No Justice: The EU Roma Framework and its Discontents
Five years on, the EU Framework has hit a critical “mid-life crisis.” The National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) have yet to deliver in terms of concrete change to the lives of millions of Europe’s Romani citizens; the implementation gap is more pronounced than ever; discrimination and segregation remain pervasive and human rights abuses against Roma are all too frequent.
One key point has emerged from ERRC’s progress review across seven EU Member States: if Roma inclusion is to have any meaning, there must be access to justice and Roma citizens need to be legally empowered to know their rights and be able to exercise them.
Worrying regress is evident in many countries amidst all the democratic backsliding, policy inaction and anti-Gypsyism. Without full access to justice for Roma the stated ambition of the EU Framework to “make a tangible difference to Roma people’s lives by bringing about a change in the approach to their inclusion” will never see the light of day.
Justice must be seen to be done, remedies must be effective and punitive sanctions should be timely and sufficiently proportionate to act as a deterrent in cases of segregation, discrimination, and racially motivated crimes.
The ERRC submission comprised assessments of progress in seven countries: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovakia. Among the main issues of concern are school segregation; housing and forced evictions; and racially motivated crimes and police violence against Roma. This is just a snapshot of the state of Roma exclusion across Europe.
Despite international condemnation, European court judgments, European Parliament resolutions and EU infringement proceedings, school segregation stubbornly persists in many member states. Some common features across borders include: testing misdiagnosis and routing of disproportionate numbers of Romani children into ‘special schools’; separate Roma-only schools, either religious-run or situated in Roma neighbourhoods; and within schools Roma kids still get taught in separate annexes, classes or ‘container schools’ where separate is never equal.
In Hungary the notorious Nyíregyháza re-segregation case saw the Supreme Court (Curia) overturn an earlier court decision and allow the Greek Catholic Church to run a Roma-only school. It is clear from the government’s interventions in this case that it has no intention to promote integrated schooling. On the contrary it’s obvious that it intends to facilitate an expansion of religious-run, Roma-only schools. The European Commission should initiate infringement proceedings against Hungary for its deliberate segregationist policies in education.
As regards Slovakia, the authorities have refused to shift despite a landmark district court ruling on school segregation and ongoing EU infringement proceedings. Something of the official attitude can be garnered from the government’s response in 2015 to EU criticism about the disproportionate placement of Roma pupils in ‘special’ schools for children with disabilities: “One of the reasons why there is higher occurrence of genetically determined disorders is that Slovak Roma have the highest coefficient of interbreeding in Europe.”
Racially Motivated Crime and Police Violence against Roma
Incidents of hate speech and hate crime, intimidation and acts of violence committed by state and non-state actors remain all too frequent. Recent court judgments such as those in Slovakia where police officers have been acquitted and all charges of violence abuse of Roma dropped despite compelling evidence, create a sense among Roma communities that law enforcement officers operate in a climate of impunity.
A nationwide survey in Slovakia showed an almost complete lack of trust amongst Roma in the institutions that could successfully resolve discrimination, and a lack of information as to where and to whom to turn for legal aid. Many respondents held the conviction that discrimination is so normal and widespread that it makes no sense to oppose it and that in Slovakia it is not possible to achieve justice.
ERRC and partners have recorded a significant number of violent attacks and incidents of harassment committed by police against Roma, including minors, which have not been investigated effectively. In most of the cases monitored, there have been no successful prosecutions of offenders.
The ERRC in written comments in 2015 to the UN expressed particular concern about anti-Roma violence and racism in Romania: “The climate of impunity for hate speech, stigmatisation, and discrimination is compounded by the absence of a robust framework to address anti-Roma violence, in particular violence perpetrated by the police.”
National authorities need to establish fully independent and well-functioning complaints mechanisms to investigate claims of police brutality; take necessary steps to ensure that racial motivation is considered and investigated in cases of violence against Roma; and collect ethnically disaggregated data on the complaints of alleged torture and ill-treatment, details of the investigations and their outcomes.
Housing and forced evictions
Of all the priority areas it is housing where least progress has been made. The situation appears to have worsened in 2015: forced evictions and demolitions continue apace, with many Roma ‘relocated’ to remote, sometimes toxic sites with no access to basic services.
Thousands of Roma continue to live in squalid conditions in segregated camps and emergency shelters, in slum neighbourhoods and illegal settlements, harried and harassed without any security of tenure and no prospect whatsoever of social integration.
In France during 2015, every week 216 people were evicted by force; bringing last years total of forced evictions of Roma to 11,128. We urge the EU to echo the Council of Europe’s call for an immediate halt to forced evictions.
ERRC calls for an immediate end to all forced evictions of Roma in France and across Europe. Actions taken by the authorities in Italy placing evicted Roma in segregated temporary shelters amount to a breach of the Racial Equality Directive. Considering the lack of progress and even more plans by municipalities to relocate Roma from camps into segregated settings, the European Commission should initiate infringement proceedings against Italy.
In Hungary, despite court decisions backing the Equal Treatment Authority’s finding that the evictions of Roma residents from the “numbered streets” neighbourhood of Miskolc is discriminatory, the mayor of the Fidesz-led municipality remains defiant and determined to persist with evictions. This action sets a particularly dangerous precedent, and in light of the failure of the national government to intervene, it is time for the European Commission to explore grounds to initiate infringement proceedings against Hungary.
In December 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said of Romania “Many officials are in a state of denial about both the extent of poverty in the country and of the systemic and deep-rooted discrimination against the extremely poor, especially the Roma.” ERRC’s submission makes it clear that what holds for Romania, holds for all seven countries covered in the report. One thing must be faced now: unless justice can prevail without prejudice for Roma citizens of the European Union, the EU Roma Framework is doomed to fail ignobly.