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Renewed Action on Racially Segregated Schools in Croatia

28 October 2004

Press release

Joint ERRC and CHC Letter of Concern: Segregation of Romani Children in Croatian Primary Schools

Budapest, Zagreb: 28 October 2004. Today, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Croatian Helsinki Committee (CHC) sent a letter to Dr Dragan Primorac, Croatia's Minister of Education, copied to the Croatian President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, to express concern about recent reports indicating that school authorities in Croatia have again engaged in segregating practices. In particular, the letter focuses on disturbing developments at the primary school in Kuršanec, MeÄ‘imurje County, where first grade Romani pupils appear to have been racially segregated. In this regard, the ERRC and the CHC stress that educational segregation based on race/ethnicity is a singular evil and as such in violation of numerous Croatian and international legal standards, and urge Minister Primorac to take all measures within his competence to remedy the situation. The ERRC and CHC offer to meet with the Minister and his colleagues in order to facilitate any integration efforts. With respect to similar incidents in the past, the ERRC has taken legal action before the European Court of Human Rights. For further information on ERRC litigation to combat racial segregation in Croatian schools, see http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=321&archiv=1. The full text of the letter sent yesterday follows:

Honorable Minister Primorac,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organization with consultative status at the Council of Europe and the United Nations, and the Croatian Helsinki Committee (CHC) are particularly concerned about recent reports indicating that the primary school in Kuršanec, MeÄ‘imurje County, has again engaged in segregating practices, this time targeting first grade Romani pupils.

According to the information available, prior to the beginning of the current academic year (2004/2005), the primary school in Kuršanec planned to create four first grade classes for 77 pupils in all. Due to prescribed class size and the number of Romani pupils (58), the school planned to set up two integrated classes consisting of an equal number of Romani and non-Romani students and another two consisting of Romani students only.

Foreseeing possible dissatisfaction on the part of the non-Romani parents and in view of their previous reactions in this respect, the school decided to call a parents-teachers meeting and present the parents with the pedagogical justification for the proposed class structure.

This meeting was held on 8 July 2004 and was attended, in addition to the school principal and pedagogue, by town representatives: Mayor Branko Ĺ alomon, head of the Administrative Department for Social Activities Slobodan Veinović, and Town Council member Mrs. Kermek. Non-Romani parents were informed about the plans and it was stressed that most of the Romani children had received high quality preparation for primary school participation through a two-year pre-school programme funded by the Open Society Institute and a number of other donors including the Croatian Ministry of Education. No Romani parents were invited. Notwithstanding these arguments, the non-Romani parents vehemently expressed their dissatisfaction with the school's proposal, stressing that their children in such classes would still fall behind compared to the pupils in schools with no Romani students. They demanded that all of their children be placed in a single class together, with the possibility of adding only several Romani pupils. The non-Romani parents appeared resolute and categorically refused to listen to all pedagogical reasons, and also would not even acknowledge the school's legal obligation to provide integrated education. Ultimately, the parents left the meeting in protest, demanding that the necessary approval from the Ministry of Education be obtained in order to restructure the classes in accordance with their wishes. In the meantime, they requested that their children be disenrolled.

Subsequently, the school informed Assistant Head of the State Administration Office Mrs. Mirjana Krnjak of the emerging problem and asked for a meeting at the Ministry of Education. On 16 July 2004 this meeting was hosted by the Administrative Councillor for Minority Education Mrs. Jadranka Huljev, and attended by Mrs. Krnjak, representative of the County Mr. Drago Golubić, town representatives Mr. Slobodan Veinović, and principal of the primary school in Kuršanec Mrs. Marija Tepalović. Having been briefed on the situation, Mrs. Huljev stressed that the non-Romani parents' demand was justified, and that students whose native language is Croatian ought to be allowed to be schooled according to their parents' wishes. Several days before the start of the new academic year in September 2004, the primary school in Kuršanec received the formal approval from the Ministry of Education to restructure its first grade classes in such a way that three out of four classes consist of Romani students only and the fourth class comprise 6 Romani pupils out of 25 attending that class – the total number of pupils in the first grade being 77 and 58 of them Romani.

Honourable Minister Primorac, in view of the above, we respectfully submit that even when Romani children undisputedly acquire the necessary Croatian language skills, language is still used as an excuse to segregate them. Their placement therefore in reality is a result of discrimination/segregation based on race/ethnicity carried out by the schools concerned, the dominating and pervasive anti-Romani sentiment of the local non-Romani community, and ultimately the unwillingness and/or inability of the Croatian authorities, local and national alike, to address this situation appropriately. This is why the ERRC has in the past, concerning similar incidents had no choice but to turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where we believe that legal redress will be obtained and justice served. Both the ERRC and the CHC are however saddened by this latest episode which only seems to confirm that to date the situation remains of deep concern.

We also take this opportunity to repeat that educational segregation based on race/ethnicity is a singular evil and as such in violation of numerous Croatian and international legal standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights - in particular, of Article 3 (freedom from degrading treatment), Article 2 Protocol 1 (right to education), Article 13 (right to an effective domestic remedy) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

Honorable Minister Primorac, in view of the forgoing the ERRC and CHC respectfully urge you to take all measures within your competence to remedy the situation in the primary school in Kuršanec and indeed throughout MeÄ‘imurje County. As a state aspiring to European Union membership, Croatia must comply and be seen to comply with its fundamental human rights commitments. Romani pupils can therefore no longer be treated as second class citizens.

The ERRC and CHC kindly request to be informed of your decisions and actions in this regard and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your colleagues in order to facilitate any integration efforts.

Sincerely yours,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director
European Roma Rights Center

Žarko Puhovski
President
Croatian Helsinki Committee

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