Workshop Establishing an Inter-Ukrainian Association of Roma Rights Activists
April 22-23, 2002
The workshop "On Establishing an Inter-Ukrainian Association of Lawyers and Human Rights Activists", held on April 22-23 in Užhorod, Ukraine, was a joint project of the Užhorod-based Romani non-governmental organisation Romani Yag and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC). The workshop was sponsored by the European Union, the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation. Over twenty participants attended, mainly lawyers who have been involved in the defence of Roma rights, heads of Ukrainian Romani organisations, as well as several journalists representing local newspapers and one local television channel. Lecturers at the workshop included ERRC staff, Romani Yag staff and other experts.
The aim of this workshop was to bring together lawyers and human rights activists who have been involved in the defence of Roma rights in Ukraine to share experience, to provide training on litigating human rights claims, to formulate the main legal problems Roma face in Ukraine, and to create a network of Ukrainian lawyers and human rights activists who would co-operate in defending Roma rights.
Discussions addressed topics including the following:
- Recent cases of human rights abuse of Roma;
- Possible legal strategies and remedies in cases of human rights violations;
- Litigating on behalf of Roma in national and international fora.
Local attorneys described various cases of police brutality and the failure on the part of the police to protect the Roma from violence, as well as the pitfalls that emerge when a victim is bribed or otherwise persuaded – for example through threats of violence – to drop a case. The overall atmosphere of impunity that prevails in Ukraine is, at least in part, the consequence of the reluctance on the part of prosecutors to take seriously the criminal complaints of police abuse submitted by Roma. Mr Vladimir Bambula, a Romani leader, described an arson case near Kremenchug where a police officer who had allegedly not received his bribe set fire to a house and barred the door, resulting in the deaths of five members of a Romani family. For details on this case, see Roma Rights 1/2002, on the internet at: Five Roma Die in Arson Attack by Police in Ukraine . Mr Didychyn, who will represent the victims of the case through a grant from the ERRC, described the potential legal remedies to be pursued.
The ERRC participants described various ERRC programmes, including scholarships, internships, and the ERRC summer university, and ERRC's priorities throughout the region. They described the role of the ERRC in litigating cases on behalf of Roma on the national and international levels, and briefed participants on the role of the ERRC in a number of discrimination cases before international and domestic fora. Participants discussed the typical obstacles in proving discrimination before the courts. Participants asked numerous questions about the practical aspects of filing an application before domestic and international tribunals. Following the discussions, the participants prepared the establishment of an Inter-Ukrainian Association of Lawyers and Human Rights Activists, and elected Mr Aladar Adam, Executive Director of Romani Yag, to be its president. The workshop provided a rich interchange of perspectives among Ukrainian and foreign participants on the use of regional and international human rights law to achieve social change.