Roma Children Pursue Final Appeal in Landmark School Segregation Case

08 May 2006

Applicants Seek Referral of "Ostrava" Case to European Court's Grand Chamber

Strasbourg, France, 4 May 2006-Eighteen Romani children forced to attend segregated schools in the Czech Republic filed their final appeal today in a landmark case before the European Court of Human Rights. The children asked the Court's highest body-the Grand Chamber-to review the case because of its potential to establish precedent and its broad significance for all of Europe's minority groups.

The case, D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, seeks to end a widespread practice of discrimination throughout Central and South East Europe, whereby Roma children are routinely placed in schools for the mentally disabled regardless of their actual intellectual abilities.

In asking the Grand Chamber to accept referral of this case, the applicants noted that it raises several major issues concerning the prohibition against discrimination in Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. At a time when Europe is struggling to address its growing racial and ethnic diversity, the capacity of law and courts to ensure equal treatment is of the highest importance.

The case was first brought before the European Court of Human Rights in 2000. In February 2006, the Court's Second Section ruled that although the Roma children suffered from a pattern of adverse treatment, they had not proved the Czech government's intent to discriminate.

"This request affords the European Court of Human Rights one more opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of the European Convention in protecting all Europe's minorities from discrimination," said James A. Goldston, Executive Director of the Open Society Justice Initiative and counsel to the applicants. "If this case does not amount to discrimination under Article 14, it's hard to see what would."

In recent years, the European Court has decided several cases involving Article 14 claims in the context of policing and criminal justice. The Court has had less occasion to address claims of racial discrimination arising in other fields of public life, including but not limited to education. This case presents the Grand Chamber with its clearest and most compelling opportunity to date to do so.

The applicants argue that the Second Section's restrictive reading of the concept of discrimination is inconsistent with the broad protection against discrimination increasingly afforded by European law. If allowed to stand, it would render Article 14 theoretical and illusory rather than practical and effective. This would be particularly inappropriate where, as in D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, there exists overwhelming evidence that Roma have been treated less favourably than similarly situated non-Roma for no objective and justifiable reason. The evidence included (i) actual admissions by the Czech government that disproportionate numbers of Roma were sent to special schools-on the basis of tests conceived for non-Roma-even though they were average or above-average in development; (ii) corroborating detailed and comprehensive statistical evidence that Roma in the city of Ostrava are routinely subjected to educational segregation and discrimination; and (iii) consistent findings by numerous inter-governmental bodies concerning discriminatory patterns in schools throughout the Czech Republic as a whole.

Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center, which brought the case, stated, "Segregation of Roma in separate schools and classes remains a widespread problem throughout Europe and it must be addressed."

The request for Grand Chamber referral is available at:

The URL for this page is:

Additional information is available at and

Contact: Dimitrina Petrova +36 1 413 2200 (Budapest)
Contact: James A. Goldston +1 212 548 0118 (New York)


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