ERRC Calls for an End to Walls that Divide Us All

Budapest, 22 August 2013: The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) welcomes the recent call on the Košice municipality authorities by the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou to remove the wall separating the Romani community from majority Slovaks in the city. The ERRC further welcomes the reaction of the Košice city authorities who state that legal action will be pursued aiming to dismantle the wall. The wall in Košice is not a singular case; reports indicate that 13 different walls have been erected in Slovakia, the majority of them since 2011, drawing a dividing line that is physically, mentally as well as symbolically segregating Roma from the rest of the society.

The EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou sent a letter on 13 August 2013 to the Mayor of Košice Richard Raši, in which she stated that, “construction of physical barriers represents a breach with the values on which our European Union is founded, notably respect for human dignity and human rights, including those of people belonging to minorities” and requested “remedy this unfortunate situation”. Following this call, the Mayor of Košice Richard Raši, in his response from 15 August 2013, stated that the wall was erected by the district mayor “without the permission of the city of Košice and its construction and building authorities” and thus effectively constructed “illegally”. Mayor Raši pledged that “appropriate legal action against the city part in question shall follow.”

Although the ERRC welcomes the prompt response of the Mayor to the matter of the segregation wall in the city, the ERRC recalls that Košice municipality has been recently evicting members of the Roma community on the basis of certain environmental law  provisions, declaring them and their houses, implicitly, to be communal waste. The Slovak Public Defender of Rights has recently ruled that the Municipality of Košice violated the fundamental rights of Roma individuals when it demolished a Roma settlement under environmental law last year.

Košice is not only one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2013, but also a partner to several projects focused on Roma inclusion supported by the Council of Europe and the European Union, including Urbact Roma Net, Romed, and the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion. Actions such as erecting walls as well as evicting people contrary to international and national legal standards are both incompatible with running European programmes focused on the social inclusion of Roma and with the fundamental principles of the EU referred in the Commissioner’s letter.

The ERRC calls on the Slovak authorities to develop policies and programmes aimed at the substantial and tangible inclusion of Roma rather than creating new methods to isolate them by creating dividing lines. In line with their national and international commitments, the Slovak authorities need to focus on developing and implementing actions that provide non-discriminatory access to housing and that are not further perpetuating segregation of Roma communities.

For more information, contact:

Sinan Gökçen
Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre
sinan.gokcen@errc.org
+36.30.500.1324

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