The European Roma Rights Centre Calls on the EU to Reaffirm Human Rights Standards in Policies on Roma

19 September 2008

BUDAPEST, 15 September 2008: The European Roma Rights Centre issues a statement today to bring to the attention of European Union and national policy-makers standards for the protection of human rights established in recent years by European and United Nations treaty bodies ruling on cases of human rights violations against Roma. We look forward to the European Roma Summit starting tomorrow to reaffirm these standards as fundamental in policy-making on Roma.

Segregation of Roma in special remedial schools violates human rights law: In its landmark judgement in the case D.H. and Others v the Czech Republic (2007), the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the prejudicial effect on Roma of general and neutrally termed policy measures, leading to their segregation in special remedial schools, is a form of unlawful discrimination. The Court noted with concern that discriminatory barriers to education for Roma are present in other European countries as well. The judgment has strengthened the doctrine of indirect discrimination such that Governments, when formulating policies and laws, can be found guilty of indirect discrimination where such policies or laws have a discriminatory or unequal effect even if they have not intentionally discriminated. In the later Sampanis v. Greece, the Court equally highlighted the need for states to put in place an adequate system of evaluation of Romani children's abilities in order to ensure non-discriminatory treatment in the education system.

Forced eviction without alternative accommodation violates human rights law: The case law of the European Committee of Social Rights comprising its rulings on the Collective Complaints ERRC v. Greece (2005), ERRC v. Italy (2005) and ERRC v. Bulgaria (2006), condemns the practice of forced eviction of Roma carried out in absence of satisfactory protection and without the provision of adequate alternative accommodation. The Committee affirmed that sanctions against persons or groups of persons are not justified where the state had failed to secure access to rights provided by law. A state is responsible for discrimination by failing to take into account that Romani families run a higher risk of eviction as a consequence of the precariousness of their tenure.

Positive action to remedy discrimination: Ruling on the Collective Complaint ERRC v. Bulgaria, the European Committee of Social Rights formulated the positive duty of the state to undertake action to address a particular situation of Roma. The Committee affirmed that "for the integration of an ethnic minority as Roma into mainstream society measures of positive action are needed" and held that indirect discrimination may arise by failing to take adequate steps to ensure that the rights and collective advantages that are open to all are genuinely accessible by and to all. Government failure to undertake specific action to address the particular situation of Roma constitutes a breach of the state's obligations under the European Social Charter.

State responsibility to implement official policy: Ruling on the Collective Complaint ERRC v. Greece, the European Committee of Social Rights established that the ultimate responsibility for implementation of official policy lies with the state regardless of the fact that due to the decentralised structure of government, local, regional or other authorities are responsible for carrying out particular functions.

Equally important, Governments must ensure that the implementation of such policies should not result in further marginalisation and discrimination of Roma. A ruling by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination against Slovakia (2005) clarified unequivocally that policies aiming to keep Roma in substandard conditions or resulting in such severe discrimination violate international law, and tolerance of such acts by public officials cannot stand: "[T]aking initially an important policy and practical step towards realization of the right to housing [of Roma] followed by its revocation and replacement with a weaker measure, taken together, do indeed amount to the impairment of the recognition or exercise on an equal basis of the human right to housing."

State obligation to collect data disaggregated by ethnicity and gender: In its ruling on the Collective Complaints ERRC v. Greece and ERRC v. Italy, the European Committee of Social Rights established that, with regard to collecting data, where it is generally acknowledged that a particular group is or could be discriminated against, states have responsibility to collect data, including data disaggregated by ethnicity or other grounds, with due safeguards for privacy and against other abuses. Such data is indispensable to the formulation of rational policy for social inclusion.

State's positive duty to investigate severe racial discrimination: The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in Nachova v. Bulgaria (2005) established that failure by a state to investigate allegations of severe discriminatory treatment and racist attacks may amount to a violation of the prohibition of discrimination and set the standard for a positive duty on authorities to investigate racially motivated violence. The positive duty on authorities is to "do what is reasonable in the circumstances to collect and secure the evidence, explore all practical means of discovering the truth and deliver fully reasoned, impartial and objective decisions, without omitting suspicious facts that may be indicative of a racially induced violence." Ever since, an increasing number of the Court's judgements held states accountable for acts of racist violence and failure to punish those involved, committed either by state officials (Stoica v. Romania) or by third parties (Šečič v. Croatia).

The human rights standards established by the above decisions are crucial components of international human rights law and are binding on EU and Council of Europe Member States. The European Roma Rights Centre calls on European Union institutions to ensure that Member States give effect to these standards by enacting and implementing relevant legislation and policy.


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