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Historic Deliberations in Roma Rights Cases at Europe's Premier Human Rights Tribunal

23 February 2005

Press Release: European Roma Rights Centre/Open Society Justice Initiative

European Court of Human Rights Considers Landmark Cases on Racist Violence and Discrimination

James A. Goldston +1-917-862-2937
Claude Cahn + 36 20 98 36 445


In the space of one week, on February 23 and March 1, 2005, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France will hear oral argument in two of the most important cases in its history concerning racial violence and discrimination against Roma. The cases raise questions of fundamental importance for the future of a Europe that is increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic.

The February 23 argument, in the case of Nachova v. Bulgaria, concerns the July 19, 1996, shooting death by military police soldiers of two Roma conscripts. The victims, recently absconded from a military construction crew, were known to be unarmed and not dangerous. The killing, by automatic weapon fire, took place in broad daylight in a largely Roma neighborhood, where the grandmother of one of the victims lived. Immediately after the killing, a military police officer allegedly yelled at one of the town residents, "You damn Gypsies!" while pointing a gun at him.

Relatives of the victims, represented by counsel, sought redress before the European Court.

In February 2004, the First Section Chamber of the Court, consisting of seven judges, unanimously found that both the shootings and a subsequent investigation which upheld their lawfulness were tainted by racial animus. In particular, the Court found breaches of the right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention) and non-discrimination (Article 14). The judgment, the first in the Court's history to find a violation of Article 14 on grounds of racial discrimination, made clear that the right to non-discrimination has both substantive and procedural components. The Court ruled that the importance of the prohibition against discrimination and the difficulties of proof are such that, in certain cases, it may, when examining complaints alleging discrimination, draw negative inferences or shift the burden of proof to the respondent Government.

On the request of the Bulgarian government, the Court's Grand Chamber agreed to review the initial panel decision. Amicus briefs have been filed by the European Roma Rights Centre, Interights and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

On March 1, the Court will hear argument in the second case, D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic. The first challenge to systematic racial segregation in education in Europe to be brought before the European Court of Human Rights, this case has been brought by 18 Roma children from the southeastern city of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. All were placed in "special" remedial primary schools for those deemed to have mental disabilities.

The complaint in this case, submitted to the Court in 2000 by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), builds on intensive qualitative and quantitative research into the situation of Roma in Czech schooling. That research has revealed racial disparities of shocking proportions:

  • Over half of the Romani child population is schooled in remedial special education;
  • Over half of the population of remedial special schools is Romani;
  • Any randomly chosen Romani child is more than 27 times more likely to be placed in schools for the mentally disabled than a similarly situated non-Romani child.
  • Even where Romani children manage to avoid the trap of placement in remedial special schooling, they are most often schooled in substandard and predominantly Romani urban ghetto schools.

ERRC research further found that standardized testing -- the principal justification for high rates of placement in remedial special schooling -- generally takes place only after a child has already been marked for assignment to remedial schools. The expert "test" is often a stamped seal on the decisions of school directors who will not accept Romani children into mainstream, quality schools.

The children note in their submissions to the Court that assignment to special school forever relegates them to second class citizenship. Students in special schools receive a markedly inferior education. Most graduates are shunted into vocational secondary schools limited to training in basic manual skills. Few Roma attend university. Romani unemployment rates in the Czech Republic, as in much of Europe, far exceed those for the rest of the population.

Current educational arrangements in the Czech Republic also fail entirely to prepare ethnic Czech children for life in multi-cultural societies. In Ostrava, the Czech Republic's third city, despite the fact that Roma comprise approximately 10% of the local population, more than 15,000 Czech children of primary school age attend school every day without meeting a single Romani classmate.

The 18 applicants in the case are represented by the European Roma Rights Centre and local counsel. In challenging their racial segregation, the applicants have asked the Court to find that they have been subjected to degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the Convention, and to denial of their rights to – and racial discrimination in access to – education, in breach of Article 14 taken together with Article 2 of Protocol 1.

An amicus brief has been filed by Interights and Human Rights Watch.
Further information on these cases is available at http://www.errc.org and http://www.justiceinitiative.org.

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ERRC submission to the European Commission on Roma Inclusion in enlargement countries (May 2017)

25 May 2017

Written comments by the ERRC to the European Commission on enlargement component of the EU Roma Framework.


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Roma Rights 1 2017: Roma and Conflict: Understanding the Impact of War and Political Violence

16 May 2017

The impact of conflict on minority populations merits special attention, especially if those minorities have long been marginalized, viewed by the warring parties with a mixture of ambivalence and contempt, and deemed to be communities of little consequence in the peace-building processes that follow the conclusion of hostilities. This issue of Roma Rights Journal takes a look at the fate of Roma during and after conflicts.

Sometimes Roma have been the direct targets of murderous aggression or subject to reprisals. Then there have been the many times where individual Roma actively took a side, but too often the roles played by Roma, Travellers and other minorities were elided from the dominant national narratives that followed.

In many conflicts, caught between warring groups with no foreign power or military alliance to champion their claims, Roma found themselves displaced, despised and declaimed as bogus refugees, nomads and “mere” economic migrants in the aftermath.

As long as Europe’s largest ethnic minority is written out and rendered invisible in the histories of Europe’s wars and conflicts; and excluded from the politics of reconstruction and peace-making, the continent’s self-understanding will remain fatally flawed.

Editors: Marek Szilvasi, Kieran O’Reilly, Bernard Rorke

Roma Rights 1 2017 (PDF)

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