Tara Bedard - Stepping

Three years ago, when I joined the ERRC as an intern, I knew little about the situation of Roma in Europe but much about the situation of marginalised segments of the population in other parts of the world. I was a student of development, community development, in my native Canada, and had never in the course of my studies come across the situation of Roma. Some would say this is indicative of the attention paid in the past to Romani issues; I think it is indicative of the ignorance of racism and development problems by people of "developed" countries to problems "in their own yard" – Europe falling amongst the "developed".

Three years on I feel exactly the same but the opposite. I have abandoned my development roots for the time being, but that is neither here nor there. I understand well racism and discrimination against Roma, as well as the human rights situation of Roma generally. I have stored in my brain for use at the appropriate moment facts and details about a plethora of cases of human rights abuse experienced by individual Romani people. But lately I find myself more and more consumed and upset by my lack of knowledge about any group aside from Roma. I spend hours a day reading newspapers and reports, but almost exclusively for information about Roma. The reading that I do undertake related to events outside the realm of Roma rights is purely of a personal nature and does not impact at all my work at the ERRC. I have no contact with people or organisations that do not work with Roma. And I have the impression that I am not the only person in my line of work in this situation. I have asked many people I know through the ERRC in a number of countries for information on activists and organisations working with other minority groups in their countries and only a very small percentage were able to offer any information.

Recently I have been involved in a project that has offered an incredible learning opportunity for me. I have had the chance to look at a number of countries in terms of policies, programming and laws as they relate to all ethnic minorities rather than just Roma. While there is no doubt in my mind that the human rights situation of Roma is worse than that of other groups, other minority groups experience the same problems Roma experience. I believe firmly that Roma experience human rights abuse and discrimination on a greater scale and that the ways in which these phenomena are manifested differ from group to group, but there are common threads.

Therefore I ask myself why I, and apparently others, have not sought alliances with activists and organisations working with other groups. I open this question to other people, both Romani and non-Romani, engaged in Romani issues. As advocates, we, and certainly I in my own work, frequently talk about the value of alliances and coalition building. Why is it that this has only happened within the circle of people and organisations engaged in exactly the same issues as I?

When I look at all of the events in the area of "Roma rights" since I joined the ERRC, I see a lot of growth and a strong momentum in the Romani movement. I meet more and more extremely talented and knowledgeable Romani activists everywhere I go who are fully immersed in the fight for the equal access of Roma to human rights in practice. Romani issues are firmly on the agenda of the United Nations, the EU, the Council of Europe and, to greater or lesser extents, national bodies. I see Roma and non-Roma (like myself) working well together towards common goals; which I believe is key in a human rights movement. I have the strong feeling that the next important step needed to keep the momentum growing is to step outside the realm of Roma. To seek allies working on other, but somehow similar, issues and to take advantage of the possibilities offered by such coalitions. I do not know why I have not yet done this, but I know it will be my next step.

The advantages just seem too good to pass up – more people to bringing forward the message of anti-racism and anti-discrimination, more people to learn from, more people practising what is preached. This step will also provide people working on Romani issues the very important opportunity to contribute their knowledge, skills and talents to the work needed to ensure that all marginalised people and groups, not only Roma, enjoy all human rights equally and equitably. This, to me, seems a most important step.

donate now

Challenge discrimination, promote equality

be informed

Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal

news portal

The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Become a part of the ERRC's activist network in Europe