Slovene Authorities Capitulate to Mob
Romani Community Relocated Following Death Threats, Mass Action
Organisations Urge Action to Prevent Forced Eviction
Ljubljana, Budapest. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Slovene section of Amnesty International have sent a letter to Slovene Prime Minister Janez Jansa to express serious concern that Slovene authorities may be currently involved in facilitating the forced eviction of a Romani settlement near the village of Ambrus, following actions by a non-Romani mob. Police authorities have reportedly acted at certain points to protect the residents of the Romani settlement from direct and violent threats of the instigated mob. However, police did not intervene in a timely fashion, and authorities have to date failed adequately to condemn the activities of the majority community and the outbreak of durable and credible threats of racially motivated mob violence. The facts are as follows:
On 29 October, a group of around 30 Roma from Decja vas, near the village of Ambrus, municipality Ivancna Gorica, including a number of children, were evacuated to the Postojna refugee centre, a former military barracks, in order to protect them from local non-Roma.
This action was apparently undertaken as a result of a conflict arising from an incident occurring around one week previously, in which a non-Romani man was reportedly attacked by inhabitants of the settlement. He thereafter required emergency health treatment. Following the attack, on 23 October, non-Romani villagers met and openly called for violence against local Roma. Police were reportedly present at the meeting, which was broadcast on national television, but failed to intervene.
Following the meeting, the entire Romani community fled from their homes into the forest. They spent several nights hiding in the forest in fear of retribution of non-Roma, who threatened the local Roma with a range of actions, including death.
On 28 October, the local Roma attempted to return to their homes under police protection. However, approximately 200 non-Roma local residents objected to the return of the Roma and, under threat of violence, demanded that authorities resettle the Romani community living there to the more suitable location "due to security and ecological reasons". Local non-Roma reportedly maintained that "Roma would never return to the area". Due to the credible and evident threat of mob violence, Slovene police blocked access to Romani settlement and special police units were brought in.
On the evening of 28 October, allegedly "all sides" reached an agreement that Roma would be temporary resettled to Postojna refugee centre. In the Postojna centre, there is running water and sanitary facilities, but there is no warm water and no heating. As a result, Mr. Jurij Zaletel, Head of the Sector for the Integration of Refugees and Aliens of the Ministry of Interior, said that Roma would be able to go to the nearby facility "Veliki Otok", a closed detention centre for aliens, 2-3 times per week in order to have shower.
Slovene Human Rights Ombudsman Matjaz Hanzek has reportedly stated about the incident that the rule of law has been dangerously undermined, as "a mob which threatens with death can decide where someone will live". He also warned that such treatment might serve as a signal to others and that this pattern might be repeated in the future.
The ERRC/Amnesty Slovenia letter notes that the police acted to protect members of the Romani community from those who threatened their safety. Recognising that the relocation of the community to temporary housing in Postojna may constitute a legitimate measure to ensure their safety, concern is nonetheless expressed that the continued presence of the community in Postojna may no longer be necessary or proportionate to address the initial threat. The organisations also observe in the letter that any such limitation on the rights to privacy and to adequate housing should be limited in time strictly to what is necessary in the circumstances. Acts of racial violence should be thoroughly investigated.
In addition, police appear to have only begun to take seriously the gravity of the threats to persons concerned on 28 October, a number of days after the beginning of the episode. In the letter sent to Prime Minister Jansa, the letter expresses concern that authorities have not acted with due diligence to condemn and investigate what appeared to be racially motivated attacks, with a view to bring those responsible to justice.
The letter further expresses concern at reported plans to permanently relocate the affected Roma to alternate sites. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, commenting on the requirements of Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has held that forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant. Irrespective of the nature of tenure, everyone should be afforded a degree of security of tenure. Any proposed relocation of the community should take place only following adequate opportunity for genuine consultation with those affected, adequate and reasonable notice for all affected persons prior to the scheduled date of eviction, due process of law, and in strict compliance with international human rights law. No form of discrimination including the very serious harm of racial discrimination is permissible in the implementation of removing persons from housing by force.
In the current case, a number of these fundamental protections appear to have been infringed. The community is apparently in danger of being forcibly evicted, in gross violation of their human rights. The solutions which appear to be proposed have not been developed following genuine consultation with the community, and they lack sufficient opportunities to challenge decisions before an appropriate tribunal. Furthermore, in capitulating to the intolerance of the majority, the authorities may be fostering racial discrimination.
The letter concludes by urging Prime Minister Jansa to take action to ensure that the human rights of the community affected by these attacks are respected, protected and fulfilled, as required by international law.
Persons wishing to express concern about these events are urged to contact:
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia
Mr. Janez Janša
The Government of the Republic of Slovenia