Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights of Roma in Europe

29 October 2003

Tatjana Perić1

Introduction: Statelessness in International Human Rights Law

Numerous international legal standards emphasise the importance of having access to the citizenship of a country, frequently referred to as a "nationality" in international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stipulates in its Article 24 that "[e]very child has the right to acquire a nationality." Furthermore, Article 7 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) requires that children "shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents [...]".

Several international legal instruments exclusively address the issue of statelessness - referring to persons without a "nationality". Article 32 of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons provides, inter alia, "The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the [...] naturalization of stateless persons. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings." Furthermore, a number of provisions of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which entered into force in 1975, relate to the prevention of statelessness as a result of loss of nationality due to changes in the personal status of an individual. Article 8 of the Convention states that "[a] Contracting State shall not deprive a person of his nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless," and Article 9 stipulates that a State may not deprive any person or group of persons of their right to nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.

The Council of Europe's European Convention on Nationality, which entered into force in the year 2000, elaborates the right to nationality. Article 3 acknowledges that each State has the right to determine its criteria for nationality under its own laws. However, the Convention stipulates that the domestic laws of States Parties must conform with the principles enumerated in the Convention. These principles are:

  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality;
  2. Statelessness shall be avoided;
  3. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality;
  4. Neither marriage nor the dissolution of a marriage between a national of a State Party and an alien, nor the change of nationality by one of the spouses during marriage, shall automatically affect the nationality of the other spouse.2

The Convention forbids discrimination in matters of nationality. According to Article 5:

  1. The rules of a State Party on nationality shall not contain distinctions or include any practice which amount to discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
  2. Each State Party shall be guided by the principle of non-discrimination between its nationals, whether they are nationals by birth or have acquired its nationality subsequently.

Additionally, the European Convention on Nationality expressly requires State Parties to take measures to prevent statelessness in the special circumstance of state succession. An entire chapter of the Convention, Chapter VI, is dedicated to state succession. Article 18 states that:

  1. In matters of nationality in cases of State succession, each State Party concerned shall respect the principles of the rule of law, the rules concerning human rights [...] in particular in order to avoid statelessness.
  2. In deciding on the granting or the retention of nationality in cases of State succession, each State Party concerned shall take account in particular of:

    a. the genuine and effective link of the person concerned with the State;
    b. the habitual residence of the person concerned at the time of State succession;
    c. the will of the person concerned;
    d. the territorial origin of the person concerned. [...]"

Research shows that numerous Roma around Europe - and particularly in countries arising out of the dissolution of federations, such as the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia - are disproportionately impacted by the lack of personal documents. The documents in question include birth certificates, identity documents, residence permits, documents required for eligibility for state-provided social welfare and health insurance, passports and others. Once a person lacks one basic document, such as a birth certificate, she may find herself in a position where it is impossible to procure any other personal documents or to realise even basic rights . In some cases, the lack of personal documents can lead to the extreme situation of statelessness. Roma living in regions affected by state succession and massive forced migrations, such as the war-torn former Yugoslav countries, are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. To date, the problem of Romani statelessness and the lack of personal documents has not been addressed by any coordinated governmental initiative. In light of these circumstances, the ERRC convened an international workshop focusing on the former Yugoslav countries with the following goals:

  • To invigorate and inform debate in the countries of former Yugoslavia, with the aim of bringing an end to Romani statelessness where it exists;
  • To ensure that just compensation be provided to Roma made stateless as a result of citizenship laws and practices adopted by successor states to the former Yugoslavia; and
  • To raise awareness of, improve documentation about, and discuss action in relation to the problems of Roma in securing important documents such as birth certificates, identity cards, etc.

At the Workshop: Experiences from Former Yugoslav Countries

The ERRC workshop on "Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia" was held in Igalo, on the Montenegrin coast, from September 6-8, 2002. The workshop was attended by over 60 participants from all of the regions of the former Yugoslavia - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and Slovenia - including representatives of governments, regional intergovernmental organisations and over forty activists from non-governmental organisations. Activists from the Czech Republic who had been involved in the struggle to amend the 1992 Czech Act on Citizenship,3 as well as members of civil society from the Baltics, where Roma and others face similar issues, also took part in the workshop.

