Discrimination against Roma punished by the Court

19 July 2007

On April 19th 2007, the Fourth Municipal Court in Belgrade found Aleksandar Nikolić a security guard at the "Acapulco" club in Belgrade, guilty of denying access to three Roma citizens Zorica Stojković, Petar Antić and Ljutvija Antić solely on the grounds of their ethnicity. The Courts sentenced him to six months in prison, suspended for two years. The second accused, Aleksandar Sabo, was acquitted of all charges.

The Court decision is welcomed by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, Minority Rights Centre (MRC) and the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) from Belgrade which filed the criminal complaint against Aleksandar Nikolić and Aleksandar Sabo. The three organisations represented the victims in the legal proceedings that followed.

The plaintiffs made several attempts to enter the "Acapulco" club, but they were refused each time by the security guards who told them that either a reservation or a member card was needed in order to gain access. This prompted the HLC and MRC to conduct a situational test on 25 July 2003, so they could prove beyond reasonable doubt the existence of discrimination against these Roma individuals in respect of their right to access public places.

Situational testing is a technique whereby researchers deliberately create a comparator group to demonstrate a difference of treatment on the basis of a prohibited ground. It is a way of proving discrimination and is sometimes the only way to prove that an act of discrimination really happened. Two teams consisting of three persons each conducted the test. The first team was composed of Roma, while the second team was made up of non-Roma individuals. All participants were neatly dressed and the only visible difference between them was their skin colour. They all acted in an acceptable manner during the test and did nothing to prompt or provoke the guards. The group made up of Roma citizens tried to enter the club first and the guards at the door asked them whether they had reservations. When they said that they did not, they were told they could not go in without reservations. When the second team made up of non-Roma citizens came to the door, they were let in without any questions whatsoever.

The decision handed down by a trial chamber of the Fourth Municipal Court states that such acts of the security guards of the "Acapulco" club constitute a criminal act of violation of the right to equal treatment for all citizens and their conduct also represents a violation of the relevant provisions of International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, and the Charter of Human and Minority Rights which was in effect at the time.

This case highlights the unlawful and all too common practice of discrimination against Roma which denies them access to services in restaurants, bars, clubs and discos open to the public. The HLC, ERRC and MRC believe that this practice is widespread in Serbia and other European countries and calls on restaurants, club owners and other service providers to ensure that their services are open to all customers without racial discrimination and to ensure that their staff are aware of their responsibilities under the law.

The HLC helps post-Yugoslav societies re-establish the rule of law and come to terms with the legacy of large scale past human rights abuses in order to prevent their recurrence, to ensure accountability, and to serve justice.


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