Lithuanian Authorities Forcibly Evict Five Romani Families in Winter
11 March 2005
On December 3, 2004, Ms Egle Kucinskaitė, an activist working on Romani issues in Lithuania, informed the ERRC that on December 2 and 3, Vilnius municipal authorities and approximately thirty police entered the Kirtimai Romani neighbourbood and destroyed six unregistered homes. Vilnius officials reportedly portrayed the forced evictions and destruction of homes as measures to combat the selling of narcotics in the media. One Romani woman, Ms N.S., and her two young sons were reportedly inside their home when the demolition began; Mr Saulius Berzinis, a documentary film maker who was present at the time of the eviction, informed the ERRC that one of the boys required medical treatment for shock. About fifteen residents, including infants and elderly persons, were living in tents in the settlement or with family members as no alternative accommodation was provided. Mr Berzinis and Ms Kucinskaitė also informed the ERRC that two women who resisted the destruction of homes, Ms M.C. and Ms Z.B., were placed under arrest. The demolitions were reportedly only halted when Ombudsperson Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office pointed out that, according to a directive issued by the Lithuanian Environmental Ministry, no illegal homes may be destroyed without a court order, which municipal authorities had not procured. The ERRC was been informed that the Vilnius Mayor’s Office intends to obtain permission to destroy further homes.
Ms Kucinskaitė also reported that Vilnius municipal authorities organised a meeting on December 11 at which no residents of the Kirtimai Romani neighbourhood were present. An agreement was reportedly reached whereby residents would be given the opportunity to apply for social housing but that this would take a long time because a large number of people already await such housing, therefore providing no immediate assistance to the affected families. Mayor Arturas Zuokas also reportedly refused to deny in Lithuanian media that he would engage in further forced evictions if residents were not willing to move of their own accord.
On December 15, 2004, the ERRC sent a letter to Mayor Zuokas, copies of which were also sent to Ombudsperson Šalaševičiūtė, the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Department of Ethnic Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, expressing concern at the destruction of private property by municipal authorities and the forced eviction and subsequent homelessness of the Romani individuals concerned. The ERRC urged Mayor Zuokas to ensure the provision of adequate alternative accommodation for the Roma concerned and the provision of adequate compensation for the private property destroyed and requested that municipal authorities refrain for any further forced evictions in the absence of adequate alternative solutions in line with the international standards to which Lithuania is committed. On January 5, 2005, the Vilnius City District Prosecutor’s Office sent a letter to the ERRC, stating that it had decided not to open a pre-trial investigation in the case. As this issue of Roma Rights went to press, the ERRC was considering further measures in connection with the case. (ERRC)