Today is International Women’s Day, a day when the world celebrates women, when in fact most women have not much to celebrate.
Working as lawyer for the ERRC, an organization that fights discrimination against Roma, I encounter stories of discrimination every day. Discrimination that manifests itself in all spheres of society, from housing to health and education, just to name a few.
The ERRC congratulates Irish Traveller organisations and activists for their success after decades of campaigning in making ethnic recognition a reality. Change has been a long time coming. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny got a very rare standing ovation in the Dáil last Wednesday evening, for his announcement of formal recognition for Travellers as a distinct ethnic group within the State, in what he called “a historic day for our Travellers and a proud day for Ireland.”
Recognition of Traveller ethnicity is long overdue and must be followed by robust action to combat all forms of direct and indirect anti-Traveller racism. Action is needed to solve the acute accommodation crisis facing many Travellers. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights calls for enforcement mechanisms to hold local authorities to account, better targeted policies, and enhanced Traveller consultation and participation to ensure the “basic human rights and the dignity of members of the Traveller community.”
While the attention of the world media remains focused on the absurd and oppressive “Burkini ban” in France, a recent spike in hate crimes against Roma has gone virtually unnoticed. In three attacks within the last few weeks Roma have been firebombed, threatened and beaten at knifepoint in a toxic political climate where racism and xenophobia have become more pronounced. The response of law enforcement has been at best lax. The European Roma Rights Centre has been monitoring the situation of Roma in France for some years, and 2016 is looking decidedly grim.
In April this year, a 17-year old Romani child named Mitko became a symbol of the fight for Roma equality after an incident where he was kicked and beaten because he declared himself equal to a non-Roma thug. Three days ago Mitko received bitter-sweet justice as the courts found his attacker Angel Kaleev guilty of an ethnically motivated hate crime, but only issued a cursory sentence, which was then deferred to a probation with community service. Mitko, through the #RomaAreEqual campaign has become one of those powerful, almost mythical, human rights icons that people celebrate without knowing about their personal story and struggle.
This is his story.