Negrea and others v Romania (pending)

The case concerns the refusal of maternity benefits to six Romani women by the local administration on spurious grounds. It illustrates a particularly insidious form of discrimination: “discrimination au guichet”, or revolving-door (as opposed to slammed-door) discrimination, where Roma are given a neutral (albeit in this case illegal) reason for being refused a benefit and no means to challenge it.

Facts

The applicants live in a village in Transylvania. They gave birth out of wedlock between 2002 and 2003. According to the legislation in force at the time they were entitled to various social benefits, including a maternity benefit, child allowance and a supplementary benefit for families with children.

The applicants, who have limited literacy skills, orally requested these benefits from the local municipality. The public servant in charge refused to register their applications claiming that they needed to either be married or sue their children’s fathers for child support. These conditions were not required by the relevant domestic legislation.

After having married or instituted proceedings against the fathers, at great emotional cost, the applicants were again refused the maternity benefit as the statutory six-month delay for claiming it had expired.

Domestic Proceedings

The applicants, supported by the ERRC, unsuccessfully petitioned the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination. The Council’s unfavourable decision was later upheld by the domestic courts. While finding that refusal of the benefit had been illegal, the courts ruled that the allegation of discrimination allegation was not sufficiently made out, adding that the applicants should have pursued an alternative administrative law remedy against a refusal of the benefits. (This remedy was illusory in the absence of a registered claim for benefits and a formal refusal, as in the applicants’ case.)

The Complaint

The ERRC is currently representing the applicants before the European Court of Human Rights where they are mainly claiming a violation of article 14 taken together with articles 8 and 1 of Protocol no. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as they were victims of indirect discrimination by being refused the maternity benefit on facially neutral grounds that disproportionately, and unjustifiably, affected Roma.

The application to the European Court was lodged on 28 November 2007, and the Court communicated the case to the Romanian government on 19 May 2014.

The Court’s statement of facts in the case is available here (in French).

The “statement of violations” section of the application to the European Court can be found here.

The applicant’s observations on the government’s observations can be found here and here, and the applicant’s just satisfaction claim can be found here.

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