ERRC Statement at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe Hearing on
24 October 1997
The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of abuse.
Discrimination in the spheres of housing, labour and education is among the most significant factors shaping the lives of Roma in the Czech Republic.
Against a background of arguments that Roma do not properly look after their places of accomodation, local authorities repeatedly fail to meet their commitment to house them. Roma report that the attitudes of local authorities frequently change when they discover that applicants are Roma. The phenomenon of sinking on the waiting list for housing has also been documented. In at least one instance, authorities unwilling to allocate financing to rehouse Roma dispensed with their obligations by stigmatising the families concerned as "problematic".
Unemployment in the Czech Republic continues to stand at less than 5%. However, the level of unemployment in the Roma community is estimated at around 70%, with rates of up to 90% in some regions. Although part of the explanation for this catastrophe is structural changes in the Czech economy following the end of communism, discrimination plays a major role in the exclusion of Roma from the work force. Roma, non-governmental organisations and officials at local labour offices report widespread refusal by employers to hire Roma, as well as the failure of authorities properly to sanction discriminatory hiring practices. In the rare cases in which fines are imposed on employers who discriminate on racial grounds, these fines are often too low to act as either punishment or deterrent. A recent report by the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance has noted that Czech administrative law provisions governing discrimination in employment and housing are presently inadequate.
Observers of the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic agree that the key to the issues delineated above is the problem of discriminatory practices in the educational system, and especially the existence of de facto segregation in the form of heavy over-representation of Roma in so-called "special schools". These are schools for the mentally disabled. Special schools are, according to the 1996 Law on the Structure of Basic Schools, Secondary Schools and Technical Schools, designated for pupils "who have deficiencies such that they cannot be successfully educated in basic schools." There is not, in Czech law, any provision for special schools to exist in response to cultural exclusion.
At present it is estimated that between 50% and 80% of Romani children pass through the educational system in special schools. This is more than ten times the frequency of special school attendance within the community as a whole. More than 50% of Romani children are therefore defined as intellectually deficient. There can be only two explanations for this and since it is clearly untrue that Roma are intellectually more deficient than the majority population, we must conclude that the Czech schools system is failing, in some systematic and race-determined way, to realise the intellectual potential of Roma. Pupils who complete eight classes of primary education in a school for the mentally disabled have greatly restricted choices of secondary education and none at all of tertiary. They become an underqualified and, in a situation of employment pressure, unemployable underclass.
The Hearing on "Provisions for Roma in Municipalities: Housing/Sites, Health, Social Affairs" does not explicitly address the issue of discrimination in the educational system. Funding for education comes, however, partially from municipal budgets and therefore belongs on the agenda here.
The European Roma Rights Center urges the Council of Europe to:
- Make the struggle against discrimination the point of departure for discussions of the so-called "Roma problematic" in municipalities and
- Focus energy and resources on the problem of discrimination and de facto segregation in the Czech education system.