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ERRC actions on Roma Rights in Poland

8 March 2003

Timed for the upcoming review of Poland's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination during the 62nd Session (March 3-21, 2003) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) has organized the following coordinated actions:

  • Today in Warsaw, the ERRC together with the Warsaw-based non-governmental organisation Polish Association for Legal Education are launching a Polish-language version of "The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989", a comprehensive report on human rights situation of Roma in Poland published by the ERRC in English in September 2002;  
  • March 7-8, 2003, in Warsaw, the ERRC together with the Polish Association for Legal Education are organizing a legal workshop on human rights and anti-discrimination litigation, bringing together lawyers, government officials, members of the judiciary, representatives of human rights and other non-governmental organisations and other key civil society figures;  
  • In the run-up to the CERD review, the ERRC sent "The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989", as well as an outline overview of the concerns detailed in the report, to the members of CERD for consideration during the review of Poland's record on racial discrimination, March 14-17, 2003; 
  • On the first day of the CERD review, March 14, 2003, in Geneva, representatives of the ERRC, as well as of the Warsaw-based non-governmental organisation Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights will be holding a joint briefing on Poland's record on racial discrimination before CERD members. 

The ERRC believes that the CERD review offers an opportunity to highlight some of the most significant respects in which the Polish Government has failed to fulfil its international human rights commitments where Roma are concerned. The Government of Poland has thus far failed to act to guarantee Roma equal rights and to take effective measures to overcome widespread discrimination against Roma. In particular, the Polish Government has failed to date to:

  • Adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation;
  • Combat racial segregation in education and housing;
  • Take adequate action against a dramatic outbreak of racially motivated crime in Poland after 1989.

The report submitted by the ERRC draws the attention of the CERD to violations of Articles 2, 3, and 5 of the Convention, and highlights the following concerns relating to the human rights situation of Roma in
Poland:

Racial discrimination against Roma:

Roma in Poland are subject to discrimination in nearly all areas of public life. Polish anti-discrimination provisions are at present grossly inadequate. In the absence of anti-discrimination legislation, and in the
circumstances in which a culture of prejudice and stereotyping has developed deep roots in Polish society, Roma find themselves repeatedly blocked from accessing basic rights and social services.

Racial segregation:

The ERRC has documented the segregation of Roma from mainstream Polish society in the fields of housing and education. The majority of Roma in Poland live segregated from the rest of the population, inhabiting
sub-standard housing, barracks or shanties located on the outskirts of municipalities or in de facto ghettos inside major cities. Moreover, racist pressure from non-Romani neighbors sometimes precludes Roma from
moving into integrated housing, and/or causes local authorities to threaten to evict Roma from areas dominated by non-Roma. In the sectoral field of education, the practice of segregating Romani children into
so-called "Roma classes", or into special classes for the developmentally retarded was documented in many areas of Poland during the 1990s. Poorly equipped and staffed, with curricula that reflect racist stereotypes and prejudices, these classes offer substandard education to their students and in effect promote further marginalisation and exclusion for Romani children.

Racially-motivated crime:

The ERRC report documents a disturbing level of racially motivated crime against Roma in Poland. Police and other authorities in Poland have abused Roma by engaging in outright violence, unlawful arrests, searches, seizure of property, or harassment. Roma in Poland have also been frequent targets of skinhead attacks, racially motivated violence, and harassment by non-Romani persons. Incidents in which groups of non-Romani persons with reported neo-Nazi sympathies have attacked Romani persons, communities, or
households have been reported with increasing frequency throughout Poland during the late 1990s.

Failure to protect Roma and denial of justice:

Polish authorities have failed to protect Roma and have denied justice to Romani victims of racially motivated crimes. The Polish police and judiciary have been slow to react to reports of crimes against Roma and to
acknowledge the racial motivation of such crimes. Polish authorities have often failed to react to such reports at all, leaving the victims unprotected from further violence and unable to seek remedy for crimes against them. When investigations into racially motivated crimes have been launched, they have frequently been stalled or discontinued altogether, often with the justification that the authorities did not find sufficient
evidence to issue arrest warrants, indictments, or judicial sentences.

Violations of economic, social and cultural rights:

The ERRC has identified the discriminatory practice of refusing to register Roma as residents in local administrative units as one of the sources of the denial of the rights for Romani people in Poland. Since
registration as a resident in a particular locality is often a precondition for access to housing, social aid and other public services, the systematic refusal of some local authorities to register Roma as residents effectively bars Roma from the realisation of fundamental social and economic rights.

