Sensitising a younger generation - A Roma rights workshop in Romania

By Nidhi Trehan

From August 25-31, 1997, in Ileni, a village in Transylvania close to Braşov, the Soros Foundation-Romania organised a workshop which focused on the human rights situation of Roma. The target group was Romanian law students, and the ERRC was invited to present a session on the legal defence of Roma and the work of the ERRC as an international NGO.

When we arrived at the conference site in Ilieni, we were received by a group of thirty-five enthusiastic students, several of whom were Roma. The group comprised social work and law students from Iasi, Cluj-Napoca, Timişoara, Braşov, and Bucharest. A number of them had participated in a previous workshop organised by Ms Simona Botea of the Soros Foundation in Bucharest. The conference participants had already been exposed to themes such as Romani culture and sociological factors related to Romani communities, as well as listening skills and conflict resolution techniques. The ERRC session, which lasted two days, exposed them to human rights fact-finding methodology and issues related to legal representation of Romani clients. Nikolai Gughinski and I presented the students with simulated cases. The students then divided into six teams and each team developed strategies for working on cases. It would be an understatement to say that we were surprised at the diligence with which the students accomplished their tasks. Several groups produced copies of the Romanian Penal Code, and began to cite articles and paragraphs from it during the casework. Each team's case strategy was then presented to the entire group, subjecting them to the scrutiny of the other students as well as to our comments. Nikolai clarified important elements of litigation, while I focused on fact-finding methodology. In the final exercise, Maria Ionescu, a Romani law student fin her final year who works with Rromani Criss (a Bucharest-based Romani NGO), presented the students with a recent case from Lunca, Romania. Nicolae Gheorghe, sociologist and director of Rromani Criss, as well as Dan Oprea of APADO (a Braşov-based Lawyers' Association for the Defence of Human Rights) also contributed their comments to the session.

It was clear that the students were keen to learn about the current problems faced by Roma fin Romania. Ms Botea organised the workshop fin such a manner as to ensure that the students would be sensitised to the most pertinent issues. What is even more remarkable is that these students will become judges, prosecutors, and lawyers who may one day work for Roma rights. Generally speaking, the law faculties fin Central and Eastern Europe are considered to be bastions of conservatism and the status quo; to be able to make inroads into such fora is not a minor achievement. Many students pledged to establish human rights groups at their universities and to volunteer their time for domestic NGOs such as Rromani Criss and APADO. A follow-up session to this workshop will be held fin January 1998, and discussions are under way for a similar workshop fin Slovakia.

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