Romania: Council of Europe deplores the high level of antigypsyism, and remains concerned about police violence against Roma
22 September 2023
While acknowledging that Romania has a solid legal framework for the protection of minority rights, the Council of Europe’s latest opinion was sharply critical of the state’s fundamental failures to effectively combat antigypsyism and to protect Roma from discrimination, and deplored anti-Roma hate speech from high-level politicians.
The latest release from the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities found that antigypsyism continues to constitute a serious societal problem; that there has been no significant improvement in the investigation of police violence against Roma; and little tangible progress in overcoming segregation in education and housing, and reducing the stark gaps between Roma and the rest of the population in access to health care, clean water and sanitation.
The Advisory Committee also deplored the use of anti-Roma stereotypes by high level politicians, and reiterated that “the impact of such statements in the public debate is critical, given their particular influence as public figures and the immediate amplification of their actions and speeches in the media.”
Police violence against Roma
Citing ERRC research, the Committee expressed concern about the prevalence of police misconduct and excessive use of force, including lethal force, against Roma, and strongly regretted that since the last monitoring cycle, “no substantial progress has been made in ensuring professional and non-biased behaviour by law enforcement officials vis-à-vis persons belonging to the Roma community.”
To date, racial profiling is not defined and prohibited by law, and the procedures to investigate alleged cases of racial discrimination and misconduct by the police are not sufficiently independent, and are largely ineffective. The trainings provided to police and prosecution staff, mainly with support of international donors, “do not form a systematic approach and have only a minimum effect on ordinary police on the ground.”
Given the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights against Romania concerning racist police violence, the Committee found it ‘very problematic’ that the authorities have failed to implement the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such cases; and urged the authorities to to effectively investigate and sanction cases of police misconduct and in particular excessive use of force.
The Advisory Committee reaffirmed its view that such police misconduct is not only clearly in breach of the human rights of the victims, but also feeds minority individuals’ distrust towards the police, whose task is to protect them against violence. “Persons belonging to minorities who lack confidence in the police due to racial profiling practices or excessive use of force will be reluctant to turn to the latter in cases where they have been victims of racist or any other offences, meaning that such crimes may go unpunished.”
Hate speech, hate crime, and ‘a high level of antigypsyism in all spheres of society’
While more than one-third of respondents in a recent study said that the Hungarian, German and Jewish minorities make a positive contribution or are a valuable resource for Romania, only 18% had this positive attitude towards Roma, and 29% considered them “a problem to our country”.
Roma representatives confirmed this hostility and reported a high level of antigypsyism in all spheres of society, including everyday settings such as schools or shops, interactions with public officials and particularly the police, as well as negative rhetoric in the media and most importantly on social media platforms. The Committee noted the surge in anti-Roma rhetoric during the Covid-19 pandemic, where Roma were scapegoated for allegedly spreading the virus: “Media and politicians participated in spreading such disinformation and sowing fear and hatred vis-à-vis Roma.”
As a consequence of this rhetoric by established media and public figures, anti-Roma posts were abundant on social media platforms. A survey on discrimination in schools found that there are very high rates of intolerance vis-à-vis Roma among parents and, at lower rates, among teachers. Amidst the generally welcoming atmosphere towards refugees from Ukraine in 2022, there were reports of instances of hostility and prejudice against Roma refugees from Ukraine.
In deploring such hate speech from political figures, the Committee reiterated how critical was its impact on public debate, how such forms of antigypsyism have a direct negative impact on the access to rights of Romani persons, and called for more concrete measures to push back against hate speech.
The Committee welcomed the legislative steps to increase the protection from hate speech in law, and to strengthen the capacity for investigating hate crime, and the 2021 law defining and criminalising antigypsyism. However, it was concerned “that significant flaws remain in the practical application of the existing laws and in particular the procedural response to victims’ allegations on hate crime and hate speech, undermining effective investigation and prosecution as well as the trust of potential victims in institutions and redress mechanisms.”
More recommendations to be duly ignored by the authorities
In its recommendations, the Advisory Committee urged the authorities to do much more to address educational inequalities between Roma and non-Roma children relating to pre-school education, early dropouts and attainment levels, and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘taking a gender-sensitive approach’. The Committee expressed its strong regret that school segregation continues to exist, and is still not explicitly addressed in law, and reiterated that
“Segregated education of socially or economically marginalised children, often of lower standard than that offered to other students, is one of the most extreme examples of the precarious position of Roma parents and pupils. The Advisory Committee emphasises that this discriminatory practice violates children’s right to equal access to quality education, leads to reduced opportunities in adulthood, and perpetuates stigma and exclusion.”
And once again, the Advisory Committee, like many committees, UN agencies and EU bodies before it, called on the Romanian authorities “to adopt in a timely manner a comprehensive, cross-sectoral set of measures to combat antigypsyism, in close consultation with representatives of the Roma minority.” After so many false starts, failed frameworks, and broken pledges, where is the trust, and what would count as ‘a timely manner’?