Prior to the Igalo workshop, during the summer of 2002, the ERRC conducted field research in some states of the former Yugoslavia with the aim of producing accurate documentation on the dimensions of the problem. This part of the project was implemented by the ERRC's local monitors (non-governmental organisations monitoring the rights of Roma in their respective countries): the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska (HCHRRS) in Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Association for Roma Rights Protection (ARRP) in Štip, Macedonia, and the Minority Rights Center (MRC) in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro. According to the HCHRRS, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is more complicated than in other regions, due to the dire consequences of the Bosnian war, including forced displacement. Mr Sadik Pazarac, the ERRC local monitor based at the HCHRRS, blamed local authorities for the persistence of the problem of lack of personal documents among Roma and criticised them for failing to respect their obligations under international law. He alleged that in many areas, local authorities are corrupt and are reluctant to allow minority returns to their area. According to ERRC/HCHRRS research, for example, Roma from the town of Banja Luka were forced to de-register their residence before fleeing during the war. Now that some want to return to their pre-war residences, the authorities request them to register again, a procedure that requires inter alia proof of property ownership. However, many Roma are unable to meet this requirement, since the homes of many displaced Roma were destroyed in the war, while other Roma had lived previously in public housing or informal settlements. In other cases documented by ERRC/HCHRRS, Bosnian Roma wanted to change their names, but officials refused their requests on "formal grounds" that appeared highly arbitrary to observers. Additionally, this lack of personal documents causes immense problems for Romani returnees to Bosnia trying to repossess their property since they lack evidence of not just their own formal existence, but also of legal ownership of their own homes.4

According to the Macedonian citizenship law, passed in 1992, those who were documented as Macedonian citizens prior to Macedonia's independence automatically received Macedonian citizenship, but citizens of the former Yugoslav federation residing in Macedonia had a one-year time limit to apply for citizenship. After one year, the common regulation for naturalisation of aliens was applied. The law imposes overly strict criteria for citizens of the former Yugoslav Federation who were factually resident in Macedonia when it became independent. For example, the law requires fifteen years of permanent residence in Macedonia as a condition for naturalisation. Furthermore, some of the law's requirements are patently discriminatory, such as the requirement of proof of mental and physical health and the requirement of a permanent source of income. These provisions, in force as of July 2003, contravene recent developments in international law on nationality and statelessness.5 The amendments to the citizenship law proposed in late 2002 would reduce the period of required permanent residence to 10 years and eliminate very problematic provisions such as the requirement of evidence of mental and physical health. Other problematic provisions, such as the requirement of a permanent source of income, however, would not be revoked under the proposed amendments.

The Macedonian citizenship law had a disparate impact on Romani citizens of the former Yugoslav Federation who have legitimate ties with Macedonia, precluding many of them from obtaining Macedonian citizenship.6 Many Roma were not able to submit administrative evidence of 15 years of permanent legal residence in Macedonia. Furthermore, stateless Roma who live in traditional marriages with Macedonian citizens cannot fulfil conditions that allow citizenship through marriage. Most Romani applicants have difficulties fulfilling the requirement of a "permanent source of income" due to widespread unemployment in the Romani community. Additionally, the cost of the application for citizenship which began at 500 USD and eventually settled at 100 USD in 2002 is unaffordable for many impoverished Macedonian Roma. While conducting research throughout Macedonia on the issue of personal documents and statelessness, ERRC/ARRP documented 18 stateless Romani persons in the town of Kavadarci and 32 in Štip. Nineteen Romani families from Delčevo asked ERRC/ARRP for legal assistance in applying for citizenship. Romani organisations active in the Šuto Orizari municipality of Skopje have recently documented the existence of 280 stateless Roma there.7

Roma forcibly displaced from Kosovo in 1999 are especially affected by their lack of personal documents, according to research conducted by ERRC partner the MRC in Serbia. Numerous Roma do not have any personal documents at all, or have documents that have expired. Poverty was listed as among the main reasons why even eligible Roma did not apply for identity documents, because of unaffordable fees that accompany any administrative procedure.8 Other conference participants raised the issue that a number of Serbian Roma living abroad left their country with travel documents of the former Yugoslav state; since these documents have expired, the Roma in question possess neither the citizenship of Serbia nor of their host country. Reportedly, there are also high numbers of Roma within Serbia who live in illegal settlements, so they are not registered citizens and cannot exercise basic rights. Some Serbian activists also mentioned the problems of a lack of initiative among Roma in obtaining documents and a lack of knowledge of administrative procedures.

