ERRC 2017 Review: Fighting discrimination at every intersection

By Bernard Rorke

"Roma are not a single, homogeneous category. We are women, men, children, Muslims, Christians, lesbians, gay men, straight people, some of us have disabilities. Antigypsyism interacts with misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other ideologies of hate in complicated ways. We continue to fight injustice at all these intersections, and want courts to deliver judgments that take account of these complex and multiple forms of oppression against our people.”

(ERRC president Djordje Jovanovic)

ERRC lawyer Senada Ali leading a session on advocacy for Roma Rights with youth from Bitola, Macedonia last August

We at the ERRC are very proud to have received the 2018 Raoul Wallenberg Prize. The Swedish diplomat’s heroism in the face of Nazi barbarism remains an inspiration to all of us who are committed to fight racism. Looking back on ERRC’s work inside and outside the courts in 2017, we challenged anti-Roma discrimination at the intersections and in the schools, maternity wards and hospitals, at border crossings, in prisons, and public spaces.  

We campaigned and litigated against law enforcement agencies, educational authorities, and hospital chiefs who abused the human rights of Roma. And we continued to challenge national governments for egregious failures to deliver justice to their Romani citizens. Below are some highlights from ERRC’s 2017:

January 9: Macedonia ordered by UN to rehouse evicted pregnant Romani women: Following ERRC interventions, the UNCEDAW urged the Macedonian government to provide suitable emergency housing, nutrition, clean water and immediate access to health care services, including to maternal health services for four Romani women evicted from the Poligon settlement in August 2016. Three were pregnant and the fourth had a newborn baby. For more on this, see:

January 18: Romani woman harassed by racist hospital staff during childbirth wins case: During labour I was shouting because of the pain when the midwife yelled at me ‘if you shout once more I will push the pillow into your face’. […]. The doctor also walked in and said ‘if you had shouted once more I would have called the psychiatrist who would have taken your child away and then you wouldn’t receive the child benefit, because anyway, you gypsies give birth only for the money!’ In its first case involving harassment based on ethnicity in the area of reproductive rights, the Equality Body ruled that the hospital had violated the woman’s right to equal treatment and was guily of racial harassment. For more on this see:

March 1: ERRC and Amnesty joint report accuses Slovakia of racial segregation: New evidence in this latest report confirmed that despite EU infringement procedures and repeated condemnation from international bodies, the Slovak education system continues to segregate Romani children, deny them quality education, and effectively condemn them to lives of poverty and exclusion. For more on this and the full report see:

March 6: Court victory for Romani boys prevented from enrolling in Czech school: The Pesi elementary school in Ostrava was found guilty of discrimination for preventing two Romani children from enrolling. The ERRC and the Forum for Human Rights provided joint legal representation in this case, which was made possible by the work of Awen Amenca Ostrava, a Romani parents association that empowers people to challenge the discrimination their children face, and fight for equal access to education. For more on this see:

March 16: Romani man dies in Macedonian prison: The ERRC demanded an investigation into the suspicious death of a 21-year-old Rom who died in a Skopje prison five days earlier. Media reports that the man died of a methadone overdose were denied by his mother who insisted that her son ever had a drug habit, and claimed his death was due to injuries inflicted by prison guards. For more on this see:

March 21: ERRC released report on access to clean water and sanitation: The report entitled Thirsting for Justice: Europe’s Roma Denied Access to Clean Water & Sanitation, revealed that huge numbers of Roma across Europe continue to be denied or disadvantaged in their access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Even in states and regions where safe water supply and sanitation services were available to almost every non-Roma household, the report found that systemic discrimination operates to deny Roma access to these essential services. For more on this report see:

April 5: Another Romani man dies in a Macedonian prison: The ERRC took the Macedonian prison authorities to court, in the second case in less than a month involving the suspicious death of a young Romani man in custody. The 25-year-old father of two Jusinov Erdal, died on the 22 March in KPD Shtip prison (known locally as ‘the Sixth’) after medical treatment was apparently withheld for hours prior to his death. For more on this case see:

