ERRC Legal Action in Croatian School Segregation Case

Legal Action at the European Court of Human Rights Challenges Educational Discrimination of Romani Children in Croatian Primary Schools

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) announced at a press conference today in Zagreb, Croatia, that it, together with Ms. Lovorka Kusan, a local Croatian attorney-at-law, has lodged a pre-application letter against Croatia with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The submission concerns the practice of continued racial discrimination/segregation of Romani children in Croatian primary schools, and was filed on behalf of 15 Romani pupils attending schools in Macinec, Podturen and Orehovica (all villages located in the County of Medjimurje). The ERRC and Ms Kusan have filed a pre-application letter, rather than a full-scale application at this point, in order to preserve the applicants' right to bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights in a timely manner should the Croatian Constitutional Court, which is yet to rule on the complaint filed by the applicants, decline to provide a remedy.

All of the 15 Romani applicants whose case will be heard in Strasbourg attend segregated Roma-only classes in what are otherwise "regular" primary schools. Their placement stems from a blatant practice of discrimination based on race/ethnicity carried out by the schools concerned, the dominating and pervasive anti-Romani sentiment of the local non-Romani community, and ultimately the unwillingness and/or inability of the Croatian authorities, local and national alike, to provide them with redress.

The teaching syllabus for the pupils attending separate Roma-only classes is significantly reduced in scope and volume compared to the officially prescribed teaching plan and program. As a result of this practice, stretching back to the very beginning of their primary education, the applicants have suffered severe educational, psychological and emotional harm. In particular, by being subjected to a curriculum far inferior to that in mainstream classes, they have sustained damage to their opportunities to secure adequate employment in the future, been stigmatized with the effects of diminished self-esteem and feelings of humiliation, alienation and lack of self-worth, and been forced to study in racially/ethnically segregated classrooms and hence denied the benefits of a multi-cultural educational environment. Official government statistics show that at the county level almost 60% of all Romani pupils attend separate Roma-only classes. Moreover, at least in one of the schools concerned, more than 88% of all Romani students are schooled in segregated classes.

On 19 April 2002, as part of a larger group of Romani pupils, the 15 applicants, assisted by local counsel and the ERRC, filed a complaint with the Municipal Court in Cakovec against the Republic of Croatia/Ministry of Education, the County of Medjimurje, as well as the four primary schools in Orehovica, Macinec, Kursanec and Podturen. The complaint requested: i) a judicial finding of racial discrimination/segregation; ii) an order that the defendants develop and implement a monitoring system and a plan to end racial segregation and discrimination and to achieve full integration, and iii) an order that the plaintiffs be placed in racially integrated classrooms and provided with the compensatory education necessary for them to overcome the adverse effects of past discrimination/segregation.

On 26 September 2002 the Municipal Court in Cakovec issued a ruling rejecting the complaint filed by the plaintiffs. This decision was appealed on 17 October 2002 with the Cakovec County Court. On 14 November 2002 the appeal was rejected and the decision of Cakovec Municipal Court confirmed.

Although the defendants failed to produce any meaningful evidence to justify their practices, and notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence in support of the pupils presented during the court proceedings, both the first instance court and the second instance court failed to provide redress for the violations suffered. On 19 December 2002 the applicants filed a complaint with the Croatian Constitutional Court requesting that both the first instance and the second instance judgements be quashed and the case retried. At present, this complaint is still pending with no indication as to when a ruling might be handed down.

As a result of the current status of domestic legal proceedings and in the absence of any redress to date, the applicants have now turned to the European Court of Human Rights for protection. The pre-application letter filed on their behalf by the ERRC and Ms Kusan contends that: i) the applicants' placement into the separate classes for the Roma only constitutes "degrading treatment" in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, ii) the applicants have been denied their right to education, in breach of Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention iii) the applicants have suffered racial discrimination in the enjoyment of the right to education, in violation of Article 14, iv) the applicants have been subjected to a determination of their civil rights in a procedure that has proved fundamentally flawed and consequently in clear violation of the fair trial guarantees contained in Article 6, and v) the applicants have been denied an effective domestic remedy, in violation of Article 13. In addition, in the pre-application letter the applicants have reserved the right to assert additional violations, as they become apparent, and submit a detailed claim for just compensation in accordance with Article 41 of the Convention.

The full-scale application will be filed if and when it becomes clear that the applicants have been denied an effective and comprehensive remedy in Croatia. The time has come for the Croatian authorities to either finally provide redress to the Romani applicants domestically or face international justice.

Further information on the plight of education of Romani children in Europe is available on ERRC: Barriers to Education of Roma in Europe.

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