In the field of housing, Roma in Poland are also denied access to public housing, security of tenure, and the right to enjoyment of private property. The ERRC has also documented discriminatory practices in the
allocation of public housing, as well as in the provision of basic public services to Romani settlements, such as water, sanitation or even electricity by municipal authorities.

As to employment, many Polish employers refuse to hire Romani applicants, and state labour offices often treat Roma as responsible for, rather than as the victims of, discriminatory practices in the workplace. While the national government recognises that unemployment is rampant among Roma, there is no official acknowledgement of racial discrimination as an underlying factor for this state of affairs.

The ERRC has documented violations of the rights of Roma to medical care and social security. In some instances, health care providers have refused to treat Romani patients as a result of their ethnic background.
Additionally, persons living in segregated Romani communities in Poland frequently encounter serious difficulties in accessing adequate and timely medical care. The ERRC report also documents instances of
discriminatory treatment of Roma in the provision of social welfare support. 

As to education, the efforts of authorities to combat truancy and school abandonment have been ineffective to date. Additionally, Romani children in Poland suffer discrimination and abuse from teachers and non-Romani
peers in integrated schools. The ERRC has found that, in such instances, school authorities often fail to protect the victims of abuse or to punish those responsible for it.

Finally, public and private providers often refuse to allow Roma access to goods and services, based on their skin colour and/or ethnic background. In restaurants, bars, nightclubs, or airports, Roma are often denied service and asked to leave.

Based on its findings, the ERRC urges Polish authorities to act on the following recommendations:

  1. Promptly bring those responsible for racially motivated crimes against Roma to justice, and ensure that when racial animosity motivates or otherwise influences a crime, it receives due judicial recognition.
  2. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse of Roma, including violence, unlawful searches and seizure of property, malicious investigation of violence against
  3. Roma, harassment, and failure to investigate racially motivated crimes and/or protect potential victims of violent attacks.
  4. Bring Polish law into conformity with the requirements of Council Directive 2000/43/EC,=93 implementing the principle of equality between persons, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin=94 by adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Ensure that the implementing bodymandated by the Directive is strong, fully independent and adequately staffed and funded.
  5. Sign and ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights without delay.
  6. Without delay, sign and ratify the revised Social Charter of the Council of Europe, and make the declaration accepting the collective complaints procedure under Article D, paragraph 2 of Part IV of the revised Charter.
  7. Ensure effective remedy for cases of discrimination against Roma in the field of housing, employment, health care, as well as access to social welfare payments and to public goods and services.
  8. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons actually residing in a given municipality, without regard to race.
  9. Provide security of tenure for residents of Romani communities and settlements, and protect the inhabitants from forced and arbitrary evictions, as well as segregationist local practices.
  10. Implement a comprehensive school desegregation plan, such that all Romani children may fully realise the right to education. Without delay, end the practice of segregating Romani children into so-called "Roma classes" or into classes for mentally disabled students. Integrate all Romani students into mainstream classes and, where necessary, design and implement adequately funded and staffed programmes aimed at easing the transition from segregated to integrated schooling.
  11. Design pre-school programmes for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling and to attain a level ensuring an equal start in the first class of primary school.
  12. Develop and implement catch-up or adult education programmes aimed at remedying the legacies of substandard education and non-schooling of Roma.
  13. Where instances of abuse in the school system are reported "abuse including exclusionary practices, physical and verbal assault, humiliating treatment, and failure by teachers and school administrators
  14. to protect Romani children from peer abuse" without delay, punish school authorities responsible, and implement measures aimed at preventing further abuse.
  15. Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture, and history in schools, and make them available to all schools, so that all children in Poland learn of the valuable contributions Roma have made to Polish society.
  16. Provide free legal aid to members of weak groups, including Roma and the indigent.
  17. At the highest level, speak out against the problem of anti-Romani sentiment and racially motivated crimes against Roma; at all levels, acknowledge and speak out against racism, racially motivated crime,
  18. patterns and practices of discrimination, and segregation. Address the root problem of anti-Romani racism in Poland by developing and implementing anti-racism curriculums for schools and campaigns for the media, so as to address widespread negative attitudes against Roma and racism generally.
  19. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for the national and local administration, members of the police force and of the judiciary.
  20. Proactively recruit qualified Roma for professional positions in the administration, the police force and the judiciary.

The full text of the ERRC submission is available on the Internet at: http://errc.org/publications/legal/index.shtml.

The ERRC is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. Since its establishment in 1996, the ERRC
has undertaken first-hand field research in more than a dozen countries, including the Poland, and has disseminated numerous publications, from book-length studies to advocacy letters and public statements. ERRC publications about the Poland and other countries, as well as additional information about the organisation, are available on the Internet at http://www.errc.org.

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