In Croatia, the 1991 Law on Citizenship has had a disparate impact on the Romani minority, according to the presentation at the Igalo workshop by Mr Alija Mešić of the Association of Roma in Zagreb and Zagreb County. Following the adoption of the law, the residents of Croatia who were administratively registered as citizens of the former Socialist Republic of Croatia became citizens of the new state as well. However, many Roma factually residing in Croatia, in some cases for decades, never registered with the local authorities, since republican citizenship did not bear much administrative importance in the former Yugoslav Federation. As a result of the 1991 law, such persons were deprived of Croatian citizenship and were consequently treated as foreigners. The Croatian Citizenship Law does offer a limited opportunity for citizenship to those who were not officially residing in Croatia at the time it became independent, but here the law openly discriminates between ethnic Croats and others.9 For this reason, many Romani persons from Croatia have been forced to apply for Croatian citizenship through the strict naturalisation procedure, as if they were complete foreigners to the country.

Article 8 of the Croatian Citizenship Law, which lists conditions for naturalisation, is considered to be the article that chiefly allows for arbitrary and discriminatory treatment of Roma by officials in practice.10 This article requires applicants to submit proof of at least five years of registered residence in Croatia. Since many Roma left Croatia during the armed conflicts and returned only recently, they cannot satisfy this requirement. Additionally, many Roma who have always lived in Croatia have extreme difficulty proving legal residence, where most of their settlements are informal. Article 8 of the Law on Citizenship also requires applicants to prove knowledge of the Croatian language and Latin script. The language tests are taken in police stations and there is no way for Roma to receive any advance information on the type of knowledge needed. Furthermore, widespread illiteracy among Croatian Roma prevents many from being able to meet the language requirements. Article 8 also requires the applicants to have respect for the Croatian legal order, customs and Croatian culture, so those persons who have been convicted of crimes (even if they have served their sentences) are not eligible for citizenship. In essence, they are punished twice for the same criminal deed. Finally, persons who fulfil all the listed requirements also need to pay fees of 200 Euro or more in order to apply. For many Croatian Roma who live below the poverty line, this amount is prohibitively high. Mr Mešić also mentioned the problems of Romani children who were born out of hospitals and who largely lack any documents proving their existence. The problems related to the lack of citizenship lead to violations of many other rights of Roma in Croatia, such as property rights, the right to education, state social assistance, employment, etc.

Research conducted by the Montenegrin non-governmental organisation Grupa MARGO revealed the alarming proportions of the problem of the lack of documents among Roma in Montenegro: According to this research, conducted in 2002, 43.6% of interviewees lacked at least one relevant personal document and 2.8% did not possess any documents. Additionally, 31.6% of interviewees did not have Montenegrin or any other citizenship, where among Romani women this percentage rose to 41.8%. The conference participants from Montenegro highlighted the problems within the Romani community: The lack of information and self-initiative among Montenegrin Roma, who were often not aware of legal procedures and requirements for documentation, resulting for instance in low rates of registered Romani births. Many Roma, especially those originally from Kosovo, encountered language problems when dealing with the relevant authorities. The problem of inconsistencies between republican and federal laws in Montenegro and the federal state was also raised. Roma who do not have personal documents cannot enjoy many rights granted to other citizens. Lack of personal documents, however, does not preclude the state from drafting Romani men into the army. Romani persons born outside Montenegro to Montenegrin Romani parents met numerous obstacles when obtaining basic necessary documents.11

Mr Arsen Mitar, a Romani activist from the Ljubljana-based Refugee Association Sarajevo, spoke about the difficulties of those Romani residents in Slovenia who still lack Slovene citizenship and personal documents more than a decade after Slovenia became independent. The problems of high fees and the requirements of speaking the official language were mentioned in the case of Romani applicants for citizenship of Slovenia. Previously, ERRC field research into the rights of Roma in Slovenia estimated that as many as two-thirds of the so-called "non-autochthonous" Roma in Slovenia could be deprived of Slovene citizenship.12

