ERRC: Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia

Conclusions: Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental
Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia -- Workshop in Igalo, Montenegro, September 6-8, 2002

On September 6-8, 2002, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) held a workshop in Igalo, Montenegro, addressing the theme of Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia. The workshop brought together government officials from around the former Yugoslavia, Romani activists and other civil society actors, and staff of intergovernmental organisations and other relevant experts, to discuss problems related the widespread problems of statelessness among Roma from the former Yugoslavia and a lack of basic documents necessary to realise fundamental rights. The focus of the meeting was on generating sound documentation, as well as on advocacy strategies for change.

A serious obstacle to the exercise of basic rights by Roma in the countries of the former Yugoslavia is a lack of basic documents, including but not limited to birth certificates, personal identity documents, local residence permits, documents related to (in most cases, state-provided) health insurance, marriage certificates, work booklets, death certificates, passports, IDP and refugee registration documents and, in extreme cases, a lack of citizenship in countries of birth or to which the individual at issue has real and effective ties. In a disturbing number of cases, this has given rise to the anathema phenomenon of statelessness among Roma. Exclusionary obstacles created by a lack of documents can be daunting and in many instances, the lack of one document can lead to a "chain reaction", in which the individual at issue is unable to secure a number of such documents. In the extreme case, a Romani child without a birth certificate may wind up in a situation of complete paralysis with respect to the exercise of basic rights: precluded access to basic health care, effectively hindered freedom of movement (including the right to leave one's own country), denial of the right to vote, exclusion from state housing provided to persons from socially weak groups, as well as the inability to have real access to other rights and services crucial for basic human dignity. This problem has only been vaguely sketched (primarily by some non-governmental organisations), and has not to date been addressed in any systematic way by authorities in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

The ERRC therefore convened the Igalo workshop with the following goals:

  • To invigorate and inform debate in the countries of former Yugoslavia, with the aim of bringing an end to Romani statelessness in countries where it exists.
  • To ensure that just compensation be provided to Roma made stateless as a result of laws and practices on citizenship adopted by successor states to the Former Yugoslavia.
  • To raise awareness of, improve documentation about, and discuss action in relation to problems of Roma in securing other important documents such as birth certificates, identity cards, etc.

Participants at the workshop included:

  • ERRC staff and consultants
  • Romani activists from all of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia
  • Other civil society actors and journalists from around the former Yugoslavia
  • Government officials from around former Yugoslavia
  • Staff of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
  • Activists from the Czech Republic who had been involved in the struggle to amend the 1992 Czech Act on Citizenship
  • Civil society actors from Western Europe (because statelessness among Roma in Yugoslavia has repercussions abroad)
  • Civil society actors from the Baltics (where Roma may face similar issues)
  • Experts on statelessness and international law issues.

Conference participants explored a number of ideas as recommendations and conclusions, based on local conditions in the various countries at issue. General recommendations include:

  • Successor states of the former Yugoslavia which have not yet done so should, without delay, sign and ratify the European Convention on Nationality;
  • Persons who had real and effective ties with a successor state of the former Yugoslavia as of the date of its independence or succession should be provided with access to the citizenship of that state by declaration, in accordance in particular with Article 18 of the European Convention on Nationality, on nationality in the context of state succession;
  • All former Yugoslav countries should, without delay, sign and ratify the International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (no successor states to the former Yugoslavia have as yet done so);
  • Successor states of the former Yugoslavia which have not yet done so should, without delay, sign and ratify the International Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons;
  • Successor states of the former Yugoslavia which have not yet done so should, without delay, sign and ratify, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families;
  • All states of the former Yugoslavia should work proactively to design and implement strategies to end statelessness among Roma on their territories, as well as to alleviate the crisis of rights deprivation generated by a widespread lack of basic documents among Roma.

Conference participants additionally agreed upon next steps in the form of an action phase for documentation and advocacy work, followed by a follow-up workshop.

Further information on the issues raised herein is available by contacting the offices of the ERRC.

 

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