European Roma Rights Center Press Release to European Council

Roma Rights Concerns in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the Context of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe September 24, 2002 Point of Agenda "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Application for Membership to the Council of Europe"

On September 20, 2002, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to Mr Peter Schieder, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr Claude Frey, Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee, Mr Helmut Lippelt, Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, calling attention to Roma rights concerns in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On Tuesday, September 24, 2002, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will discuss the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Application for Membership to the Council of Europe. ERRC concerns, as detailed in its September 23 letter, include:

  • Physical abuse of Roma by police officers and other members of the public authority
  • Violence against Roma by skinheads and other non-state actors
  • Discrimination and racial segregation in the field of education
  • Forced eviction and the threat of forced eviction
  • Systemic violations of the right to habitable shelter
  • Racial discrimination in access to health care services
  • Racial discrimination against Roma in access to employment
  • Racial discrimination against Roma in the allocation of state social assistance
  • Racial discrimination against Roma in access to public accommodation such as discotheques, cafes, and swimming pools

The text of the ERRC letter follows in full:

In relation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's September 24, 2002 point of agenda "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's application for membership to the Council of Europe", the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) respectfully submits, in summary, its concerns with respect to the human rights situation of Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.[1]

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. Since its establishment in 1996, the ERRC has undertaken first-hand field research in more than a dozen countries, including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and has disseminated numerous publications, from book-length studies to advocacy letters and public statements. ERRC publications about the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and other countries, as well as additional information about the organisation, are available on the Internet at http://errc.org.

- In addition to a native Romani population of an estimated more than 300,000 [2], Serbia and Montenegro host tens of thousands of displaced Roma from Kosovo [3]. Further, in recent months, a number of Western European governments have -- in the contexts of (i) an extremely migrant-hostile public mood in Western Europe and (ii) an administrative lack of clarity surrounding the status of Kosovo -- begun putting pressure on Roma from Kosovo to "return" to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Under such pressure, many Roma from Kosovo who had previously fled to Western European countries have recently "returned" to localities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia where they have never lived before, and where there is frequently no political will or adequate material means for their integration. Many such persons have entered cycles of repeated forced eviction from places where they have attempted to settle.

Concerns[4]

- Numerous instances of physical abuse of Roma by police officers and other members of the public authority have been reported in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Physical abuse of Roma in police detention is reported with alarming frequency. During incidents of ill-treatment, many police officers have reportedly insulted the ethnic origins of Roma. The ERRC and partner organisations have also documented cases of police violence against chronically ill Romani persons, as well as against Romani children and minors, sometimes resulting in severe bodily injuries such as broken arms. Police officers also often use excessive force while arbitrarily evicting Roma from settlements and/or during abusive police raids targeting Romani communities, frequently without showing proper authorising warrants. In some instances in which Romani individuals have sought legal remedy against such abuse by filing criminal complaints against police officers, the officers in question later used threats of force to pressure such persons into withdrawing complaints. The criminal justice system in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has in most cases failed to provide adequate judicial remedy to Romani victims when instances of abuse by public officials have taken place.

- Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have on numerous occasions fallen victim to violence by skinheads and other non-state actors. Such attacks have resulted in severe bodily harm requiring that the victim undergo extensive periods of hospitalisation and sometimes surgery. At least one such attack resulted in the death of the victim. In cases of civilian violence against Roma, police in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have for the most part reacted inadequately to protect members of the Romani community despite the fact that, for example, it was widely known that racist skinheads in Belgrade were regularly targeting Romani street cleaners during late-night hours. In a vast majority of cases, when racist attacks on Roma have taken place, the relevant authorities have not undertaken adequate investigation and in some cases, no investigation has taken place at all. Legal action has rarely been taken against perpetrators in such cases, and where legal proceedings have been undertaken, racial animus is frequently not given due legal recognition. On a number of occasions, Romani victims of racial violence who sought medical assistance after experiencing civilian violence have, according to reports, subsequently been insulted on racial grounds by staff of medical institutions.

- In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Roma suffer discrimination and racial segregation in the field of education. Romani children face a wide range of obstacles in their access to education. In some cases, schools have refused to enrol Romani children on grounds that they lack proper competence in the Serbian language, and have instead placed them in schools for mentally disabled children. Romani children are reportedly particularly over-represented in classes for mildly mentally disabled children in Serbia. Additionally, Romani children have in a number of cases suffered harassment by non-Romani peers, including violence and racial slurs. Teachers and other schooling authorities reportedly do not react adequately to sanction racist abuse. In addition, a number of Romani children of families who have fled ethnic cleansing and other violence in Kosovo are reportedly not in school at all. These are often precluded from enrolling in schools due to blocked access to proper personal documents required by schooling authorities.

- Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia frequently experience forced eviction and the threat of forced eviction. In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in the numbers of forced evictions of Roma from settlements and the subsequent demolition of settlements, as well as the destruction of property belonging to Romani individuals. Some Romani families have been victims of several forced evictions in succession. It is widely rumoured that such evictions will increase in the near future, particularly in Belgrade, and particularly among the numerous informal settlements established by displaced Roma from Kosovo.

- More broadly, Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia experience systemic violations of the right to habitable shelter. The housing conditions of the overwhelming majority of Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are highly substandard. Many Romani dwellings lack legal authorisation and have neither running water nor electricity. State-run municipal garbage removal services reportedly rarely collect waste from Romani settlements. In some cases, where foreign humanitarian organisations have offered financial assistance for providing infrastructure in Romani settlements, local authorities have refused to co-operate with the explanation that the settlements at issue have been built illegally. In Montenegro, collective camps for housing displaced Kosovo Roma are overcrowded and unsafe, and there have been a number of fire incidents with fatal consequences. One such camp in Podgorica is located near a local garbage dump, giving rise to a constant threat of disease for inhabitants. Many displaced Roma from Kosovo live in unofficial camps, to which no agency -- state or non-governmental -- is providing material assistance. Others are sheltered by relatives already resident in Serbia and Montenegro, and there are therefore widespread reports of so-called "hidden homelessness". To date, there has been no genuine government effort to resolve the housing problems of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro.

- Poor housing conditions and a lack of clean water have caused diseases in some Romani settlements in Serbia. There are also widespread reports that Roma suffer discrimination in access to health care services. There are, for example, numerous allegations that emergency aid teams refuse to come to Romani settlements. Additionally, many Roma cannot exercise their right to state-provided health care because they lack personal documents demanded by medical authorities. This problem is particularly widespread among displaced Roma from Kosovo.

- Unemployment among Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is at present extremely high, and there are widespread allegations of discrimination against Roma in access to employment. There are no known instances in which authorities have sanctioned an employer in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for pursuing a policy of racial discrimination or for failing to hire a Romani individual on arbitrary grounds.

- There have been allegations of discrimination against Roma in the allocation of state social assistance. In addition, humanitarian assistance provisions for displaced Roma from Kosovo are inadequate. There have also been claims of the discrimination of Kosovo Roma in the allocation of humanitarian assistance on the grounds of their ethnicity and religion -- most Kosovo Roma are Muslims in predominantly Christian Orthodox Serbia and Montenegro.

- Instances of discrimination against Roma in access to public accommodation such as discotheques, cafes, and swimming pools have been documented on a number of occasions in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Authorities have failed to take adequate action to punish such acts of discrimination.

- Instances of discrimination against Roma in access to public accommodation such as discotheques, cafes, and swimming pools have been documented on a number of occasions in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Authorities have failed to take adequate action to punish such acts of discrimination.

It is the position of the European Roma Rights Center that Roma rights issues as summarised above are of central relevance for assessment of the admission of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the Council of Europe. The government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- as well as authorities at all levels -- must make rights-based policy addressing the complex of issues facing the Roma in Serbia and Montenegro a highest priority in their near-, middle- and long-term policy and funding efforts.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Notes:

  • 1. Although Kosovo administratively remains a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it is presently under international administration, and this document will therefore not address the situation of Roma in Kosovo. The focus of this document is human rights issues pertaining to Roma in Serbia and Montenegro, and the term "Serbia and Montenegro" is used synonymously with the term "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" in this document, to mean those areas of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia not including Kosovo. Roma have suffered extreme human rights abuses in Kosovo, in particular following June 1999, when Roma were ethnically cleansed from the province by ethnic Albanians (for details on human rights issues pertaining to Roma from Kosovo, please see: http://errc.org. Tens of thousands of displaced Roma from Kosovo presently live in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and issues related to these persons are addressed below.
     
  • 2. Census figures indicate a Romani population of 143,519. However, this figure includes Kosovo. It is widely contended that the official figure dramatically under-represents the true number of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro, and NGO estimates have placed the reasonable number of Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as around 400,000-450,000, again including Kosovo. Prior to the June 1999 ethnic cleansing of Roma from Kosovo by ethnic Albanians, the Romani population of Kosovo is estimated to have been 100,000-120,000.
     
  • 3. UNHCR has stated that in 2000 there were 19,551 displaced Roma in Serbia and in 2002 there were 6492 displaced Roma in Montenegro. These figures are widely held to underestimate the true number of displaced Roma in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Estimates by non-governmental organisations and other agencies have put the true figure as high as 80,000.
     
  • 4. Further information on the issues raised herein are available on: http://errc.org.

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr Peter Schieder,
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg CEDEX
France
Fax: (++33 3) 88 41 2776

Mr Claude Frey,
Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg CEDEX
France
Fax: (++33 3) 88 41 2776

Mr Helmut Lippelt,
Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg CEDEX
France
Fax: (++33 3) 88 41 2776

Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles,
Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg CEDEX
France
Fax: (++33 3) 90 21 50 53

 

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