UN Committee rebukes Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy and Portugal for treatment of Roma
03 April 1999
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has recently issued comments critical of Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy and Portugal. CERD reviewed the Czech Republic under its extraordinary early warning measures and urgent action procedures, prompted by what the Committee termed "disturbing reports that in certain municipalities measures are contemplated for the physical segregation of some residential units housing Roma families". The CERD was reacting to a report presented to the Committee by the Czech government in January 1999. In the report, referring to events in the northern Czech city of Ústí nad Labem (see "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, Summer 1998), the Czech government confirms that one municipality is considering plans to erect a fence to separate from the street two residential blocks with 150 tenants, 90% of whom are Roma. However, the government states that "the situation [...] does not suggest physical isolation (much less segregation) of the tenants in the two residential blocks that are to be separated from the street by a fence 1.8 metres high, without gates". Rather than ordering local authorities to cancel the decision, the government had apparently placed hopes in "recent statements of certain members of the local authority", which, in the government's view, "suggest that the decision to erect the fence might be revoked". The government also asserted in the report to the CERD that "[a]side from the situation in [...]Ústí nad Labem [...], the Government is not aware of any other efforts in the Czech Republic to subject Roma to certain forms of isolation". The ERRC is aware of efforts at segregating Roma in several other Czech municipalities, including Ostrava, Plzeň and Rokycany.
The CERD considered the Czech government response and the measures it reported unsatisfactory. In particular, members of the CERD criticised the failure of government authorities to cancel the municipal decision in Ústí nad Labem. According to Mr Ion Diaconu, CERD's Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, "if the government authorities viewed the situation as grave and alarming [as it claimed in its January 1999 report to the CERD], they would have nullified the decision of the local authorities". Another Committee member reportedly stated that he "did not accept the explanation given by the delegation", and "called upon the Government to cancel the decision and report to the Committee in its forthcoming periodic report".
In UN press releases issued March 16 and 17, CERD additionally found unsatis-factory the situation of Roma in Austria, Finland, Italy and Portugal. In its review of Austria, the CERD welcomed measures taken for the Croatian, Hungarian and Slovene minorities, but expressed concern "at the lack of corresponding measures for other 'national ethnic minorities', in particular for Czechs, Slovaks and Roma, as well as for those who were sometimes referred to as 'new minorities'. Further, the Com-mittee expressed concern about reports of serious cases of police brutality in dealing with persons of foreign origin and ethnic minorities, including the Roma". In its Concluding Observations on Austria, issued on March 16, CERD expressed concern about "the number of reported incidents of xenophobia and racial discrimination, including acts of anti-Semitism and hostility against certain ethnic groups" and recommended "that the State party introduce comprehensive legislation to prohibit racial discrimi-nation in all its forms, covering both citizens and foreigners".
In its written comments on Portugal, the CERD was similarly worried about violence: "It [...] recommended that the State party continue and intensify its measures aimed at preventing and prosecuting any act and manifestation of racial discrimination and xenophobia, including acts of violence against certain groups, particularly Blacks, Roma (Gypsies), immigrants and foreigners". Commenting on Finland, the Committee "expressed concern over the situation of immigrants and the Roma minority, particularly with respect to housing, high rate of unemployment and education problems" and "recommended that additional measures should be taken at state and municipal levels to alleviate the situation". The CERD additionally recom-mended that "appropriate action should be taken to ensure that access to places or services intended for use by the general public was not denied on ground of national or ethnic origin". (For CERD on Italy and ERRC contribution, see "Advocacy", p.55 in this issue)