Lawsuits filed by Roma Challenge Racial Segregation in Croatian Primary Schools

19 April 2002

April 19, 2002, a group of 57 Romani children in Medimurje County, Croatia, assisted by local counsel and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), filed a legal complaint with a Croatian court challenging their segregation into separate Roma-only classes in what are otherwise 'normal' primary schools.

The lawsuit filed with the Cakovec Municipal Court charges the Croatian Ministry of Education, the Medimurje County local government, as well as four primary schools in Orehovica, Macinec, Kursanec and Podturen, with segregating the plaintiffs and numerous other Romani children into separate and educationally inferior classes simply based on their ethnic identity. The complaint further alleges that the result of this practice is the denial of equal educational opportunities for most Romani children.

The evidence documented in the complaint and based on official statistics shows that almost 60% of all Romani primary school students in Medimurje County regularly attend segregated classrooms. As a result of this practice, the plaintiffs, like many other Romani children throughout the county, have suffered, and indeed continue to suffer, severe educational, psychological and emotional harm, including the following:

  • they have been subjected to a curriculum far inferior to that in regular classes, with attendant damage to their opportunities to secure adequate  employment in the future;
  • they have been stigmatized with the effects of diminished self-esteem and feelings of humiliation, alienation and lack of self-worth;
  • they have been forced to study in racially segregated classrooms and  hence denied the benefits of a multi-cultural educational environment.


"Attempts to explain away racial segregation can never be persuasive," said ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova. "Whatever the excuse offered, the solution is to give help where it is needed, not in continued segregation. Equal educational opportunities are the only way to break the cycle of poverty and unemployment suffered by Roma in the region."

The complaint demands:

  • a judicial finding of racial segregation;
  • an order that the defendants develop and implement a monitoring system and a plan to end racial segregation and discrimination and to achievefull racial integration; and
  • an order that the plaintiffs be placed in racially integrated classrooms and provided with the compensatory education necessary for them to overcome the debilitating effects of past discrimination and segregation.

According to the ERRC, the current situation clearly violates the Croatian Constitution, other provisions of domestic law, and numerous binding international treaties ratified by Croatia, including the European Convention on Human Rights.

Failure to secure effective remedies in domestic courts will result in an application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

* Further information on the situation of Roma in Croatia is available For more information on the ERRC desegregation lawsuit, please contact  Gloria Jean Garland, ERRC Legal Director. (E-mail:,  Phone: +361 413 2200).


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