Thursday, October 7, 2010


Report by Ambassador Janez Lenarčič

Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

at the OSCE Review Conference

Roma and Sinti (Excerpt)

The human rights situation of Roma and Sinti was recognized as a matter of serious concern in the OSCE area as early as 1990. Since then, participating States have repeatedly addressed it in various OSCE commitments and documents. These include the 2003 Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti and the Ministerial Council decisions on Roma and Sinti, adopted in Helsinki in 2008 and Athens in 2009. This was complemented by initiatives within the Council of Europe, the European Union and other bodies.

Today, despite the commitments and good intentions included in all of these documents, the picture is bleak. Progress in integrating Europe’s Roma populations has, frankly, been minimal and often does not extend beyond the adoption of legal frameworks and policies. Recent events in a number of states illustrate the huge gaps that still divide Roma communities from mainstream society in virtually all areas of life, including housing, education, employment and access to public services. And they illustrate how Roma and Sinti continue to be the target of stigmatization, discrimination and hate crimes. Time and again, they have to pay the price for politicians trying to make capital by stirring up public anger against the Roma.

What is the reason for this patent failure to make progress in integrating Roma communities? Interestingly, there are promising pilot projects being tested at the local level in a few countries. But only rarely are these translated into country-wide practices and policies. There is a lack of proactive approaches at the national, regional and local level, as well as insufficient efforts to ensure the sustainability of policies through the allocation of adequate financial support and institutional and human resources. Data on the situation of Roma and Sinti is often incomplete and not systematically collected. This, in turn, negatively impacts on the design of Roma-related policies and their effective implementation and evaluation.

Another important factor is the emergence of what can be described as a climate of intolerance against Roma (and other minorities). What we are seeing in some countries is that anti-Roma hate speech is shifting from “traditional” prejudice to outright racist attitudes, preached by marginal yet increasingly visible political groups and left largely unchecked by mainstream society. These radical groups have learned that anti-Roma rhetoric pays off politically and attracts votes. It is even more disquieting that today not even mainstream parties are immune from using anti-Roma rhetoric for short-term political gain – something that would not have been tolerated a decade ago.

The increase in anti-Roma rhetoric goes hand in hand with changing patterns of violence against Roma and Sinti. While at the beginning of the 1990s we witnessed cases of impromptu community violence against Roma, we see today a growing number of attacks on Roma committed by individuals mobilized by racist anti-Roma ideology. These are premeditated attacks, with the intent to kill, that target random individuals or families because of their ethnicity. Some hate crimes targeting Roma and Sinti communities are reported and prosecuted, such as the series of killings in one participating State in 2008/09, but many cases of violence against Roma remain unreported.

Another challenge we face today is the cross-border migration of Roma and Sinti communities. We can only tackle this challenge if we address the push factors and, at the same time, fight discrimination against and ill-treatment of Roma and Sinti migrants. State actions against Roma migrants in some participating States, including deportations and offers of voluntary-return assistance, raise multiple concerns regarding the legality of the measures taken and their non-discriminatory nature. This concerns both EU citizens of Roma origin and third-country nationals, mainly Roma from the Western Balkans.

Discrimination has a devastating impact on the opportunities of minorities to integrate into mainstream society. Nowhere else can this be seen more clearly than in the area of education. Discriminatory practices in education systems persist across Europe. The main concern is the overrepresentation of Roma children in special-education facilities. In some participating States, more than a quarter of Roma children still end up in special schools, although governments are aware of how harmful this is to these children and their future, and despite rulings by the European Court of Human Rights on the issue. We urge governments to eradicate this discriminatory and socially costly practice as a matter of urgency.

Education is crucial for making progress in the social inclusion and integration of Roma communities. This was recognized by Helsinki Ministerial Council decision 6/08, in which OSCE States committed themselves to providing for equal access to education and to promoting early education for Roma children. In line with the MC tasking, ODIHR sent a questionnaire to participating States to map the participation of Roma and Sinti in early education. The information received indicates that the participation of Roma children falls far below the average level for majority populations, and is dramatically low when compared with numbers in countries where such participation is the highest. The situation demands pro-active efforts. Broader information campaigns targeting both educational authorities and Roma and Sinti communities are required. There is an urgent need to raise broader awareness among Roma and Sinti parents on the benefits of early education for their children.

Finally, let me comment on the EU’s evolving policy on Roma. Such a policy should endeavor to maintain the right balance between the responsibilities of the EU and its institutions, and the member states. It should not be an alibi for state inaction and neglect, and should not lead to the view that ‘Brussels’ should be dealing with Roma issues from a distance and alone. The main challenge we see is that existing initiatives and programmes confront a lack of political will, both at national and local levels. We therefore need to focus on how the EU can mobilize its member states in this direction.

The EU has both the legal and financial means to pursue and support an effective Roma policy. But it needs to ensure that funds reach their target and that there are mechanisms to monitor and assess the outcomes. This is one of the weaknesses of current EU-funded Roma projects and has negatively affected their impact and sustainability.

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