Europe's Highest Court Hears Oral Arguments in Landmark Segregation Case

17 January 2007

Contact: James A. Goldston +1 917 862 2937 (New York)
Contact: Claude Cahn +36 1 413 2200 (Budapest)

Strasbourg, France. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights heard oral arguments today in one of the most important cases ever to come before the Court. Raising major issues concerning the European Convention of Human Rights' prohibition against discrimination in Article 14, the case gives the continent's highest court one last chance to make clear that racial segregation has no place in 21st century Europe.

The Grand Chamber, the supreme judicial body of Europe, will rule on a case launched eight years ago by 18 Roma children forced to attend racially segregated schools in the Czech Republic. Its ruling is particularly significant now, as Europe grapples with the implications of its rapidly growing ethnic, racial and religious diversity.

The case, D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, is the first challenge at the European level to the practice of educational discrimination-widespread throughout Central and South East Europe-in which Roma children are routinely placed in schools for the mentally disabled regardless of their actual intellectual abilities. The case commenced in the Czech court system in 1999, and was first brought before the Strasbourg Court in 2000. In February 2006, the Court's Second Section ruled that although the Roma children suffered from a pattern of adverse treatment, the applicants had not proved the Czech government's intent to discriminate.

In their arguments before the Court, the applicants contended that the Second Section's restrictive reading of the concept of discrimination is inconsistent with the European Court's previous jurisprudence and the dominant trends in other leading courts in Europe and beyond. If allowed to stand, it would render the protection given by Article 14 theoretical and illusory. The case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic presents a particularly compelling illustration of this crabbed interpretation of the non-discrimination guarantee, because it involves overwhelming evidence that Roma have been treated less favourably than similarly situated non-Roma for no objective and justifiable reason. The evidence includes: (i) actual admissions by the Czech government that disproportionate numbers of Roma were sent to special schools-on the basis of tests conceived for non-Roma-even though they were average or above average in development; (ii) corroborating detailed and comprehensive statistical evidence that Roma in the city of Ostrava are routinely subjected to educational segregation and discrimination; and (iii) consistent findings by numerous inter-governmental bodies concerning discriminatory patterns in schools throughout the Czech Republic as a whole.

The Grand Chamber is expected to render its judgment later this year.

Documents related to the case, including the applicants' written submission to the Grand Chamber, the applicants' request for Grand Chamber referral, the Czech government's written observations before the Grand Chamber, and the submissions of third party amici curae before the Grand Chamber are available HERE.


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