May 15: ERRC Demands Justice for Kosovo Victims of Lead Poisoning: The ERRC submitted over 10,000 signatures to the Secretary General of the United Nations calling for a full public apology, compensation and medical treatment for the Roma, Ashkali and Balkan Egyptians suffering from lead poisoning in the UN administered camps at Mitrovica, Kosovo. The ERRC began the campaign following the damning report published by the Human Rights Advisory Panel in April 2016. For more information on this see:

May 16: Roma tortured by Belgrade police: ERRC provided legal representation to a couple who suffered a terrifying ordeal at the hands of Serbian police: detained for thirteen hours, threatened with imprisonment, and that their children would be immediately taken to an orphanage. The officers aimed a gun at Ivan and put a bag over his head and denied them access to a lawyer. For more on this case:

May 24: Video shows Slovak police officers attacking Romani men women and children: The ERRC released video evidence it received showing police officers indiscriminately beating Roma in the streets of Zborov, Slovakia. The ERRC has learned that an ambulance called to treat the injured was temporarily blocked from entering the neighbourhood by the police. Witnesses who filmed the violence were visited by police officers later that evening and told to delete any footage. For more on this incident see:

Photo: Ilaria Masinara, Amnesty International

June 14: ERRC and Amnesty protest at European Commission failure to sanction Italy for mass evictions: Recent unlawful demolitions of Romani settlements across Italy left scores of extremely vulnerable people, including heavily pregnant women and children as young as just a few months old, homeless in the country. Despite documented evidence of widespread human rights violations the European Commission yet again failed to sanction Italian authorities for discriminating against the Roma. For more see:

June 15: Macedonia agrees to pay compensation for Roma prison death: The Government of Macedonia agreed to pay €9,000 in compensation to the family of a Romani man who died in suspicious circumstances in prison. This settlement brought an end a case supported by the ERRC and pending before the European Court of Human Rights since 2014. For more see:

Sevdije and Senad Asan with their three children whio had their passports confiscated

October 10: Court win for Roma denied exit from Macedonia: Two Romani families who were told they could not user their ID cards to travel outside the country, were victims of race discrimination, a court in Skopje has ruled. The four Romani litigants successfully sued the Macedonian Ministry of Interior for discrimination and violation of their right to equal treatment, with legal representation from the ERRC. For more see:

October 26: #RomaBelong: Lack of birth certificates leaves Romani children in Balkans at risk of statelessness and without healthcare or education. The stark warning and call for governments to reform registration procedures and end statelessness in Europe came in a report launched by the ERRC, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI), and the European Network on Statelessness (ENS).

November 10: European Court victory for Romani victim of police abuse in Hungary: The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of a Romani man who was the victim of police brutality in 2010 in Hungary. The ERRC intervened in his case brought by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) to the international court for violations relating to his ill-treatment, discrimination, and the authorities failure to consider racist motivation in their investigation of the incident. According to the man’s testimony, six police officers and two security guards attempted to coerce a confession from him by beating him and whipping the soles of his feet with a thin piece of wood over a period of four hours. The man was told by one of the officers that it would not matter if he died as that would mean “one less Gypsy”. For more on this case:

November 20: On Universal Children’s Day, the ERRC launched the RISC (Roma in State Care) campaign. Romani children are significantly overrepresented in state care in various countries across Europe. ERRC has taken many cases, mainly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Albania, where Romani children make up more than 80% of all children in state care. Too often, institutional racism in the child care system and the judiciary results in Romani children being unfairly taken away from their parents.

November 24: Exposing racism in Bulgaria’s maternity wards: The ERRC teamed up with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) to expose racial segregation and abuse of Romani women in maternity wards in Bulgaria. BHC’s research, which features in our collective complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights, shows that in various hospitals across the country Romani women giving birth are placed in separate maternity wards from non-Roma women. Romani women giving birth in these poorly-maintained segregated wards are exposed to racial insults and physical abuse by hospital personnel. For more on this see:

December 6: Muslim Roma Win Discrimination Case Against Montenegro: A Romani man and his family who were harassed by neighbours for being both Roma and Muslim, have won their case before the European Court of Human Rights. The family had been subjected to racial and religious slurs, death threats, graffiti painted on their door, attacks on their car, and gunfire aimed at their apartment before they turned to the law. Failing to get justice, they took their case against the authorities to the European Court. The ERRC intervened in the case on the important issue of intersectional discrimination. For more see:

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