Mr Osman Osmani, a Romani activist from Prizren, Kosovo, informed the conference participants about a problem with personal documents specific to his region. Soon after the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was established in 1999, it took over administrative tasks related to the issuance of personal documents, including a new type of passport for Kosovo's inhabitants informally known as the "UNMIK passport". Many Roma remaining in Kosovo are reportedly often harassed by border officials outside Kosovo. Some border guards reportedly have not recognised the UNMIK passport as a legal document, and some have required bribes from Roma to allow them to enter the country in question. According to Mr Osmani, Roma in European Union countries reported that the authorities of the host country requested that the Kosovo Roma who wanted to regulate their status have the then-Yugoslav documents, not UNMIK's. However, if a Romani person from Prizren, for example, wanted to obtain Yugoslav documents they would have to travel - several times - to the town of Kruševac in southern Serbia, 215 kilometres away, as this is where the former Serb-run registrar office for Prizren has been moved. The procedure available in Kruševac is time-consuming and also costly amounting to 200-250 Euro per person. As the majority of Prizren Roma are jobless, this amount is a serious obstacle to the acquisition of personal documents, according to Mr Osmani.

Because of the massive displacement of Roma from former Yugoslav countries, repercussions of the personal documents and statelessness problem can be seen throughout Europe. In Italy, Romani asylum seekers from the countries of former Yugoslav Federation often lack personal documents and thus live in a legal limbo of permanent uncertainty, where the Italian authorities block their integration into the host society, according to the research of Ferdinando Sigona of the Oxford Brookes University School of Planning. Many children born in Italy of former Yugoslav Romani parents had not been recorded in the registrar's offices and never received any documents. Though the Italian Law on Citizenship allows children born in Italy of foreign parents to apply for citizenship when reaching legal maturity, Romani children are practically denied this possibility because they cannot prove legal residence in the country, as they frequently live in informal Romani settlements.

Citizenship in the Czech Republic and the Baltic States

The dissolution of other communist federations after 1989 has also created statelessness among Roma. After the split in the Czechoslovak Federation on December 31, 1992, a new citizenship law entered into force at the beginning of 1993. According to the new law, a distinction was made between persons who during federation times had citizenship of the Czech Republic and those who had citizenship of Slovakia. Members of the latter group who wanted to apply for Czech citizenship were required to have a clean criminal record and to submit proof of prior legal residency in the country. Under these circumstances, many Roma could not obtain the citizenship of the new state even though they were factual residents and had numerous legitimate ties to the country. Consequently, they were immediately denied the right to social benefits, lost all voting rights and were subject to arbitrary expulsion from the Czech Republic. When numerous non-governmental organisations, including the ERRC, voiced their concerns that the application of this law was arbitrary and discriminatory, the Czech government amended it in 1996 by waiving the requirement related to clean criminal records. However, this change failed to remedy the problem of widespread statelessness among Roma in the Czech Republic and their arbitrary exclusion from Czech citizenship. Finally in 1999, after considerable lobbying by non-governmental organisations and intergovernmental bodies, the Czech government allowed the acquisition of citizenship by declaration to persons resident in Czech territory on December 31, 1992. This amendment has remedied most - though not all - of the problems with the law. The Czech government has never provided any compensation to persons rendered arbitrarily stateless by the 1992 law.

At the ERRC conference, Mr Michal Horák from the Prague-based non-governmental organisation Citizens' Solidarity and Tolerance Movement (HOST) introduced the participants to the joint efforts of Czech non-governmental organisations that brought about changes to the law. As Mr Horák recounted, Romani activists and non-governmental organisations collected information on cases, while other organisations and sometimes social workers assisted with individual cases. At the same time, various human rights groups campaigned for legislative change. A regular meeting forum was created, where all the actors took part, co-ordinated activities, made decisions together and advocated the issue before intergovernmental institutions. Ms Robyn Linde of the University of Minnesota compared Romani statelessness in the Czech Republic and Bosnia and Herzegovina and called for first steps in addressing the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as acquiring international support and gathering empirical evidence of statelessness among Roma in the country.

