European Roma Rights Center Roma Rights Summer Workshop 2004

Larry Olomoofe1

FROM 5-14 July 2004, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) in conjunction with the Canadian Human Rights Foundation (CHRF) held its annual Roma Rights Summer Workshop, aimed at capacity-building for Romani activists and students in the sphere of Roma Rights Advocacy2. The ten-day workshop was attended by nineteen participants from Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden. This year's diverse group of participants marked a watershed, since in previous years, the workshop was usually attended by people from mainly Central and Eastern European countries. The diverse backgrounds of the participants was a useful development in terms of providing a vast pool of experiences about what Romani people encounter in different, regional as well as national, contexts. This allowed for a wide range of comparison of experience amongst the participants.

The workshop addressed the fundamental distinctions in terms of approaches to Roma Rights advocacy and activism, focusing participants' attention on the major differences between "rights-based" and "needs-based" approaches to advocacy. Throughout the duration of the workshop, the participants had to grapple with the concept of effective advocacy and how to ensure that their actions would have a lasting impact. It is widely believed by acolytes of the rights-based approach that this method is more effective in addressing the numerous cases of violations that Romani communities face throughout the region3.

The workshop organisers employed the methodology of group-work (groups of 2, 4 and 19), where participants were divided into individual groups, handed a number of worksheets, and instructed by facilitators to discuss topics amongst themselves. This allowed the topics to be examined in greater detail and provided the participants with the opportunity to acquire a more nuanced understanding of the rights-based approach and how Roma issues fit within this paradigm.

The primary purpose of the Workshop was to develop the capacity of a new generation of Romani leaders and human rights activists to use domestic, regional and international human rights instruments and mechanisms to advance the rights of Romani communities and individuals throughout Europe.

The main objectives of the Summer Workshop were to enable participants to: 

  • Analyse issues and situations affecting Roma in their respective countries, based on internationally accepted human rights values and principles.
  • Develop skills in using domestic mechanisms (such as national legislation) and international human rights instruments (i.e., United Nations Treaties, the European Court of Human Rights, etc.) to protect and promote the rights of Roma.
  • Strengthen skills in monitoring and reporting human rights violations and racial discrimination as well as advocating Roma Rights.
  • Increase the capacity to apply their learning within their organisations and their societies.
  • Explore opportunities for networking and developing partnerships with NGOs and government officials to further advance the cause of Roma rights throughout Europe.

In order to achieve these objectives, the ERRC and CHRF devised an integrative training manual for use by the participants throughout the duration of the workshop. The manual (alongside the input from facilitators) ensured that the participants were fully engaged in all the exercises since they had to complete the tasks themselves. The workshop also incorporated a number of presentations by staff members of the ERRC, as well as a day-long examination of the European Convention and European Court of Human Rights conducted by Mr. Luke Clements, a British lawyer. The method of combining presentations and the integrative approach allowed for greater focus by the participants on the various topics that were covered during the training and was a significant improvement on previous sessions of the summer workshop.

The training programme was planned by the organisers such that the activities complemented each other. Therefore, each day's activity was the basis for the following day's activity, thereby allowing for an incremental development of material and knowledge by the participants. This is especially so in the case of the sessions devoted presentational skills, such as the debating session and the moot court session.

The debate session was a day-long session in the fundamentals of effective debating focusing on the skills involved in (formal) debating. The rationale underpinning this particular segment of the training workshop was that by providing information on the various techniques involved in debating, participants would have a more confident attitude and approach to advocacy work that they may conduct in the future. The organisers hoped that the participants could transpose the skills involved in debating (researching the topic, organising the material, preparation of evidence and effective arguments, constructing a lucid, coherent argument, concise presentation of the facts, etc.) to their own spheres of activity at home. In learning these skills, the participants would be able to subsequently present a dispassionate, objective case/argument in various arenas and fora (courts, tribunals, parliamentary and other committees, etc) thereby becoming more effective in their advocacy work.

Moot Court

This was a day-long session that entailed a detailed examination of the European Convention on Human Rights, followed by a moot court (role-playing) session by the participants. The moot court session involved a case study and the participants being separated into two legal teams and having to present a case in front of the "European Court of Human Rights". One team represented the victim(s) of the alleged human rights violations and the other team represented the national government who were allegedly responsible for these violations. This session drew on participants' debating skills picked up the day before and was a very useful experience for all involved.

During the workshop, participants were also provided with an introduction to the European (European Union and Council of Europe) and broader international (United Nations) human rights legal framework and were presented with in-depth information on the complex processes each of these spheres of international law entailed. Within the parameters of the various international [legal] instruments to which they were introduced, the participants conducted a number of group activities and discussions aimed at discerning how relevant the processes intrinsic to international law were to the respective Romani issues and communities back in their home countries. There was a useful discussion on the twin issues of women's rights and cultural issues, in which participants expressed their strongly held opinions on the issues. The main issue that generated sometimes passionate responses was that of cultural identities and practices within Romani communities and whether some practices were recidivist or not and, if so, whether they violated any rights of some of the members of a given community.

As was mentioned earlier above, there were a number of insightful presentations by members of the ERRC staff, who conducted sessions revolving around their tasks and duties for the ERRC. The main area of interest was that of advocacy, and Mr. Christi Mihalache conducted several sessions on his tasks as Advocacy Officer at the ERRC. In addition to these informative presentations, there were a number of activities outside of the main workshop sessions including a visit to the Holocaust Museum so that participants could learn about the extent to which Hungarian Romani communities were affected during the Second World War, as well as to pay their respects and homage to the many Romani victims who perished during the war.

The workshop ended with an extensive evaluation session where follow-up initiatives were presented and discussed by each participant. Participants also expressed the intention to continue future collaborative work amongst each other and initial follow-up plans were made.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:

  1. Larry Olomoofe is ERRC Human Rights Trainer.
  2. The workshop also received financial support from the Roma Participation Programme (RPP).
  3. This is based upon an acceptance that all human beings have rights, and it is therefore, absolutely unacceptable that any of these rights are abrogated by anybody or – state institutions such as the police, education or housing authorities or private individuals, etc.

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