Rada vlády pro záležitosti romské menšiny











  1. Since taking office in 1999, I have sought to ensure that the enjoyment of human rights by Roma individuals and communities has constituted one of the priorities of the Commissioner for Human Rights. In most countries I have visited, the Roma populations face considerable obstacles to the enjoyment of basic rights, notably in the fields of access to health care, housing, education and employment and are often disproportionately affected by poverty. Discrimination and racism, also resulting in violence, remain serious problems throughout the continent, and present a major impediment to the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  1. The purpose of this report is to draw together my main findings related to the situation of the Roma on the basis of official country visits as well as contacts with Roma communities and individuals in the context of my other activities. Rather than offering a comprehensive survey on the vast range of issues affecting the Roma communities in the Council of Europe member states, the report aims at highlighting and analysing some of the most frequently occurring human rights concerns. Under each theme, I have chosen two or three particular questions to examine in the light of examples from the states I have visited.

  1. The matters dealt with in this report were discussed with a number of Roma organisations and European institutions in a meeting organised in the Vatican City in February 2003. I am grateful to the participants for their valuable input towards this report, and for the many organisations who have provided information to the Commissioner during the process of drafting this report. I would also like to thank the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) for their constructive comments on a draft of the report. Moreover, I would like to express my appreciation to Ms Alexandra Raykova who worked as a consultant with my Office during the early stages of the preparation of the report.

  1. A preliminary version of the report was made available on the Commissioner's website in May 2005 enabling comments from governments, associations and civil society for the preparation of this consolidated version. Official comments were received from the Governments of the following member states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovak Republic. Comments were also received from the following non-governmental organisations: Center for Reproductive Rights, European Roma Rights Centre and Open Society Justice Initiative. All comments were considered in the preparation of the final version of this report.


  1. A truly pan-European minority, the Roma are present in almost all Council of Europe member States, comprising approximately ten million people. The history of Roma is an integral part of European history, and Roma culture an integral part of European culture. The general perception is, however, often quite different - even in countries where the Roma have been living for centuries they are frequently viewed by the majority population as “others”, as foreigners in their home countries.

  1. Throughout history such perceptions have led to manifestations of discrimination and exclusion all over Europe. The Roma existence has been characterized by isolation - at best arousing curiosity and at worse leading to rejection, violence and persecution. In the most horrendous manifestation of persecution, an estimated half a million or more Roma were exterminated in the Holocaust. This history has resulted in a loss of confidence in the state authorities and society as a whole pushing many Roma communities to isolate themselves from the rest of society as a measure of self-protection. Even at present, the Roma often continue to experience intolerance, prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives in all parts of Europe, creating significant obstacles to their enjoyment of a number of fundamental rights. Human rights concerns faced by them in Central and Eastern Europe have attracted relatively high attention in recent years - partly due to the accession process to the European Union of a number of these countries - with less attention being afforded to their situation in Western Europe. However, also in these countries many Roma continue to suffer the consequences of prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives. Ensuring that the fundamental values of democracy, equality and respect for human rights become a reality for the Roma is therefore a task for Europe as a whole, each of its countries and all of its regions.

  1. Since the early 1990s, the Council of Europe and other European institutions have enhanced efforts aimed at bringing about a long-term improvement in the situation of the Roma through commitments to draw up national action plans, various assistance programmes and the strengthening of international standards related to minority protection and non-discrimination. In 1994, a Coordinator for Council of Europe Activities on the Roma/Gypsies was nominated with an additional responsibility for developing working relations with Roma/Gypsy organisations and for promoting cooperation with other international organisations. A Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies was established in 1995, with the task of advising the Committee of Ministers on Roma issues and encouraging action where needed. This work has resulted in a growing number of Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers on education, employment and housing as well as movement and encampment of Travellers. These detailed Recommendations can also be referred to for guidance in the implementation of the Commissioner's recommendations regarding the Roma. Moreover, the Group has completed a draft for a recommendation on better access to health care and is in the process of finalising a draft recommendation on policies towards Roma and Travellers in Europe. Another important initiative has been the creation of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, which will give them a stronger voice in these processes.

  1. The legal instruments adopted within the Council of Europe during the 1990s have great potential for enhancing the respect of human rights of the Roma, and, to a certain extent, have already shown this potential. A deep gap persists, however, between the standards set forth in these instruments and the level of enjoyment of human rights by the Roma. Lack of awareness of the existing problems does not explain this state of affairs. On the contrary, the attention of European Governments has been frequently drawn to human rights concerns faced by Roma in Europe, both by local and international actors.

