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Europe's Highest Court Finds Racial Discrimination in Czech Schools

14 November 2007

Landmark Victory in Roma Segregation Case

Strasbourg- In a momentous decision for Roma across Europe, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, by a vote of 13 to four, ruled today that segregating Roma students into special schools is a form of unlawful discrimination that violates fundamental human rights.

The ruling came in D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, a case in which 18 Roma children sought legal redress for the practice - widespread in Central and Eastern Europe - of shunting Roma students into "special" schools for children with learning disabilities.

"The court has made clear that racial discrimination has no place in 21st century Europe," said James A. Goldston, counsel for the plaintiffs and executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. "Roma children must have the same access to quality education as everyone else."

The decision is the culmination of an eight-year legal battle during which the plaintiffs challenged the practice of forcing Roma students - regardless of their intellectual abilities - into schools for children with learning disabilities. Research by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) showed that Roma students were 27 times more likely than similarly situated non-Roma to be placed in special schools.

"This is a major step forward in Europe's fight against discrimination," said Vera Egenberger, executive director of the ERRC, which supported the plaintiffs in the case. "It is now unlawful for Roma students to be forced into substandard schools."

The Court found that the practice of racial segregation in education violated Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination, taken together with Article 2 of Protocol 1, which secures the right to education. The Court noted that the Czech Republic is not alone in this practice and that discriminatory barriers to education for Roma children are present in a number of European countries.

Representatives of the victorious plaintiffs vowed to focus on ensuring the implications of the ruling are implemented quickly and fully. "We look forward to working with the Czech authorities and those of other countries to guarantee that this decision leads to better education opportunities for all children," said Egenberger.

This case originated with the unsuccessful filing of complaints in the Czech courts in 1999 on behalf of eighteen children represented by the ERRC and local attorneys. In 2000, the applicants turned to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that their assignment to "special schools" for children with learning disabilities contravened the European Convention. Tests used to assess the children's mental ability were culturally biased against Czech Roma, and placement procedures allowed for the influence of racial prejudice on the part of educational authorities.

Evidence before the Court, based on ERRC research in the city of Ostrava, demonstrated that school selection processes frequently discriminate on the basis of race:

  • Over half of the Romani child population is educated in remedial special schools.
  • Over half of the population of remedial special schools is Romani.
  • Any randomly chosen Romani child is more than 27 times more likely to be placed in schools for the learning disabled than a similarly situated non-Romani child.
  • Even where Romani children manage to avoid the trap of placement in remedial special schooling, they are most often schooled in substandard and predominantly Romani urban schools.

Racial segregation in education remains widespread throughout the Czech Republic and in neighbouring countries. ERRC field research in five countries has consistently documented the separate and discriminatory education of Roma, as well as additional practices by educational authorities that result in the segregation of Roma in schools.

An ERRC report describes the most common practices of segregating Romani children in education based on their ethnicity. These includes segregation in so-called "special schools" for children with developmental disabilities, segregation in Romani ghetto schools, segregation in all-Romani classes, denial of Romani enrolment in mainstream schools, as well as other phenomena. Whatever the particular form of separate schooling, the quality of education provided to Roma is invariably inferior to the mainstream educational standards in each country.

Andi Dobrushi, European Roma Rights Centre,
andi.dobrushi@errc.org (+36 1 413 2200) 
David Berry, Open Society Justice Initiative,
dberry@justiceinitiative.org, (+1 212 548 0385) 

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School Segregation of Roma and Egyptian Communities in Albania

24 November 2015

This video talks about segregation of Roma and Egyptian children in one school in Albania. The "Naim Frasheri" school, covering nine grades, is in outskirts of city of Korca. It is known as "Roma and Egyptian" school because all children of this school come from families from these two communities. The school has a total of 283 Roma and Egyptian children. The video shows as well what important role can play institutions such as Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination and People' Advocate (Ombudsman) in fighting school segregation. The decision of Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination and Recommendations of People' Advocate create an working platform not only for Ministry of Education and its depending institutions, but as well for all actors working in this field.

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ERRC submission to UN UPR on Hungary (September 2015)

22 September 2015

Written Comments of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) and Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), concerning Hungary for consideration by the Human Rights Council (HRC) within its Universal Periodic Review at its 25th session, April / May 2016. 

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Joint submission to UN CEDAW on Slovakia (October 2015)

2 October 2015

Written comments by the European Roma Rights Centre and Center for Civil and Human Rights concerning Slovakia to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women at the 62nd Session (26 October - 20 November 2015).  

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