Anti-Romani violence as a pan-European phenomenon
My daily news-trawl found this interesting article from Romea this morning. It’s quite intriguing to read that “strategies [for Roma inclusion] do not include a plan for overcoming discrimination and violence against Romani people in Europe”. This seems really quite counter-intuitive, since I believe the reason that many of these “initiatives” and “strategies” don’t work is because they do not address such issues. For example, another recent report acknowledges the apartheid still faced by Romani school children in the Czech Republic. How can you expect us to “integrate” into your world, when you actively exclude us from it?
All the initiatives and plans and strategies in the world can’t succeed if the basic problems are not addressed. As this article points out, “Romani people are not only the victims of social discrimination, but also of physical violence in all EU Member States without exception, and that antigypsyism is deeply rooted throughout all of European society”. It isn’t just on a community level either, the Roma are subjected to State violence in many of these countries (if not all). State violence (also called state terrorism or political repression) is clearly visible in the treatment Roma receive (for example: human rights violations, surveillance abuse, police brutality, imprisonment, involuntary settlement, stripping of citizen’s rights and violent action).
A recent case (that I have been actively working on with the International Romani Anti-Defamation League), attempted to address a racist book produced by the current Ambassador of Hungary to Norway, Dr. Geza Jeszenszky. In his defense, Jeszenszky stated that his “record” (as minister of foreign affairs and ambassador) precluded him from any charges relating to racism. As though governments and high-ranking officials were somehow devoid of racist thoughts and actions simply (and only) because of their titles.
It seems in Europe, however, that governments are only exacerbating the problem (whether willingly or otherwise). True ‘integration’ will never come when you seclude us in ghettos behind walls; in ‘special schools’ and violently force us further and further away from your neighbourhoods and cities.
The European Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AEDH) and the Czech Helsinki Committee (Český helsinský výbor – ČHV) have issued a fundamental condemnation of the violence faced by Romani people in Europe. The organizations have written about this topic in a joint report entitled “Roma People in Europe in the 21st Century: Violence, Exclusion, Insecurity” (available in English at http://www.helcom.cz/dokumenty/Roma%20REPORT.pdf). Below you will find a translation of the AEDH/ČHV press release about this report and a translation of the Czech summary of the report:
This report was prompted by a European Commission report of 5 April 2011 initiating work on “domestic Romani integration strategies” in the EU Member States. The Commission’s aim was to create pressure on the Member States to legally regulate Romani inclusion – the incorporation of Romani people into society and the state – and to combat discrimination against Romani people in the four areas of access to education, employment, housing, and access to health care.
The strategies being developed, however, do not include a plan for overcoming discrimination and violence against Romani people in Europe. The AEDH, therefore, began to take up this topic at its General Assembly in Luxembourg in May 2011, when it decided that its efforts to confront antigypsyism (anti-Romani racism) would be its leading task. In that context, the AEDH began researching the forms of violence faced by European Romani people in the 21st century.
The AEDH issued three press releases on this topic in November 2011, June 2012 and September 2012. In April of this year, the AEDH and the ČHV organized an expert seminar in Brno on the topic of Romani people in Europe. Supported by the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, the Mayor of Brno, the Czech Foreign Affairs Minister, and the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), as well as by several diplomatic representations in the Czech Republic, the seminar coincided with the AEDH General Assembly and was attended by representatives of the AEDH member leagues from the entire EU.
“Roma People in Europe in the 21st Century: Violence, Exclusion, Insecurity” describes violence against Romani people in various forms, both in EU Member States and elsewhere in Europe (such as in Croatia, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland). The report features three sections:
- State violence towards Roma
- Physical violence against Roma from their fellow citizens
- Social violence.
The aim of this report is to demonstrate that Romani people are not only the victims of social discrimination, but also of physical violence in all EU Member States without exception, and that antigypsyism is deeply rooted throughout all of European society. The AEDH therefore calls on European institutions and the local and state authorities of the EU Member States to combat this violence and xenophobic hatred in order to achieve greater respect for the rights of Romani people and ensure the success of their “domestic strategies for Romani integration”.
The AEDH/ČHV report is now available in English and French. Translations into other languages are also underway.
Summary of “Roma People in Europe in the 21st Century: Violence, Exclusion, Insecurity”
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.”
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 the economic and social rights of these populations without taking their human rights into account, even though these 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 the then-European Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.
“Roma People in Europe in the 21st Century: Violence, Exclusion, Insecurity” eloquently illustrates that the situation of Romani people in Europe is dramatic and full of violence. This applies to all European states. No government can claim that it treats Romani people better or that they enjoy better protections in one state than another. The way in which European states and the EU treat this largest ethnic minority is scandalous. The financing dedicated to the effort to eliminate this injustice is insufficient, even though the situation is so urgent it should be prompting a reaction to similar to that of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The facts in our report are merely examples – the report is not an exhaustive overview of this issue, but is meant to provide a review of the seriousness of the situation. It is divided into three sections: The first describes crimes committed by the state authorities themselves, the second covers crimes committed by individuals or groups of people, and the last section covers violence in the economic and social areas.
Violence committed by state bodies includes activities targeting Romani people. Everywhere in Europe, Romani people are faced with governments and state bodies whose procedures, statements, and steps constitute state violence against them. By creating and tolerating this violence, whether it is committed by public bodies at the local, regional or state level, or by ultra-right parties, the state is violating its own laws and the legal regulations of the European Community – the EU. Violent expulsions of Romani people, destruction of their property, deprivation of their liberty, incitement to racism, forced sterilizations, and segregation in public spaces are actions and policies that obviously violate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU Treaty (in particular Articles 1 and 2 ). It is unacceptable to tolerate these crimes, as they create room for impunity and racism. This impunity contributes to the trivialization of racist violence and opens the door to the commission of even greater physical violence by the non-Romani population against Romani people.
The physical violence committed against Romani people by their fellow citizens is motivated by racism and the Europe-wide rise in antigypsyism. The growth of extremism and populism is spurring it on. The incitement to racism by the media and political parties across the EU is leading to even greater tensions between non-Romani and Romani populations and strengthening antigypsyism and everyday racism. In the worst cases, these tensions become the excesses of anti-Romani demonstrations, racist assaults against Romani people, and their murder.
Romani people, like all marginalized groups, are also the victims of illegal business enterprises, in particular human trafficking. Everyday racism is an obstacle to people realizing what the real situation is in this respect and effectively preventing such phenomena.
The perpetrators of this violence are usually never prosecuted, and when they are, racial motivation is often not perceived as an aggravated circumstance or a qualifying one. Romani people are also often concerned they will suffer revenge from those charged with this violence (or revenge from the police) and therefore do not report it.
It is obvious that most Europeans underestimate the amount of violence committed against Romani people. This is why measures must be taken at all levels of state operations and across all of Europe with the aim of ending this violence by condemning it and fighting against antigypsyism. Efforts aiming to stop this racism and violence are even more important because these phenomena are the origins of the discrimination Romani people face.
We must point out the lax stances taken by states on these issues even in cases where such a stance is not intentional. This concerns, for example, the alleged powerlessness of the European Commission to enforce EU Treaties in the individual Member States. Violation of the fundamental rights of Romani people across Europe demonstrates the weakness of our democracies and the weakness of political leaders at local, national and European level. Responding to this is important, as the current economic crisis continues to awaken nationalism and foment manifestations of populism. There is a risk of even more serious racist violence. European history shows us such developments are possible. By defending the rights of Romani people, we are strengthening the fundamental rights of all European citizens.