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Strasbourg Application by Roma Challenges Racial Segregation in Czech Schools

29 April 2000

Representing 18 Romani children from the Czech city of Ostrava, the European Roma Rights Center and local counsel today filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, to challenge systematic racial segregation and discrimination in Czech schools. Dimitrina Petrova, ERRC's Executive Director, observed, "The Czech Republic's aspirations for integration with Europe cannot be reconciled with continued racial segregation in education. We are asking Strasbourg to declare what the Czech courts have not - that these Roma, like so many others in the Czech Republic, have suffered racial discrimination in violation of their human rights."

Each Applicant, ranging from almost 9 to 15 years of age, was initially assigned to a special school for the mentally deficient on the basis of tests which have not been validated for Czech Roma, pursuant to procedures which give free rein to conscious and unconscious racial prejudice on the part of teachers, psychologists and school administrators. For decades, despite ample evidence of disparate racial impact, Czech officials have knowingly perpetuated a system which routinely brands disproportionate numbers of Roma children as mentally retarded. As a result, tens of thousands of Roma have been deprived from an early age of equal educational opportunities essential to future life success.

The Strasbourg application contains abundant evidence showing that, in the district of Ostrava, Romani children outnumber non-Roma in special schools by a proportion of more than twenty-seven to one. Although Roma represent fewer than 5% of all primary school-age students in Ostrava, they constitute 50% of the special school population. Nationwide, as the Czech government itself concedes, approximately 75% of Romani children attend special schools, and more than half of all special school students are Roma.

As a result of their segregation in dead-end schools for the mentally retarded, the applicants, like many other Romani children in Ostrava and around the nation, have suffered severe educational, psychological and emotional harm, including the following:

  • they have been subjected to a curriculum far inferior to that in basic schools;
  • they have been prohibited by practice from entrance to non-vocational secondary educational institutions, with attendant damage to their opportunities to secure adequate employment;
  • they have been stigmatised as stupid or retarded with effects that will brand them for life, including diminished self-esteem and feelings of humiliation, alienation and lack of self-worth;
  • they have been forced to study in racially segregated classrooms and hence denied the benefits of a multi-cultural educational environment.

In June of 1999, the present applicants unsuccessfully pursued administrative remedies and sought redress from the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic. Their lawsuits charged the Czech Ministry of Education and local school authorities with segregating the plaintiffs and numerous other Romani children into special schools for the mentally deficient because they are Roma. The complaints noted that racial segregation and discrimination in education violate the Constitution of the Czech Republic, the Czech Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, other provisions of domestic law, and numerous binding international treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Constitutional Court, acknowledging the "persuasiveness" of the Applicants' arguments, nonetheless rejected the complaints, ruling that it had no authority to consider evidence demonstrating a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in Ostrava or the Czech Republic. The Court effectively refused to apply applicable international legal standards for proving racial discrimination.

Having exhausted domestic remedies, the applicants are now turning to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Their Application contends that their assignment to special schools constitutes "degrading treatment" in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In so doing, it relies on the legal authority of the Strasbourg organs, which have made clear that "a special importance should be attached to discrimination based on race." The submission further argues that the Applicants have been denied their right to education, in breach of Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the Convention; that they have suffered racial discrimination in the enjoyment of the right to education, in violation of Article 14; and that the procedure which resulted in their assignment to special school did not afford the minimal requisites of due process required by Article 6(1).

The Application asks the European Court of Human Rights to find violation of the above-noted Convention provisions and to award just satisfaction.

For further information, please contact:

Markus Pape, Prague: (4202) 5732-7871, markus.pape@ecn.cz
David Strupek, Prague: (420) 603-815-445, (4202) 2422-7845
James Goldston, Budapest: (361) 327-3828, jgoldston@osi.hu

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