OSCE Meeting Statement on Roma in Poland

European Roma Rights Center Statement to the 2002 Organization for Security
and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues, Working Session Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

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. On the occasion of the Warsaw OSCE Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues in the OSCE region, the ERRC offers comment on the human rights situation of Roma in Poland.

ERRC monitoring of Roma rights in Poland has established that Roma in Poland are the targets of racially motivated violence, police abuse and systematic racial discrimination. The human rights of Roma are frequently violated in Poland, where national and local authorities offer little protection from violence and discrimination and often block victims' access to effective remedies. The government has thus far failed to act to guarantee Roma equal rights and to take effective measures to overcome the exclusion of Roma from Polish society.

The proportionally small number of Roma in Polandat least in comparison with other Central and Eastern European countrieshas been used by Polish authorities to downplay the problems that Romani communities face and to deny the persistent and pervasive nature of anti-Romani sentiment among the majority population. Moreover, throughout the 1990s, Polish authorities have systematically failed to respond to a wave of anti-Romani crime, as well as to ingrained patterns of racial discrimination. Roma in Poland are consequently correct to presume that they cannot rely on the state to shield them from abuse or to provide justice when their fundamental rights have been violated. Roma are also correct in claiming that they are in effect excluded from Polish society as a whole. Measures to date to remedy the human rights situation of Roma in Poland have been inadequate, where such measures have been taken at all.

The only substantive programme the Polish government has designed to improve the situation of Roma, the Pilot Government Programme for the Roma Community in the Malopolska Province for the Years 2000-2003, does little to address the acute problems of the Romani communities or the root causes of racism in Polish society. While demonstrating some political good will in acknowledging the predicament of Roma in Poland, the Programme perpetuates racist stereotypes and segregationist practices in Poland.

Intensive field missions conducted by ERRC staff and partner organisations, as well as regular reporting by ERRC monitors, has revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Poland:

1. Racially motivated violence: Roma in Poland have been frequent targets of skinhead attacks, racially motivated violence and harassment by non-Romani persons. Incidents in which groups of non-Romani persons with reported neo-nazi sympathies savagely attacked Romani persons, communities or households have been reported with increasing frequency throughout Poland during the late 1990s. Reporting such violence and harassment to the authorities frequently led to further attacks and threats against the Romani victims. As a result, many Roma live in a climate of fear that pervades all aspects of their lives, from their interaction with authorities to their ability to access public spaces and services and to participate fully in the lives of the communities in which they live.

2. Failure to protect Roma and denial of justice for Romani victims of racially motivated crimes: The Polish police and judiciary have been slow to react to reports of crimes against Roma and to acknowledge the racial motivation of such crimes. Polish authorities have often failed to react to such reports at all, leaving the victims unprotected from further violence and unable to seek remedy for crimes against them. When investigations into racially motivated crimes were launched, they were frequently stalled or discontinued altogether, often with the justification that the authorities did not find sufficient evidence to issue arrest warrants, indictments or judicial sentences even in cases in which the alleged perpetrators had been identified by victims and/or witnesses.

3. Police abuse: Police and other authorities in Poland have frequently abused members of the Romani communities by engaging in outright violence, unlawful arrests, searches, seizure of property, harassment or biased investigation. When reporting racially motivated crimes to the police, victims sometimes find themselves charged with crimes they did not commit. Another disturbing pattern of police abuse documented by the ERRC consists of abusive raids upon informal settlements of Romanian Roma in Poland. These often resulted in group deportations, separation of children from their parents and arbitrary seizures of property. The perpetrators of police abuse are rarely investigated and even more rarely punished for their deeds.

4. Discrimination: Direct and indirect discrimination pervades all aspects of the relationship between the non-Romani majority and the Romani minority in Poland. Polish anti-discrimination provisions are at present grossly inadequate. In the absence of such legislation, and in the circumstances in which a culture of prejudice, stereotyping and disenfranchisement has developed deep roots in Polish society, Roma find themselves constantly blocked from accessing basic rights and social services.

The ERRC has identified the local authorities' discriminatory practice of refusing to register Roma as residents in local administrative units as one of the sources of the denial of the rights for Romani people in Poland. Since registration as a resident in a particular locality is often a precondition for access to housing, social aid and other public services, the systematic refusal of some local authorities to register Roma as residents effectively bars Roma from the realisation of fundamental social and economic rights. Roma appear to be the only group in Poland systematically precluded from local registration.

4.1. Discriminatory practices in the field of housing: The ERRC has documented a number of violations of the right to adequate housing for Roma in Poland. Roma are denied access to public housing, security of tenure and the right to enjoyment of private property. The ERRC has documented discriminatory practices in the allocation of public housing. Furthermore, local authorities and private landlords subject Roma to forced and arbitrary evictions, segregation and ghettoisation. Even in areas inhabited by Romani communities for a long time, Roma frequently do not enjoy even rudimentary security of tenure, a situation that leaves the door permanently open for abuse.

4.2. Discrimination in access to medical care: Romani communities lack basic health care services. The ERRC has documented instances in which health care providers refused to treat Romani patients as a result of their ethnic background.