  1. It is of considerable concern that concrete improvements at local level remain largely insufficient, irrespective of the wide body of existing recommendations and commitments undertaken. In certain respects, the situation even appears to have deteriorated in recent years, partly due to the social impacts of the economic transition of the last decade, but also due to an increased climate of intolerance which has been particularly noticeable since 2001. A new wave of anti-Roma attitudes appears to be emerging in some countries of Western Europe, with media speculations about large-scale immigration of Roma from Eastern Europe following the enlargement of the European Union. The growth of nationalistic movements and the increased suspicion towards everyone who is perceived somehow different seem to have deepened anti-Roma sentiments. In some countries, national identity and even citizenship are frequently confused with the ethnicity of the majority population of the country. It is important to pay attention to the way in which national identity is produced and promoted - it needs to be inclusive and reflective of all members of the society. These phenomena indicate that there is a long way to go before the multiethnic and multicultural character of European societies is fully recognised and respected.

  1. Undoubtedly, the past ten years have also seen positive developments at national level, such as the emergence of stronger Roma movements, and the adoption of national programmes, strategies or action plans for the improvement of the situation of the Roma in many Council of Europe member states. In many countries, the current national action plans have been reinforced or supplemented by new national “Decade Action Plans” under the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 recently launched by the Governments of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania have also informed me of new national strategies. However, the concrete results of previous action plans have so far remained sporadic while their implementation has often been hampered by resistance at local level. Each of my visits has revealed with increasing clarity, that the lack of real political will and the prevailing climate of intolerance create significant obstacles for the implementation of national programmes. In many countries, I observed that local authorities, especially those holding elected positions, are often unwilling to implement measures under national programmes in fear of unpopularity in the eyes of the majority population, or sometimes because of their own discriminatory attitudes. Technical, economic and legal obstacles are often evoked as reasons for non-implementation of, for instance, programmes aimed at ensuring decent living conditions at Roma settlements, although in most cases, such obstacles could be overcome if there was the necessary political will. In situations where local authorities fail to implement national programmes, the central Government ought to intervene much more rigorously in order to ensure that commitments undertaken by it through the adoption of such strategies and national programmes are fulfilled.

  1. Addressing in a single report the situation of a very large minority, whose members live in different countries under very different circumstances, clearly carries the risk of unjustified generalisations. It is therefore necessary to underline that not all the issues raised in this report affect all Roma in Europe, or not even all the Roma in the countries or communities from which examples are provided in this report. On the contrary, when formulating responses to overcome discrimination against the Roma, it is necessary to bear in mind the wide variety of Roma communities within Europe, and within individual states. In addition, it is to be recalled that a person belonging to the Roma minority, like any other individual, is first and foremost a holder of human rights in his or her own right. However, the fact that the very membership in a Roma minority often affects the manner in which an individual can enjoy his or her human rights, necessitates an approach based also on that membership.

  1. I am also aware that the choice of terminology in this report does not do justice to the diversity of the various Roma and related groups. Evidently, the question of denomination of minority groups is not merely one of terminology, but first and foremost, one of identity. Many Roma-related groups identify themselves primarily under a denomination other than Roma - such as Sinti, Kalé, Manouches and Gypsies (Tziganes, Gitanos). However, practical and linguistic reasons necessitated the use of the term “Roma” to refer to the various minority groups of Roma origin in this report. Naturally, when addressing the situation of a particular minority group, the wish of that minority as to their denomination should be the determining factor. In this report, the denomination “Travellers” refers both to the travelling Roma and Sinti (“gens du voyage”) as well as the distinct Traveller minority in Ireland and the United Kingdom who are not of Roma origin, but who lead a nomadic life-style, and therefore share many problems in common with the travelling Roma.

I. Addressing discrimination and inequality

`There is a lot of prejudice and discrimination against Roma in my country. We find it hard to do things that others take for granted.

It's difficult to get your child into a good school and higher education is often an unattainable goal. There are problems with the housing because no-one wants Roma in their neighbourhood.

We encounter problems because of who we are every day and we want to do something about it because our government turns a blind eye to racial crimes committed against Roma. Quite often we have problems with the police, they suspect we all must be criminals.

Even if you manage to graduate, it's really hard to get a job. People

assume that Roma are crooks and will steal or swindle.

We don't want to be given preferential treatment, we just want the same

opportunities as everyone.'

