Ten Years of the European Roma Rights Centre

30 October 2006

Rita Izsák

...in order that a man may be happy, it is necessary that he should not only be capable of his work, but a good judge of his work.

John Ruskin, English critic

It is always good to celebrate, and anniversaries certainly give a good reason to do so. The European Roma Rights Centre celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The organisation, just like any other organisation, has received both positive and negative reviews since its founding in 1996. It is positively evaluated due to its successful efforts to put Roma rights issues on the international human rights agenda, and it is criticised mainly because of its failure to include enough Roma on staff.

This journal is dedicated not only to the evaluation of the ERRC today but also to the past decade of Roma rights – to see what we have achieved, where we stand, and what are the next steps to be taken. Things that happen in the course of advocating Roma rights are the same factually. The difference is only how we interpret them. I believe that it is good to be critical but it is not good to be too pessimistic, because it dampens our enthusiasm, and weakens our strength to go on. And we need lots of strength for the continuation of the fight for the rights of the Roma, as there are many obstacles hindering a positive course.

In the first section, we publish the presentations of the ERRC's 10th anniversary event so that those who could not come to the celebration can have a taste of its atmosphere, though the picture would be more complete if we could attach a CD with the music of Mr Károly Gáspár and the band Etno Rom, who conjured an amazing party with their special performances. In this section, we can read of the concerns of the Open Society Institute about the establishment of the ERRC, whose Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova summarises later the impacts of the organization. ERRC colleagues elaborate further the challenges and achievements in the fields of community development, strengthening the rights of Romani women and delivering high-quality human rights education.

Following the anniversary presentations, we are glad to publish interviews with some prominent Roma rights activists, who share their thoughts about the achievements of the last decade and express their hopes and expectations for the future of the ERRC. The next part focuses on other non-governmental organisations (NGOs). 1990-1995 appears to be a period where human rights activists initiated a real wave of change through the establishment of various Roma rights NGOs. We congratulate the outstanding work of those who celebrate with us this year: the Hungarian Roma Press Centre and the Roma Civil Rights Foundation were both founded in 1996, so they became 10 years old as well. The Council of Europe Committee of Experts on Roma and Travellers is also 10 years old. We invited these organizations, as well as the young but powerful Czech League of Human Rights, to tell us how they evaluate their own work and envision the future of Roma rights.

Due to the anniversary celebration, various ERRC sections include a retrospective article as well: the Legal Department section provides us with a historical review of the jurisdiction of Roma rights cases at the European Court of Human Rights; in the Advocacy section, the International Helsinki Federation analyses the situation of Roma rights and policies in the region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); "Meet the ERRC" rubric gives us the opportunity to get to know ERRC staff a little more closely.

I hope that, through this issue of our journal, we all will be able to see and reflect on the big picture that we lose so easily during our everyday routine. I hope we can stop for a minute and think about whether we are on the right path and doing the right things. I also hope that these articles and statements will help us to see what is our role in this battle for human rights and how we can cooperate best in order to achieve those goals that we all seem to fight for – many times shamefully isolated.

I wish all of us much strength to keep up the fruitful work, wisdom to learn the lessons from the past 10 years, and the reality that we move closer to making the world a better place for Roma, which will make it a better world for all of us.

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