Roma people in Europe in the 21st century: violence, exclusion, insecurity
Summary of the full report
European Association for the Defense of Human Rights
The European Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AEDH) wants to firmly condemn the violence suffered by Roma in Europe.
The Roma form the biggest transnational European minority, representing 10 to 12 million people. According to the European Commission, "the Roma living in Europe are confronted to biases, intolerance, discriminations and social exclusion in their daily lives. They are marginalised and live in extremely poor socioeconomic conditions.
The term « Roma » is used here, as well as in other documents of the European Institutions as a generic term covering various populations which present more or less the same characteristics, like the Sintis (Gypsies), Travellers, Kales, and so on, would they be sedentary or not. According to the estimations, about 80% of the Roma are sedentary.
In its will to resolve this situation, the European Commission launched the European Union framework project for national Roma integration strategies. The goal of this strategy is to define national plans concerning Roma, in order to improve their access to education, housing, health services and employment.
Although this initiative can be welcomed, these national plans are not obligatory in their implementation and no sanction is envisaged if the objectives are blatantly violated. What is moreover very unfortunate is that this initiative only tackles the question of economic and social rights of these populations without taking account of their Human Rights, even though they are referred to in the preamble of the document. This incoherence was denounced by the European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC) in July 2011 and by Thomas Hammarberg3 when he was the European Commissioner for Human Rights.
The AEDH report is eloquent. The situation of Roma people is dramatic, violent, multifaceted and permanent. It exist in all European countries, no state can say it treat and protect this population better than another. The way in which Europe and its Member States treat their greatest transnational minority is scandalous. The means put in place to fight these injustices are weak and clearly insufficient, when the situation is so urgent that it should trigger reactions similar to the ones that occur when facing a humanitarian catastrophe.
The facts included in this report are mere examples, and this report is not to be considered as an exhaustive compendium on the matter. It aims to give an overview of the seriousness of the situation. It is divided into three chapters: the first one describes the crimes committed by states themselves, authorities or political organisations; the second chapter tackles the crimes committed by individuals or groups of individuals, and the last chapter deals with violence suffered in the economic and social fields.
State violence includes the actions of political authorities against Roma people. Everywhere in Europe, Roma are facing governments or state bodies of which the speeches, the acts, the policies, can be qualified as state violence towards Roma. By originating this violence, or by tolerating it when it comes from public, national or local institutions, or from far-right parties, those States violate their own laws as well as Community law. Violent expulsions, destruction of goods, deprivation of liberty, and incitation to racism, forced sterilisation and segregation in public spaces are actions and policies which clearly breach the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaty on the European Union (particularly articles 1 and 24). Tolerating these acts is inadmissible, and creates a climate of impunity and racism contributing to the trivialisation of this racial violence and opens the door to more physical violence against Roma by non-Roma people.
Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union: "The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail."
The physical violence against Roma from their fellow citizens are motivated by racism and the rise of anti-gypsyism noticed everywhere in Europe, and are also exacerbated by the rise of populist extremisms in Europe. The exacerbation of racism by political parties and the media leads to great tensions between Roma and non-Roma throughout the European Union, and increases anti-gypsyism and day-to-day racism. In the worst cases, these tensions take the form of anti-Roma demonstrations, of racist attacks against Roma, and of murders. Roma, like many marginalised populations, are easy victims of traffic, particularly human trafficking. This "day-to-day" racism is an obstacle to the acknowledgement of the situation and to the creation of an efficient protection.
Perpetrators of this violence are usually not pursued, and when they are, the racial motive is not seen as an aggravating circumstance. Often, Roma people are afraid of reprisals from those guilty of violence or from the police, and therefore do not denounce these violence. We can safely assume that violence against Roms from their fellow citizens is under-estimated. That is why important measures must be taken at all levels in the states and throughout Europe in order to end this violence, by condemning it and fighting anti-gypsyism. Fighting this violence and this racism is even more important knowing that they are often the origin of the discrimination suffered by Roma.
States' lax positions must be pointed out, when they are not voluntary, just like the so-called powerlessness of the European Commission when it comes to enforcing European treaties. Defending Roma rights is defending the rights of all European citizens. The violation of Roma fundamental rights throughout Europe shows the fragility of our democracies and the weakness of political leaders at local, national and European levels.
Reaction is important, as the impending economic crisis will exacerbate populist rhetoric and awaken nationalism, with the risk of even more serious racist violence. European history shows that this scenario is possible. By defending Roma rights, we strengthen the fundamental rights of all European citizens.
The European Association for the Defence of Human Rights
(Association Européenne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme - AEDH) consists of associations and leagues defending human rights in the countries of the European Union. AEDH is an associate member of the International Federation of Human Rights (Fédération internationale pour la défense des droits de l’Homme - FIDH).