United Nations calls on governments to improve their treatment of Roma
21 August 2000
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) welcomes the thematic discussion held last week by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concerning racial discrimination against Roma. Upon release of the CERD's general recommendation at the conclusion of the discussion, outlining a number of measures that governments should take to improve the situation of the Roma, Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of ERRC, stated, "This event properly underscores the international community's concern about widespread government failure to combat racism and discrimination against Roma. The numerous shortcomings identified by the Committee require urgent action by many European governments to bring their legislation and practice into compliance with international law."
The CERD is a United Nations body charged with responsibility for overseeing compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It has been ratified by virtually all European governments (the only exceptions are Andorra, Ireland, San Marino and Turkey). Composed of eighteen internationally-recognised experts, the CERD reviews states' compliance with the Convention through a reporting procedure which obliges governments to submit reports on a periodic basis. The August session marks the first time in the Committee's 30-year-long history that it has held a discussion on a thematic issue and adopted a general recommendation dedicated to a specific ethnic group.
According to Michael E. Sherifis, Chairman of the Committee, "during the consideration of periodic reports of several contracting parties, it had emerged that the Roma people were discriminated against in many countries [...]. The standards of the Convention were not met and in fact many of its provisions were directly and constantly violated." Among the specific violations highlighted by Sherifis were "Roma children being placed in special schools for mentally disabled pupils, depriving them of dignity and opportunities for the future in terms of higher education and employment;" "forced relocation of Roma" and "the existence of Roma settlements or camps in isolated locations, sometimes close to rubbish deposits or contaminated industrial sites, surrounded by walls or fences and lacking the very basic sanitary facilities;" "excessive use of force by the police against Roma, and physical violence by members of racist organisations against them," and that "discriminatory acts against Roma often went unpunished." The Committee was "painfully aware" that "for centuries," the Roma had been subjected to "ill-treatment, rejection, exclusion and discrimination of various forms. [...] It was distressing to know that at the beginning of the third millennium, the problem was still there," Sherifis said.
In its general recommendation addressed to states parties to the Convention, the Committee called on governments to undertake a number of specific measures, including the following:
- "review and enact or amend legislation [...] to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination against Roma;"
- "take appropriate measures to secure to members of Roma communities effective remedies and to ensure that justice is fully and promptly done in cases concerning violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms;"
- "adopt and implement national strategies and programmes and express determined political will and moral leadership, with the view to improving the situation of Roma and their protection against discrimination by state bodies, as well as by any person or organisation;"
- "develop and encourage [...] dialogue between Roma [...] and central and local authorities;"
- "ensure that legislation regarding citizenship and naturalization does not discriminate against members of Roma;"
- "take all necessary measures [...] to avoid any form of discrimination against immigrants or asylum seekers of Roma origin;"
- "acknowledge wrongs done during the Second World War to Roma communities by deportation and extermination and consider ways of compensating for them;"
- in the field of racial violence, "ensure protection of security and integrity of Roma, without any discrimination by adopting measures for preventing racially motivated acts of violence against them;" "ensure prompt action by the police, the prosecutors and the judiciary for investigating and punishing such acts and [...] that perpetrators, be they public officials or private persons, do not enjoy any degree of impunity;" "take measures to prevent use of illegal force by the police against Roma, in particular in connection with arrest and detention;" "encourage [...] communication and dialogue between the police and Roma;" "encourage recruiting members of Roma [...] to the police and other law enforcement agencies;"
- in the field of education, "act with determination for eliminating any discrimination or racial harassment of Roma students;" "prevent the segregation of Roma students, while keeping open the possibility for bilingual or mother tongue tuition;" "cooperate actively with Roma parents, associations and local communities;" "include in text-books, at all appropriate levels, chapters about history and culture of Roma;" "recruit school personnel from among members of Roma [...] and [...] promote inter-cultural education;"
- in the field of employment, "adopt and make more effective legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment, and all discriminatory practices in the labour market affecting members of Roma [...] and [...] protect them against such practices; take special measures for promoting employment of Roma in public administration and institutions, as well as in private companies;"
- in the field of housing, "develop and implement policies and projects aimed at avoiding segregation of Roma [...] in housing;" "act firmly against local measures of denying residence to, and unlawful expulsion of Roma, and [...] refrain from placing Roma in camps outside populated areas, isolated and without access to health care and other facilities;"
- in the field of health care and social protection, "ensure equal access of Roma to health care and to social security services and [...] eliminate any discriminatory practices against them in this field;" "initiate and implement programmes and projects in the field of health for Roma" and "involve Roma associations and communities and their representatives, mainly women, in designing and implementing health programmes and projects concerning Roma groups;"
- in the field of access to public accommodations, "prevent, eliminate and adequately punish any discriminatory practices concerning access of members of the Roma communities to all places and services intended for the use of the general public, including restaurants, hotels, theatre and music halls, discotheques and others;"
- in the field of media, "act as appropriate for the elimination of any ideas of racial or ethnic superiority, of racial hatred and incitement to discrimination and violence against Roma in the media, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention;" raise awareness among media professionals "of the particular responsibility to not disseminate prejudices and to avoid reporting incidents involving individual members of Roma communities in a way which blames the community as a whole [and] encourage methods of self-monitoring by the media, such as respect for a code of conduct for media organisations, in order to avoid racial, discriminatory or biased language;" "develop educational and media campaigns and educate the public about Roma life, society and culture and the importance of building an inclusive society [...] respecting their human rights and their identity;" "encourage and facilitate Roma access to media [...] and the establishment of their own media, as well as the training and formation of Roma journalists;"
- in the field of participation in political life and policy-making, "take the necessary steps, including special measures, to secure equal opportunities for the participation of Roma minorities or groups in all central and local governmental bodies;" "develop modalities and structures of consultation with Roma political parties, associations and representatives, both at central and local levels, when considering issues and adopting decisions on matters of concern to Roma;" "involve Roma [...] at the earliest stages in the development of Roma policies and programmes and in their implementation and ensure [...] transparency about such policies and programmes;" "organise training programmes for Roma public officials and representatives, as well as for prospective candidates to such responsibilities;"
The Committee further recommended that governments "include in their periodic reports [...] data about the Roma communities within their jurisdiction, including statistical data about Roma participation in political life and about their economic, social and cultural situation, including from a gender-perspective, and information about the implementation of this General Recommendation."
Finally, in three final recommendations not addressed to governments, the Committee requested that:
- to different States parties [...], the situation of Roma communities and favour their economic, social and cultural advancement;"
- "the High Commissioner for Human Rights consider establishing a focal point for Roma issues within the Office of the High Commissioner;"
- "the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance give due consideration to the above recommendations, taking into account the place of the Roma communities among those most disadvantaged and most subject to discrimination in the contemporary world."
ERRC and other non-governmental organisations contributed with written and oral information to the Committee's thematic discussion. ERRC's written submission, as well as other information concerning the human rights conditions of Roma and the activities of ERRC, are available on the Internet at http://www.errc.org or from ERRC upon request.