US State Department report finds Roma in Europe face ‘widespread governmental and societal discrimination’

26 April 2024

By Bernard Rorke

The latest US Department of State global report on human rights practices has raised concerns about anti-Roma racism across Europe. A common finding in the Country Reports was that Roma “continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police, alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling.”

The 2023 annual report which covers internationally recognized human rights in 200 countries across the world, includes a subsection in each country report on ‘Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination’. Despite EU-wide legislation prohibiting racial discrimination, and strategies for Roma inclusion, the report found in some countries that both state and non-state actors were deeply complicit in perpetuating violence and abuses against Europe’s largest ethnic minority.  

Of particular concern in Bulgaria was widespread societal anti-Roma intolerance and discrimination, often condoned and prompted by leading politicians, and amplified by media outlets which often described Roma using “denigrating and abusive language.” 

Authorities often refused to issue identity documents to Romani persons, and there were multiple credible reports of Romani persons being denied access to public swimming pools. On the issue of school segregation, the report noted that while the law prohibits segregation within multi-ethnic schools and kindergartens, it allows for the ethnic segregation of entire schools. NGOs estimated that 60% of Romani children were enrolled in segregated schools.

Similarly in the Czech Republic – where Roma face “daily prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination in education, housing, and employment” – the report found that school segregation of Romani children remains a persistent problem. Twenty-six percent of primary school students attending segregated programs were Roma, while Romani students comprised only 3.5% of the total primary school population. This situation drew criticism from the European Parliament which called out the Czech Republic for segregation, and its “failure to correctly implement the Racial Equality Directive” and described measures taken to be “neither comprehensive nor… effectively implemented.” 

In Italy, the press and NGOs, including ERRC, reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. Roma living in camps reported overcrowded accommodation in shacks and shipping containers, typically located on the peripheries of towns and cities, lacking many basic services and public transport, and as a consequence, isolated from educational and employment opportunities. 

In Romania, where special laws criminalized the spread of fascist or racist ideologies, and where racist intent represents an aggravating circumstance, the report found that the government did not enforce the law effectively and prosecutions based on discrimination and violence against racial or ethnic minorities were rare.

A Council of Europe report which concluded that anti-Roma sentiment was a serious societal problem, found that the authorities did not adequately investigate police violence against Roma, and noted persistent segregation of Roma in education and housing and inadequate access to health care, clean water, and sanitation. Romani groups told the researchers they were often refused entry or service in public places; harassed by police and subjected to brutality, including beatings; and that anti-Roma prejudice was widespread among prosecutors and judges. 

The problem of structural anti-Roma racism in the police force and justice system featured in the report coverage in Slovakia. While experts noted a decline in incidences of mass violence against Roma compared to the alarming patterns of previous years, there were reports of harassment and use of excessive force by law enforcement. They highlighted inadequate police investigation of such cases was a persistent problem, and noted most cases of police violence likely went unreported by Roma due to fear of retaliation and a basic lack of trust in the justice system. Despite legislation in place, court proceedings in racial discrimination cases continued to be excessively lengthy, impeding victims’ effective access to justice. 

Despite President Čaputová’s public assertion that “no one should become a victim of anger, segregation, or violence just because of who they are”, widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, health care, housing, loan practices, restaurants, hair salons, religious services, and public transportation. Segregation of Romani women in labour wards remained widespread, and there were also reported instances of public and elected officials defaming minorities, inciting violence, and making derogatory comments concerning Roma in Slovakia. 

As the campaigns for EU elections gather pace, this report offers a timely reminder of the threats posed by the far-right to those European values enshrined in the Union treaties; and sobering testimony that, as President Čaputová remarked, 80 years after the Holocaust, “hatred targeting entire communities has not yet been erased from the soul of man.”



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