Similarly, citizenship problems have arisen in the Baltic countries after the break-up of the former Soviet Union, where the new states introduced citizenship legislation that appears to be discriminatory towards minorities, primarily Russians and Russian-speakers. Statelessness is reportedly very widespread. For example, some 170,000 stateless persons live currently in Estonia.13 Though no similar statistics are available for Lithuania, it is reported that Roma face considerable difficulties when regulating their legal status, according to Ms Egle Kučinskaite of the Lithuanian Roma Community Union "Roma Mission". For example, in the Kirtimai Romani settlement of the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, out of 554 Romani persons living there as of May 2002, 57 persons did not have any citizenship. Most of these Roma were born in Lithuania and were citizens of the former Lithuanian Soviet Republic, but did not manage to obtain the citizenship of the new state or any other citizenship. Primary obstacles to obtaining Lithuanian citizenship reportedly include: A largely unknown and unmet requirement to exchange passports of the former Soviet Union for the passports of the Republic of Lithuania; persons returning to Lithuania from neighbouring countries without the necessary documents; difficulty in acquiring Lithuanian citizenship for foreigners married to Lithuanian Roma; officials' refusals to issue personal documents to persons whose births were not registered and racist attitudes of public officials towards Romani applicants. It was also reported that Lithuanian officials sometimes arbitrarily interpret the relevant citizenship laws against Romani applicants. For example, Ms A.J. was born in Lithuania and emigrated to Russia after she was married. In Russia, she received Russian citizenship and the officials listed Ms A.J.'s ethnicity as "Moldavian" without consulting her. After her divorce, Ms A.J. decided to return to Lithuania with her son, where she received permanent residence. Her application for a Lithuanian passport, however, was refused, despite the fact that she had grown up in Lithuania and that both of her parents were in possession of Lithuanian passports. The new passport was issued only after Ms A.J. submitted evidence that her grandmother was born in Lithuania before 1940. Once more, the officials did not inquire about Ms A.J.'s ethnicity and unilaterally declared her a "Gypsy" in the new passport. Her 6-year-old son nevertheless remained a Russian citizen. When Ms A.J. applied for Lithuanian citizenship for her son based on her Lithuanian citizenship, the officials she contacted chose to apply another legal basis, under which the children of single mothers can only decide on their citizenship at the age of 18. Eventually, the case was resolved after Ms A.J. presented her young son's "written refusal of Russian citizenship" to the Russian Embassy.

In neighbouring Latvia, there are claims that as much as one quarter of the population are so-called "non-citizens." According to the Latvian Law "On the Status of those Former U.S.S.R. Citizens who do not have the Citizenship of Latvia or that of any Other State", non-citizens are the persons who "[have] the right to a non-citizen passport issued by the Republic of Latvia." Article 2 of the Law defines Latvian citizens as, inter alia, descendants of "Latvian citizens on 17 June 1940". The Russian minority of Latvia considers this an attempt to discriminate between Latvians and non-Latvians, who are often called "colonists", "occupants" and "unindigenous persons", according to a public statement of the Russian Society of Latvia from October 2001. The same source claimed that, at that time, almost 25% of the Latvian population was stateless and thus deprived of political, social, economic and other rights.14 The Romani population of Latvia is also affected by the statelessness problem. According to the official 1999 census, there were 7,350 Romani citizens and 685 Romani non-citizens in Latvia. At the Igalo conference, Mr Anatolijs Berezovskis of the GLOSS - Latvian Roma Society presented a number of cases of Roma without personal documents, which in many aspects resembled cases documented in the countries of the former Yugoslav Federation. For example, Mr Egons Paladžs from Tukums, Latvia, married and lived with his family in what was then Leningrad and is today St. Petersburg. When Latvia gained independence in 1991, Mr Paladžs travelled to Latvia and obtained a stamp in his USSR passport stating that he is a citizen of Latvia, then returned to St. Petersburg. Following his divorce in 2000, he returned to Latvia but was told by officials that he could not register his residence there until he de-registered in St. Petersburg. The de-registration procedure requires him to be personally present in St. Petersburg but he cannot cross the border as his passport is no longer valid. Mr Paladžs paid numerous visits to the Latvian Department of Citizenship and Immigration, discussed his situation with local officials and sought assistance from non-governmental organisations, to no avail. As of September 2002, Mr Paladžs still lived in Latvia without Latvian citizenship.

