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Slovakia must explain discrimination of Roma in the schools to the European Commission

2.5.2015 15:39
EU flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels (PHOTO: Sébastien Bertrand, Wikimedia commons)
EU flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels (PHOTO: Sébastien Bertrand, Wikimedia commons)

Slovakia has two months to answer several questions about its laws and practices leading to the discrimination of Romani children in the schools. The European Commission (EC) launched an infringement proceedings against Bratislava on 30 April that theoretically could end up before the European Court of Justice.

The Czech News Agency reports that Christian Wigand, spokesperson for the EC, has confirmed the move, which has been welcomed by Amnesty International (AI) and other NGOs. "Discrimination in education on the basis of ethnic or racial origin in prohibited by European law," he said.  

Slovakia is now facing the same proceeding as the one the EU launched last September against the Czech Republic. According to the European director of AI, Iverna McGowan, it is shocking that Romani children in Slovakia are currently still systematically segregated from the majority population and assigned to "special schools".

"No child should be denied equal access to education, which is a fundamental human right," McGowan said. According to a 2013 study, there are more than 400 000 Romani people living in Slovakia, which has a total population of five million.  

That number is almost four times higher than the number of those who self-identified as Romani in the 2011 census. Most live in the approximately 800 settlements that are scattered throughout central and eastern Slovakia.

Roughly one-tenth of all dwellings in such settlements have no access to potable water and are not connected to the electric grid. According to experts, Romani people in Slovakia lack education and many are unemployed and dependent on financial aid from the state.  

In a report from 2013, the Slovak ombud, Jana Dubovcová, concluded that Romani people are indirectly discriminated against in the area of access to education when, for example, they are not educated in their own language and their segregation from the majority population is still possible. AI noted on 30 April that the United Nations had called on Slovakia to solve this problem last year but that the Slovak Government rejected those recommendations, claiming that equal treatment of all pupils in the country is guaranteed.  

"The Commission has finally put its foot down. This decision is a warning to the Slovak Government and to all Member States that discrimination will not be tolerated," said the Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Centre, Andras Uljaky.

Uljaky recalled that the case is the second in which the European executive is using legal instruments to pressure governments to end persistent, systematic discrimination. The EC is not satisfied with the answer it received from the Czech Government on the issue, which denies that such discrimination is taking place.  

EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová believes the Czech Republic is at risk of more censure in the weeks to come. Last week AI also published its own report about the discrimination of Romani pupils in the Czech schools.  

The reaction of Czech politicians to that report was contradictory. Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier acknowledged the problem, while Czech Education Minister Marcel Chládek objected to the findings.  

ČTK, mik, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Amnesty International, Diskriminace, Jiří Dienstbier, Marcel Chládek, Slovakia, školství



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