ERRC Submits Written Comments on Poland to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

13 November 2002

Today the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviews Poland's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Prior to today's meeting, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent written comments to the Committee for consideration during its review. The ERRC submission documents widespread racial discrimination and other human rights abuses against Roma in Poland in the fields of employment, housing, education, the protection of the family, and the provision of social welfare assistance.

The ERRC believes that the upcoming session of the Committee offers an opportunity to highlight some of the most significant respects in which the Polish Government has failed to fulfil its commitments under the Covenant. On the occasion of the review, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said: "The international community is a debtor to the Roma of Poland. Their unacceptable situation has gone uncommented upon for too long. We hope the Committee will use the materials presented in the ERRC submission to hold the Polish government accountable where Roma rights are concerned."

The ERRC is aware of the efforts undertaken by the Polish Government to comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as detailed in its report to the Committee. To date however, these measures have been insufficient to ensure the implementation of the Covenant where Roma are concerned, particularly with regard to Articles 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.

As to Article 2 of the Covenant, the ERRC is concerned that Roma in Poland are subjected to discrimination when seeking to realize the rights protected by the Covenant. In the absence of adequate comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, Roma are subject to discrimination in almost all aspects of their lives, most notably in the sectoral fields of employment, housing, health, and education.

As to Article 6, ERRC research revealed that Roma suffer from disproportionate levels of unemployment, and are subject to discriminatory treatment when seeking employment, both by state labour offices and by private employers. Racial animus frequently plays a significant role in the failure by Roma to secure gainful employment.

As to Article 9, the ERRC is concerned that the provisions of the Covenant, as well as of Polish law, with respect to social security and welfare support, are applied in a discriminatory manner where Roma are concerned. Roma in various parts of Poland told the ERRC that they are also treated with hostility when interacting with local administrative authorities on issues of social welfare, such as social assistance for the unemployed.

As to Article 10, the ERRC is concerned that Romani children may not fully enjoy the protection provided by the Covenant, and are often placed into state care without the consent of their parents.

As to Article 11, Roma face systemic discrimination by both local authorities and non-state actors in the realization of their right to adequate housing. Roma often live in segregated areas, in substandard housing lacking basic infrastructure and facilities such as waste removal, potable water, and/or electricity. Furthermore, Roma are often denied requests for municipal housing. When Romani tenants do inhabit municipal flats, authorities almost invariably fail to meet their obligation to maintain or renovate the housing facilities. The ERRC has also documented cases in which authorities subjected Roma to forced evictions without providing adequate housing alternatives.

As to Article 12, Roma in Poland are in practice subject to discrimination when seeking to exercise their right to health. They are often refused access to medical care on racist grounds, and are condemned to live in squalid conditions that further deteriorate their health.

As to Article 13, the ERRC has documented grave violations of the right to education with respect to Romani children. These violations take the form of widespread discriminatory and segregationist practices, such as the segregation of Romani children into so-called "Roma classes" or classes for the mentally disabled; racially-motivated abuse in school; and the apathy of Polish school authorities in combating low attendance and school abandonment rates among Romani school-age children.

Finally, the ERRC has identified the practice of local authorities refusing to register Roma as resident in municipalities as a central bureaucratic obstacle to the effective implementation of nearly all substantive rights protected by the Covenant, in particular by Articles 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. In many areas, despite having lived in a given location for generations, Roma are refused registration for permanent residence. This practice effectively precludes Roma from access to services which are in many areas fundamental for the realisation of basic social, economic and cultural rights.

In view of the above, the ERRC recommends that the Government undertake the following:

  • Adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation by bringing Polish law into conformity with the requirements of Council Directive 2000/43/EC, "implementing the principle of equality between persons, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin". Ensure that the implementing body mandated by the Directive is strong, fully independent and adequately staffed and funded.
  • Without delay, sign and ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights.
  • Without delay, sign and ratify the revised Social Charter of the Council of Europe and make a declaration accepting the collective complaints procedure under Article D, paragraph 2 of Part IV of the revised Charter.
  • Ensure effective remedy for cases of discrimination against Roma in the field of employment, housing, health care, the protection of the family, and education.
  • Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons actually residing in a given municipality, without regard to race.
  • Without delay, terminate and sanction the discriminatory practices of targeting Romani children for removal from parental care. Provide equal protection to Romani families and children.
  • Provide security of tenure for residents of Romani communities and settlements, and protect the inhabitants from forced and arbitrary evictions, as well as segregationist local practices.
  • Implement a comprehensive school desegregation plan, such that all Romani children may fully realise the right to education. Without delay, end the practice of segregating Romani children into so-called "Roma classes" or into classes for mentally disabled students. Integrate all Romani students into mainstream classes and, where necessary, design and implement adequately funded and staffed programmes aimed at easing the transition from segregated to integrated schooling.
  • Design pre-school programmes for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling and to attain a level ensuring an equal start in the first class of primary school.
  • Develop and implement catch-up or adult education programmes aimed at remedying the legacies of substandard education and non-schooling of Roma.
  • Where instances of abuse in the school system are reported - abuse including exclusionary practices, physical and verbal assault, humiliating treatment, and failure by teachers and school administrators to protect Romani children from peer abuse - without delay, punish school authorities responsible, and implement measures aimed at preventing further abuse.
  • Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture, and history in schools, and make them available to all schools, so that all children in Poland learn of the valuable contributions Roma have made to Polish society.
  • Provide free legal aid to members of weak groups, including Roma and the indigent.
  • At the highest level, speak out against the problem of anti-Romani sentiment and discrimination; at all levels, acknowledge and speak out against racism, racially motivated crime, patterns and practices of discrimination, and segregation. Address the root problem of anti-Romani racism in Poland by developing and implementing anti-racism curricula for schools and campaigns for the media, so as to address widespread negative attitudes against Roma and racism generally.
  • Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for the national and local administration, state and private employers, labour offices staff, school officials, and health care providers.
  • Proactively recruit qualified Roma for professional positions in the national and local administration, labour offices staff, health care providers, and school officials.

The full text of the ERRC submission is available on the Internet at: ERRC: International Advocacy .


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