Joint Conclusions of the Conference

Towards the end of the workshop, the participants worked in small groups according to country, in which they formulated conclusions and possible suggestions for the solution of the personal documents/statelessness problems in their respective countries and the former Yugoslav region as a whole. Some of the general recommendations from the conference include:

  • Successor states of the former Yugoslavia that have not yet done so should, without delay, sign and ratify the European Convention on Nationality;
  • Persons who had real and effective ties with a successor state of the former Yugoslavia as of the date of its independence or succession should be provided access to the citizenship of that state by declaration, in accordance with Article 18 of the European Convention on Nationality, which addresses nationality in the context of state succession;
  • All former Yugoslav countries should, without delay, sign and ratify the International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (no successor state to the former Yugoslavia has as yet done so);
  • Successor states of the former Yugoslavia which have not yet done so should, without delay, sign and ratify the International Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons;
  • Successor states of the former Yugoslavia which have not yet done so should, without delay, sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families;
  • All states of the former Yugoslavia should work proactively to design and implement strategies to end statelessness among Roma on their territories, as well as to alleviate the crisis of rights deprivation generated by a widespread lack of basic documents among Roma.

Good Practices: The Project Follow-up

From its outset, the ERRC project envisaged direct action to be a component of the overall effort to reduce statelessness and the lack of personal documents among Roma. As such, three months after the end of the workshop, in December 2002, the ERRC announced an invitation for proposals from organisations interested in implementing short-term, low-cost projects to improve access to citizenship and/or personal documents for Roma in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In January 2003, the ERRC approved grants to three non-governmental organisations, two of which participated in the Igalo workshop:

  • Humanitarac of Nikšić, Montenegro: A three-month project, where (1) a group of 25 Roma, originally from Kosovo and now living in Nikšić, would obtain personal documents with assistance from NGO experts, and (2) the documents/citizenship situation of three Romani settlements in Nikšić would be researched in detail. The process would be presented to the media in order to raise awareness, to assist other Roma with similar problems and to put pressure on the government to simplify documentation procedures. Research results are presented in this issue of Roma Rights.
  • Peace Institute of Ljubljana, Slovenia: A six-month project, including (1) data collection, detailed documentation of cases of Roma without documents/citizenship and measures to inform Roma on documentation procedures, (2) an information campaign, including the production of a leaflet aimed at Roma, working with Romani associations to expand communication capabilities, creating a link on their website to relevant information for awareness-raising purposes and organising a workshop for journalists and Romani activists on this issue, (3) lobbying policy makers in several urban centres where stateless Roma are concentrated. All activities will be implemented with the inclusion of Romani organisations, for the purpose of the empowerment of the community. The article "The Erasure: Administrative Ethnic Cleansing in Slovenia" by Jasmina Dedić, included in this issue of Roma Rights, is one outcome of this project.
  • Roma Community Centre Drom of Kumanovo, Macedonia: A two-month project, with a mobile team that would conduct research on documents and other related issues (e.g., housing conditions, education, social welfare) in Kumanovo Romani settlements, analyse the data collected and inform the Macedonian media of the results. Drom also planned to engage other Romani organisations to do the same. Information on the problem would also be sent to the Macedonian government, accompanied by lobbying efforts for solving the documents/statelessness problem. The data collected by Drom is included in this issue of Roma Rights.

The ERRC project has undoubtedly sparked debate on the problem of personal documents among Roma in former Yugoslavia. It has encouraged other non-governmental organisations to tackle the issue, as is obvious from the example of the organisations who are implementing projects locally with the funding from the Direct Action Fund. Furthermore, the ERRC's local monitors - partner organisations monitoring the rights of Roma - in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro have all continued researching and documenting the problem of personal documents among Roma in their countries, making it a part of their regular research activities. The project, particularly the workshop, has raised awareness of the personal documents problem among the relevant governmental institutions in the region. For example, the Ministry of Interior of Slovenia, whose representative was present at the Igalo workshop, proposed amendments to the Slovenian Law on Citizenship, which were subsequently adopted by the Slovenian parliament in late November 2002. Prior to the passing of the amendments, the Ministry informed the ERRC about the new developments and the ERRC provided detailed comments on draft amendments in the run-up to the change in the law. The ERRC has also offered recommendations to the Government of Serbia and Montenegro with respect to threats to the exercise of fundamental rights caused by a lack of personal documents/statelessness among Roma in the country, as part of the memorandum "The Protection of Roma Rights in Serbia and Montenegro" prepared by the ERRC in association with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Field Operation in Serbia and Montenegro (UN OHCHR), and published in April 2003. The ERRC will continue, in the coming period, to advocate for the elimination of the lack of personal documents and statelessness through its advocacy on the national and international level.


