European Parliamentary Assembly lambasts racist policing of Roma

07 December 2023

By Bernard Rorke

Institutional racism against Roma and Travellers goes way beyond isolated cases of police brutality, according to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which deplored the fact that “violent raids and attacks against Roma villages and settlements as well as ethnic profiling, harassment, marginalisation and provocation, are part of daily life for many Roma and Travellers.”

In a motion passed unanimously by the PACE Standing Committee, the parliamentarians stressed the systemic nature of this discrimination, which includes “inhuman and degrading treatment, torture, excessive use of force, and violence resulting in some cases in the victim’s death” and stated that “antigypsyism and anti-nomadism are evident in the way in which Roma and Travellers are policed and in the culture of impunity that still too often prevails for such practices.”

“A terrible discriminatory imbalance”

In their conclusions, PACE summed up the Institutional racism of law enforcement authorities towards Roma and Travellers, “as a terrible discriminatory imbalance: on the one hand, Roma and Travellers are very often subject to excessive surveillance, controls and use of force by members of law enforcement authorities, which violate their rights; on the other hand, when these populations are victims of criminal offences (whether committed by persons holding public authority or by private individuals), the responses provided are very often inadequate.”

The PACE resolution, which was adopted on the basis of a report by Jean-Pierre Grin (Switzerland, ALDE), fully endorses the findings and recommendations contained in the ERRC report Brutal and Bigoted: Policing Roma in the EU. The resolution called on states to redouble their efforts to counter racist policing, to prevent these human rights violations, and to respond appropriately when they occur; to hold all perpetrators to account, and to dismantle the institutional antigypsyism that allows these practices to continue.

According to rapporteur Jean-Pierre Grin, “such blatant human rights violations destroy the confidence of Roma and Travellers in law enforcement authorities”, a situation further worsened by discrimination in access to justice which deprives the victims of abuse of adequate remedy. 

Mr. Grin found that the case law of the European Court of Human Rights reveals a “staggering picture of the relations of law enforcement authorities with Roma and Travellers”, and concurred with the ERRC’s assertion that the repetition of such cases was indicative of institutional racism – “even though, unfortunately, the European Court of Human Rights only very rarely looks into this aspect of the cases it is called upon to examine.”

He described the persistence of police brutality against Roma as all the more intolerable given that some of the ECtHR judgements date back to the mid-1990s: “It is quite simply unacceptable that problems that have been identified for so long have not yet been resolved. Within each Council of Europe member State, we can and must do better.”

“Impunity, a violation of human rights”

The report highlighted the persistent failures by the authorities to conduct effective investigations into allegations of police abuse as tantamount to accepting impunity for serious violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, something “which would clearly be unacceptable.” With a view to fighting such impunity the resolution called on authorities to 

  • offer rapid and effective remedies to victims of police violence, giving priority to simple, flexible and accessible procedures;
  • create independent investigative mechanisms, free from any political pressure, with sufficient resources and powers to effectively investigate complaints against members of law enforcement authorities and to punish offenders;
  • protect victims against police intimidation, reprisals and harassment – all of which are encouraged by a sense of impunity – and provide for penalties for offenders that are commensurate with the seriousness of their actions and that are dissuasive;

The committee stressed the importance of overcoming the “inertia, indifference, inaction, neglect, resistance or outright hostility, whether amongst the general public or within authorities themselves, (which) are all expressions of antigypsyism and anti-nomadism”. Rapporteur Grin emphasised that combating such sentiments, and the direct and indirect harms they cause, is crucial to successfully tackling the institutional racism against Roma and Travellers that persists within law enforcement authorities; and that combating antigypsyism “must form an integral part of all strategies designed to overcome discrimination against Roma and Travellers, including where it is committed by members of law enforcement authorities.” 


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