German government urged to act on Sinti and Roma womens' rights

21 January 2004

Budapest and New York, 21 January 2004. The first ever report specifically analysing the situation of Sinti and Roma women in Germany has found that women of this minority group face intersectional discrimination, cumulating the effects of both gender and ethnic or racial discrimination. Sinti and Roma women in Germany are clearly disadvantaged in a number of key areas, such as education, employment, healthcare and participation in public and political life, and have not enjoyed the progress that other German women have achieved in recent years. Foreign Romani women are particularly disadvantaged. These are the main conclusions of a "shadow" report jointly submitted to the UN gender anti-discrimination body CEDAW by the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP). The report, considered today in the framework of a regular review of Germany's record in the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, calls on the German Government to stop ignoring these major problems, to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and to fulfil its long overdue obligations under European and international law.

Despite the existence of a range of measures addressing gender discrimination, the existing legislative and policy framework is clearly insufficient to protect against multiple discrimination. It is also of serious concern that despite the expiry of 2003 deadlines for doing so, Germany has yet to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as required by binding European Union equal treatment directives. Germany has also yet to ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights. ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova noted, on the occasion of the CEDAW review, that "Without these basic legal protections, Sinti and Roma women in Germany are dangerously exposed to arbitrary treatment. Germany needs to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination law in line with international standards without further delay."

The ERRC and EUMAP draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that many Sinti and Roma women and girls in Germany are de facto excluded from a range of protections guaranteed by the Convention, notably in the areas of education, employment, health and participation in public life. Lack of adequate access to education for Sinti and Roma girls and women is a key factor which significantly affects their employment opportunities and ability to enjoy a range of public services. Despite the absence of any official data, there are troubling reports of high rates of school drop-out, already at the primary school level, and significant over-representation of Sinti and Roma girls at "special schools". Local models of good practice in education tend to be under-funded and have not been widely implemented.

As primary care providers for their families, Sinti and Roma women in Germany suffer disproportionately from the effects of the often precarious living conditions faced by this minority group, which may also impact negatively on their health. Perceived discriminatory attitudes of some medical personnel appear also to discourage their access to preventive healthcare.

Sinti and Roma women also report instances of discriminatory treatment by public authorities and the police. One recent example of particular concern highlighted in this submission is the reported degrading treatment of foreign Romani girls aged under 14 years old at the hands of some Cologne police personnel. Documented police practices of undressing and photographing such under-age girls warrant immediate investigation by the authorities. The Cologne-based NGO Rom e.V. has expressed concern at the "shameless methods of investigation" used by the Cologne police.

The shadow report also notes the dramatic contrast between the high level of activities undertaken by Sinti and Roma women in civil society, on the one hand, and their near total absence from public office or administration on the other. The ERRC and EUMAP call on the Committee to urge German authorities to implement programmes to remedy low levels of Roma representation in public administration and in particular the low levels of representation by Sinti and Roma women.

On the occasion of the CEDAW review, ERRC Board Member and Romani activist Nicoleta Bitu said, "Germany has not kept pace with very significant developments in the field of Romani women's rights. Now is the time to implement policies remedying the very worrying issues Romani women and girls face in Germany."

For further information contact Miriam Anati, EUMAP, at (+36) 30 2748533 or Claude Cahn, ERRC, at (+36) 20 98 36 445.

Note to editors:

Today, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews Germany's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This regular review takes place at least every 4 years. The eight countries being reviewed this session are Belarus, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Germany, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Nigeria.

The joint ERRC - EUMAP shadow report is a first attempt to analyse the situation of Sinti and Roma women in Germany and follows on the 2002 EUMAP minority protection monitoring report on the situation of Sinti and Roma in Germany. The full text of the shadow report, including detailed recommendations, is available on: http://www.eumap.org and Advocacy Submissions.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation based in Budapest, Hungary, which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. The ERRC has monitored the human rights situation of Roma in Germany since first opening offices in 1996, and has been involved in litigation in a number of cases involving Roma rights in Germany. Further information on the European Roma Rights Center is available on the web at http://www.errc.org.

The EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP), formerly the EU Accession Monitoring Program, monitors human rights and rule of law issues in Europe. A program of the Open Society Institute (OSI) in Budapest, EUMAP has published a series of reports on Minority Protection and other topics, all of which may be accessed at http://www.eumap.org.

Sinti and Roma in Germany: "Roma" is the preferred term for communities traditionally referred to as "Gypsies" in Europe. However, in Germany a number of groups, particularly those with longer histories on the territory of present-day Germany or in areas of pre-World War II Europe where the German language was spoken extensively, have emphasised that they comprise a separate group - Sinti. This "shadow" report respects this usage and therefore uses the term "Sinti and Roma" throughout the report. There are no reliable figures regarding the total size of the Sinti and Roma population in Germany and estimates vary widely, from the Government estimate of up to 70,000 to up to 200,000 as indicated by some Sinti and Roma leaders. Current estimates indicate that during the 1990s, up to 100,000 of the Roma in Germany were not German citizens, although the actual number of Roma in Germany who are foreigners is currently declining rapidly, due to ongoing forced expulsions being carried out by German authorities.

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