4.3. Discrimination in access to employment: Many Polish employers refuse to hire Romani applicants, and state labour offices often treat Roma as responsible for, rather than as the victims of, discriminatory practices in the field. While the national government recognises that unemployment is rampant among Roma, there is no official acknowledgement of racial discrimination as an underlying factor.

4.4. Discrimination in access to social welfare payments: The ERRC has documented several instances of discriminatory treatment of Roma in the provision of social welfare support. When authorities deal with Roma at all, they frequently do so only after giving preferential treatment to non-Roma. This pattern compounds the effects of massive unemployment, forcing most Roma to live in extreme poverty.

4.5. Discrimination in access to goods and services: Public and private providers often refuse to allow Roma access to goods and services, based on their skin colour and/or ethnic background. In restaurants, bars, nightclubs or airports, Roma are often denied service and asked to leave.

5. School segregation, denial of the right to education and school abuse: During the 1990s, the practice of segregating Romani students into so-called "Gypsy classes", or special classes for the developmentally retarded, has spread to many areas of Poland. Poorly equipped and staffed, with curricula that reflect racist stereotypes and prejudices, these classes offer substandard education to their students and in effect promote further marginalisation and exclusion for Romani children. Furthermore, some school administrators in Poland refuse to register Romani students in integrated schools, effectively denying the applicants their right to education. This report also documents instances of abuse against Romani students by school staff and non-Romani students; the ERRC has found that, in such instances, school authorities often fail to protect the victims of abuse or to punish those responsible for it.

Poland aspires to the status of Member State of the European Union. Accession is premised on strict adherence to the highest human rights standards, including, but not limited to, rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Additionally, in order to become a full member, Poland must harmonise domestic legislation with Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 "implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin by the date of accession" (the so-called "Race Equality Directive"), which is part of the aquis communautaire, the body of laws that all states joining the Union must adopt. Furthermore, Poland has committed to international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Poland must undertake to implement these international obligations by reviewing and adapting its current legislation, by adopting new legislation banning racial discrimination and protecting the rights of minorities, by actively protecting the human rights of the victims of racially-motivated violence, by providing effective and timely remedies for the victims of violence and discrimination and by terminating discriminatory practices at both national and local levels. In the coming years, Poland must choose between perpetuating the culture of racist violence, discrimination and exclusion which has marred the relationship between the majority and the Romani minority, and equal rights of the Roma, in the absence of which human rights culture would remain deficient in the country which dissolved
communism in the name of liberty and solidarity.

The ERRC recommends that Polish authorities act without delay on the following recommendations:

1. Promptly bring those responsible for racially motivated crimes against Roma to justice, and ensure that when racial animosity motivates or otherwise influences a crime, it receives due judicial recognition.

2. Carry out thorough and timely investigations in all alleged instances of police abuse of Roma, including violence, unlawful searches and seizure of property, malicious investigation of violence against Roma, harassment, and failure to investigate racially motivated crimes and/or protect potential victims of violent attacks.

3. Bring Polish law into conformity with the requirements of Directive 2000/43/EC, "implementing the principle of equality between persons, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin", adopted by the Council of the European Union on June 29, 2000 (the "Race Equality Directive"). Ensure that the implementing body mandated by the Directive is strong, fully independent and adequately staffed and funded.

4. Sign and ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights without delay.

5. Without delay, sign and ratify the revised Social Charter of the Council of Europe, and make a declaration accepting the collective complaints procedure under Article D, paragraph 2 of Part IV of the revised Charter.

6. Ensure effective remedy for cases of discrimination against Roma in the field of housing, employment, health care, as well as access to social welfare payments and to public goods and services.

7. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons actually residing in a given municipality, without regard to race.

8. Provide security of tenure for residents of Romani communities and settlements, and protect the inhabitants from forced and arbitrary evictions, as well as segregationist local practices.

9. Implement a comprehensive school desegregation plan, such that all Romani children may fully realise the right to education. Without delay, end the practice of segregating Romani children into so-called "Gypsy classes" or into classes for mentally disabled students. Integrate all Romani students into mainstream classes and, where necessary, design and implement adequately funded and staffed programmes aimed at easing the transition from segregated to integrated schooling.

10. Design pre-school programmes for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling in their county or area.

11. Develop and implement catch-up or adult education programmes aimed at remedying the legacies of substandard education and non-schooling of Roma.

12. Punish school authorities and prevent abuse such as exclusionary practices, physical and verbal assault, humiliating treatment and failure by teachers and school administrators to protect Romani children from peer abuse.

13. Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture and history in schools, and make them available to all schools, so that all children in Poland learn of the valuable contributions Roma have made to Polish society.

14. Provide free legal aid to members of weak groups, including Roma and the indigent.

15. At the highest level, speak out against the problem of anti-Romani sentiment and racially motivated crimes against Roma; at all levels, acknowledge and speak out against racism, racially motivated crime and patterns and practices of discrimination and segregation. Address the root problem of anti-Romani racism in Poland by developing and implementing anti-racism curriculums for schools and campaigns for the media, so as to address widespread negative attitudes against Roma and racism generally.

16. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for the national and local administration, members of the police force and of the judiciary.

17. Proactively recruit qualified Roma for professional positions in the administration, the police force and the judiciary.

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