Romania adopts government programme on Roma
15 August 2001
The Romanian government has recently adopted a “Strategy of the Government of Romania for Improving the Condition of the Roma”. The document was published on April 25, 2001, by the Ministry of Public Information. The Strategy was prepared first by the National Office on Roma, within the Department for National Minorities, and then by the newly-formed Department of Inter-Ethnic Relations of the Ministry of Public Information. A “Joint Committee of Implementation and Monitoring” is charged with “organisation, planning, coordination and control” of the activities delineated in the Strategy. The Committee will have the following composition:
- President, the State Secretary for Inter-Ethnic Relations;
- Members: state secretaries, Roma leaders;
- Executive Secretary, the State Under-secretary for Roma.
The National Office on Roma is described as “the executive body” of the Joint Committee of Implementation and Monitoring. Additionally, and apart from the Joint Committee, “Inter-ministerial commissions on Roma” are envisioned to co-ordinate the role of various ministries in the programme. The organisational structure also extends to the local level, with the Strategy establishing “County Offices on Roma” and “Local experts on Roma affairs” under the control of the mayoralties.
The document is ambitious in its stated general objectives, which include a commitment to ensuring the conditions necessary for Roma to have equal opportunities in obtaining a decent standard of living, as well as to the prevention of institutional and societal discrimination against Roma. The strategy is also relatively comprehensive in its listed fields of operation, although there is an emphasis on the social and economic situation of Roma. The Strategy includes as “sectorial fields” of action “community development and administration”, “housing”, “social security”, “health care”, “economics”, “justice and public order”, “child welfare”, “education”, “culture and denominations” and “communication and civic involvement”; it provides detailed targets under each of these headings, as well as a plan of action, including a time-frame for each of the fields and information on which body is to be responsible for carrying out the specified action. The overall time-frame of the Strategy is ten years (2001-2010), with the medium-term plan of action having a target of four years.
|Romani slum in Bucharest, Romania, February 2001.
There are a number of positive aspects of the Strategy. There seems to have been a genuine effort to consult with Romani leaders and Romani non-governmental organisations in identifying the most serious problems Roma in Romania face; for example, there is an acknowledgement that statelessness is a problem for a number of Roma, and the Government Strategy commits the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs to co-operate in formulating a plan by the end of the 2001 to solve it. Another positive aspect of the programme is the recognition on the part of the drafters that changes are necessary at all levels of society if the Strategy is to succeed. Hence, while “Romanian citizens of Roma ethnic origin” are one target group of the programme, the Strategy has identified a further five groups at whom the plan is aimed: “political leaders”, “the managers of central and local public authorities”, “civil servants”, “mass media”, and “public opinion”. Inherent in this is arguably the recognition that the situation of Roma in Romania is an issue pertaining to the whole of society. Indeed, one of the listed general aims of the plan is “removing the stereotypes, prejudices and practices of [...] civil servants.”
However, elements of the programme give cause for concern. There is a considerable lack of detail in the plans. For example, the goal of “including the Roma community leaders in the local administrative decision-making which affects the Roma” is to be welcomed, but the means of realising this aim are not stated.
The sections of the programme on “Justice and public order” and “Education” are particularly weak. On justice issues, the government leads with the following two tasks:
- Analyzing and estimating the discriminating effects of the regulations in force and improving the current legal system.
- Observing basic human rights, the political and social civil rights and also the ethnic minorities’ rights according to the international norms and obligations assumed by Romania.”
Revealed is the image of a passive state, viewing discrimination as solely the effect of laws, unwilling to act to address discriminatory acts, content to “observe” human rights without acting to guarantee that they are respected by all. Other measures implicitly rehash the prevailing view that Roma are to blame for the unsatisfactory human rights situation in Romania: “7. Initiating programs of legal education and delinquency prevention together with the members of the Roma communities.”
Provisions on education are basically flawed. In the first place, nowhere does the government acknowledge racial segregation in the Romanian school system, and, accordingly, no measures are proposed to desegregate schools or the school system. Secondly, although measures 88 and 95 concern NGO projects for training Romani teachers in the Romani language and “presentation of measures to introduce, at choice, Romany language and history classes in the educational institutions” respectively, commitment to introduce Romani language education in a thorough-going fashion to Romanian schools is distinctly lacking. It is especially unfortunate that there is no mention whatsoever of Romani language education in the main text of the Government Strategy, giving rise to the suspicion that the government regards the promotion of Romani language education in schools as a very low priority.
Much of the stated “action” is actually “elaborating”, “conceiving” or “planning” the implementation of a target. Thus, the Strategy is in reality a plan committing the Government in many areas to little more than more planning over the next four years. In addition, a number of the commitments listed as part of the strategy are inappropriate for a governmental policy document. For example, “penalizing policemen who commit discriminatory acts” is not a matter of government policy but of enforcement of the law. Further, some proposals appear to have a biased subtext; for example, the inclusion of the prevention of the abandonment or abuse of children suggests — absent a clear disclaimer to the contrary — that the abuse of children is more likely to occur in Romani communities. Similarly, the development of a family planning and contraceptive programme within the set of targets to be achieved in health care suggests a lack of sensitivity in approaching the issue reproductive rights.
Another fundamental question raised by the Strategy in its present form is the question of resources. Nowhere in the Strategy document is the issue of funding addressed. There must be concern over whether the Romanian government can secure the necessary resources to make a serious attempt at implementing the Strategy.
Only shortly after its adoption, the “action plan” is already behind schedule. For example, the third deadline listed concerns the creation of the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination by May 25, 2001. This body had not yet been established as of August 17, 2001. Additionally, as of that date, the post of State Secretary for Inter-Ethnic Relations had not yet been filled, so the “Joint Committee of Implementation and Monitoring” — the body charged with oversight and implementation of the Strategy — lacked a president. Analysis of the government programmes of other countries on Roma is included in this issue of Roma Rights in the “Field Report” and “Notebook” sections, beginning on page 34.