UN Concerned at Situation of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro
Social and Economic Rights Committee Highlights Broad Range of Extreme Roma Rights Issues
The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) welcomes the Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concerning Serbia and Montenegro's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, published in recent days. The Concluding Observations of the UN Committee constitute among the most comprehensive policy statements issued to date by any authority with respect to the current state of Roma rights in Serbia and Montenegro. As such, the ERRC provides a summary of key finding with respect to Roma here:
The Committee noted its deep concern that, "despite the State party's efforts to improve the economic and social situation of Roma through National Plans of Action for the implementation of the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015) in both Republics, widespread discrimination of Roma persists with regard to employment, social security, housing, health care and education". It also expressed "deep concern about reported incidents of inter-ethnic violence and racially motivated acts against ethnic minorities such as the Roma". The government of Serbia and Montenegro was urged "to investigate such incidents, to bring perpetrators to justice, and to take all necessary measures to raise awareness of the dimensions of ethnic discrimination and intolerance among local authorities and the general public" and "to adopt specific anti-discrimination framework legislation and to increase awareness about international anti-discrimination standards among judges and other members of the legal profession". The Committee also "recommends to the State party to ensure adequate participation of Roma representatives in the implementation of the Plans of Action adopted or envisaged by both Republics with regard to non-discrimination, gender equality, employment, social protection, housing, health and education of Roma, and to allocate sufficient funds to these and other relevant programmes".
Regarding the status of refugees, the Committee expressed its "deep concern about the uncertain residence status and the limited access by refugees, returnees from third countries and internally displaced persons, including internally displaced Roma, to personal identification documents which are a requirement for numerous entitlements, such as eligibility to work, to apply for unemployment and other social security benefits, or to register for school". In this respect, the Committee called on the State party "to assist refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons by facilitating the procedures necessary to obtain personal documents including birth certificates, identity cards and work booklets to enable them to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights". In this regard, the Committee requested the State party, "in cooperation with and assistance from UNMIK [the United Nations administration in Kosovo] and local civil authorities in Kosovo, to submit the additional information with regard to the implementation of the Covenant in Kosovo by 30 June 2006".
Further, the Committee expressed its concern "about the high unemployment rate in Serbia and in Montenegro, especially among women, persons with disabilities, Roma and internally displaced persons". It also noted "that many persons, especially Roma, internally displaced persons and refugees, work in the informal economy or in the low income sector without adequate working conditions and social security coverage". In particular, the Committee noted with concern that "the poverty among Roma is between four and five times higher than among the average population" and that "many Roma children below the minimum working age of 15 years work in the informal economy without being covered by the labour code's special provisions on protection of minors". In this regard, the State party is requested "to intensify its efforts to reduce the unemployment rate, including through the implementation of its National Strategy on Employment, to promote employment of persons belonging to vulnerable groups through special measures […] and to report on the results of these measures in its next report". The Committee also recommended to the State party "to increase unemployment benefit coverage so as to ensure an adequate standard of living for unemployed workers and their families and to include in its next report detailed information on the extent of unemployment benefit coverage, disaggregated by age, gender, residence status and national or ethnic origin".
Further, the Committee stressed serious concern "about the poor conditions in which thousands of Roma families live in sub-standard informal settlements without access to basic services such as electricity, running water, sewage facilities, medical care and schools". In this regard, the Committee recommended that, "in applying its Poverty Reduction Strategy and national plans of action for the implementation of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the State party take special measures to alleviate the extent of poverty among Roma". The State party was also urged "to ensure, by legalizing and improving the infrastructure of existing settlements or through social housing programmes, that Roma have access to adequate and affordable housing with legal security of tenure, access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, electricity and other essential services".
Regarding the right to the highest attainable standards of health, the Committee noted its concern "about the limited access to primary health care in rural areas, especially for refugees and other vulnerable groups". In this regard, the Committee recommended to the State party "to ensure universal access to affordable primary health care, i.e. by increasing the number of family doctors and community health centres, and to include all members of society, including refugees, internally displaced persons and Roma, in the compulsory health insurance scheme".
Further, the Committee expressed its deep concern that "many refugees, internally displaced persons and Roma are being evicted from illegal collective centres and informal settlements which are being closed down without sufficient provision of adequate alternative housing". In this regard, the State party was urged "to ensure that adequate alternative housing is provided whenever forced evictions take place [...] and to include updated statistical data on an annual basis on the number of forced evictions, arrangements for alternative housing and the extent of homelessness in its next report".
Finally, the Committee stressed that it is "deeply concerned that a high percentage of Roma children and children belonging to other minority groups, as well as refugee and internally displaced children, are not enrolled in school, drop out at an early stage, are being discriminated against at school, or are placed in schools for children with special needs". In this regard, the Committee urged the State party "to take effective measures to promote school attendance by Roma children and children belonging to other minority groups, as well as refugee and internally displaced children, by increasing subsidies, scholarships and the number of teachers instructing in minority languages". It also urged the State party "to eradicate ethnically discriminatory attitudes, by taking effective measures, in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information, to promote understanding, tolerance and mutual respect among all ethnic groups living on its territory". The Committee also recommended to the State party "to intensify its efforts to promote respect for the cultural values of ethnic communities in order to enhance mutual tolerance and understanding". In this respect, the Committee requested the State party "to include information in its next report about the measures taken to implement recommendations made by the National Councils of Roma and other minorities in Serbia and about similar measures in Montenegro".
The full text of the UN Committee's Concluding Observations is available at: http://www.ohchr.org/tbru/cescr/Serbia_and_Montenegro.pdf.
A Joint Memorandum on the human rights situation of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro, prepared by the ERRC and the Belgrade office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=333.