  1. Tatjana Perić is a consultant to the ERRC and co-ordinator of the ERRC's project on "Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia." This project was supported by the Human Rights Project Fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, and by Freedom House.
  2. See European Convention on Nationality, Article 4.
  3. On the impact of the Czech Citizenship law on Roma, see Struharova, Beata. "Disparate Impact: Removing Roma from the Czech Republic". In Roma Rights 1/1999, pp. 47-51. See also ERRC submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at:
  4. For more information on the situation related to the lack of personal documents among Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina, see articles "Exercise of Fundamental Rights by the Roma of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Access to Personal Documents and the Right to Housing" by Paul Prettitore and "A Case Study: Stra?evac, Modri?a Municipality, Bosnia and Herzegovina" in this issue of Roma Rights.
  5. Pursuant to Article 6(3) of the European Convention on Nationality, in force since 2000, laws regulating the naturalisation procedure "shall not provide for a period of residence exceeding ten years before the lodging of the application." See also Article 18(2) of the Convention. Macedonia ratified the European Convention on Nationality on March 6, 2003.
  6. For more information on the difficulties faced by Macedonian Roma with regards to obtaining citizenship, see the "Roma Made Stateless by the Act on Citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia" section in the ERRC country report on Macedonia. A Pleasant Fiction: The Human Rights Situation of Roma in Macedonia. Available at:
  7. For the results of an access to personal documents survey conducted among one Romani community in Macedonia, see the Narrative project report by the Romani organisation Roma Community Center DROM. "A Profile of One Community: A Personal Document Survey Among the Romani Population of Kumanovo, Macedonia", in this issue of Roma Rights.
  8. For more information on the lack of personal documents among displaced Kosovo Roma in Serbia, please see article "The Right to an Identity" by Lindsey Cameron and "A Case Study: The Lack of Personal Documents among Displaced Kosovo Roma in Serbia" in this issue of Roma Rights.
  9. Article 16 of the 1991 Croatian Citizenship Law states, "Members of the Croatian people who are not resident in the Republic of Croatia can obtain Croatian citizenship if they fulfil the conditions stated in Article 8 (1)(4) and 8(1)(5) of this law, and submit a written statement that they consider themselves citizens of Croatia." Unofficial translation by the author. The mentioned conditions from Article 8 relate to knowledge of Croatian language and script, respect of Croatian law and order, and "acceptance of Croatian culture".
  10. For a more detailed discussion of the Croatian Citizenship Law, see Danova, Savelina and Rumyan Russinov. "Field Report: The ERRC in Croatia". In Roma Rights, Summer 1998. Available at: Since 1991, there have been no amendments to the Law relevant to the situation of Croatian Roma as presented in this article.
  11. For the results of another personal documents survey conducted among a Romani community in Montenegro, see the Narrative project report of the Nikšić-based non-governmental organisation Humanitarac. "A Step in the Right Direction: Accessing Personal Documents in Montenegro". In this issue of Roma Rights.
  12. For more information, see Dedić, Jasminka. The Erasure: Administrative Ethnic Cleansing in Slovenia in this issue of Roma Rights. See also Perić, Tatjana. Insufficient: Governmental Programmes for Roma in Roma Rights Nos. 2 and 3, 2001.  See also Local authorities obstruct Roma in obtaining documents in Slovenia, in Roma Rights No. 1, 2001.
  13. According to Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty of May 19, 2003, as quoted at:
  14. Individuals who are categorised as non-citizens are deprived of a number of civil and political, social and economic rights. For example, non-citizens are not entitled to take positions of senior public officials, civil servants, judges, prosecutors, police officers, etc. They have no right to establish political parties and participate in local elections. Non-citizens cannot study in certain higher education institutions in Latvia. Years of employment outside Latvia are not included into the non-citizens' employment record when calculating pension rates. Finally, while a citizen can be deprived of citizenship by court only, a non-citizen can be deprived of his status administratively by decision of the administrative authorities. For a detailed analysis of the rights of non-citizens as compared to the rights of the Latvian citizens, see Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H). Differences between Rights of Latvian Citizens and Non-Citizens – Latvian Residents. July 2003. Document on file with the ERRC.


Challenge discrimination, promote equality


Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal


The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Find out how you can join or support our activities