided with overcrowded and substandard “social housing” next to the dump, far from their schools and jobs. Others were left to fend for themselves.
At the end of 2013, in a case brought by the ERRC, a Romanian court declared the eviction to be illegal, awarded damages to all those evicted and ordered the local council to provide the applicants with appropriate social housing as per the requirements of Romanian law. The municipality has appealed and the Roma families remain at the dump to this day.
Continuous Evictions in Italy and France
In Italy and France, illegal evictions of Roma and destruction of their homes continue to this day. Despite promises to integrate Roma and clear case law condemning forced evictions, the Italian authorities continue to evict Roma settlements, offering those left homeless the choice between sleeping on the street or staying in crowded, dilapidated shelters. A recent and ongoing spate of evictions in Milan has been particularly bad: Roma do not receive the legally required written notice and have no chance to challenge an eviction in court. As a result many Roma have been left homeless, chased from place to place. Others have been housed, and become ill, in temporary shelters. Many children are among the homeless. They have to stop attending school, often because they are too sick, embarrassed or exhausted to make it to class.
In France, evictions of Roma and destruction of their homes occur on a weekly basis. In 2013 at least 21,500 individuals were forcibly evicted from their homes. In the first quarter of 2014 forced evictions continued at the same pace, regardless of the winter weather conditions. While Roma migrants from Romania are EU citizens with the right to move freely throughout the EU, France wants them out, and makes life so difficult for them through destruction of their homes and property that they will feel compelled to leave the country. In addition to violating EU and international law, such a policy has proven to be completely ineffective even for its intended purpose, as some Roma prefer the difficult conditions in France to even worse conditions in Romania.
Violence Against Roma in Serbia
In 2013 the ERRC recorded 10 cases of violence against Roma and five of them were attacks on young Roma. In 2014 attacks on 6 Romani youth have so far been recorded. The state response to these violent attacks has been inadequate: police have either failed to respond at all, or ignored evidence that these attacks were hate crimes.
Moving Beyond Rhetoric to Action
The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies and the Decade of Roma Inclusion have heightened awareness of the intersecting problems of poverty and discrimination facing Europe’s largest minority. But the impact of these initiatives on the daily lives of Roma has been small. We recognise that the Member States and the candidate countries bear primary responsibility to protect fundamental rights. But the EU has a responsibility to enforce its own norms. Accordingly, the ERRC calls on the EU to:
- rigorously enforce fundamental rights protected under EU law through infringement proceedings;
- ensure, as a condition of entry to the Union, that human rights standards are met by candidate countries;
- require regular state collection of disaggregated data and reporting on implementation of National Roma Integration Strategies and Decade Action Plan, with a particular focus on progress to stem human rights abuses such as segregation in education, hate crimes and forced evictions;
- provide funding support to Roma watchdog organisations at a national level in Member States and candidate countries.
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