  1. This message that I received from a young Roma man describes well the reality which many Roma in Europe continue to face. Discrimination is not an issue affecting one particular branch of life, but it manifests itself in various different forms in public and private life, and is frequently fuelled by negative stereotyping in the media and even in statements by public officials. Anti-Roma sentiments are so deeply rooted in some societies that discrimination against the Roma in areas such as employment, education, housing or access to public premises appears to be generally tolerated, and not considered illegal.

  1. Achieving full respect for the principle of non-discrimination is a broad task implicating all members of society and requiring a significant shift in mentalities. Whilst this task is challenging, it is by no means unattainable. Education and awareness raising about Roma culture and traditions remain vital to this goal, since intolerance is often generated by lack of knowledge. Such education should start in schools, and include information on the negative consequences of racism and discrimination, and the importance of good ethnic relations for the development of the society as a whole. Initiatives aimed at increasing interaction between the Roma and non-Roma populations are also of great importance. The media play a crucial role in shaping public opinion, ideally offering an effective tool for distributing objective and educational information. Unfortunately, the media-images of the Roma often continue to be negative and distorted, which only increases the existing prejudices.

  1. A shift in mentalities does not, however, occur by itself without the state setting clear objectives and prohibitions while also taking positive promotional measures. This is why anti-discrimination legislation is of paramount importance for attaining the goals of equality. It is vital that each national constitution or other basic law should enshrine the principle of equality and the right of individuals to be free from discrimination. These general principles risk, however, to remain of little practical significance unless they are given full effect in civil, administrative and criminal laws. Whilst the adoption of Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights and of the EU racial equality directive have given significant impetus to strengthening anti-discrimination laws at national level, many member states are still to adopt sufficiently detailed anti-discrimination legislation. In this context, I would like to draw attention to the general policy recommendation on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination adopted by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance in December 2002. This recommendation provides detailed advice on the establishment of an effective anti-discrimination regime in national legislation and offers important guidance for states which are in the process of ratifying Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights and applying the EU equality directive.

  1. Recent years have seen an increase in litigation both at national and international levels in cases involving discrimination. Although each case is an indication of the persistence of anti-Roma discrimination, the increase in the number of cases brought before the courts is also reflective of enhanced awareness by the Roma about their rights. In countries where specific anti-discrimination provisions remain insufficient, a court judgment finding a violation of a constitutional equality provision has provided important jurisprudence. For instance, in countries which lack national legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination in access to public places, there have been successful cases before the national courts overturning denial of access to Roma to public places on the basis of the equality provision in the constitution. In addition to bringing a remedy to the victim, court decisions can have a preventive function by way of indicating to the public that certain behaviour is illegal. This requires, however, that sanctions imposed for the crimes of discrimination are of a sufficient level to be effective. In some countries, it is reported that the relatively low level of sanctions imposed in discrimination cases does not provide a sufficient deterrent for violations, nor are they effective in terms of preventing recidivism.

  1. National institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights have a crucial role in fighting discrimination and in offering a venue for individuals to complain about discriminatory measures against them. In many countries, however, the ombudspersons and other institutions have pointed out that they receive relatively few complaints from Roma individuals, although many of them would certainly have grounds to do so. Reasons for this are many, as was noted in the conclusions of the European Ombudsmen Conference held in Vilnius in 2002:

“[S]ome groups of the population complain less than others. Quite often there is an absence of complaints from precisely the most vulnerable sectors of the population, such as children, elderly people, foreigners, minorities of all kinds. This does not mean that violations do not occur among these groups; often, indeed, it is quite the opposite. The reason probably lies elsewhere: too little information about their own rights, unfamiliarity with the system, lack of trust in society, fear, etc. For the individual to be able to lodge a complaint, at least

four conditions need to be met. These are: the awareness of one's own rights and the rights of others; the existence of complaint procedures; the absence of fears of negative consequences of complaining; and confidence that the system is capable of correcting violations.”

  1. On a number of occasions, I have also underlined the importance for the national human rights institutions to reach out more actively to the Roma communities in their countries. At a meeting with Central and Eastern European ombudspersons in Budapest, the ombudspersons committed themselves to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable sections of the population, in particular minorities and persons who did not hold the nationality of the country in which they lived. The following year, in a meeting in Warsaw, the ombudspersons resolved to make a special effort to defend the rights of Roma/Gypsies.

  1. Unequal treatment is not always the result of intentional discrimination or racist attitudes, but it may be the result of societal structures that cater primarily to the needs of the majority population, without giving sufficient attention to the particular needs that minority populations may have. To a large extent, this results from the absence of members of minorities in the decision-making processes. Several studies have indicated that the level of participation of Roma in the conduct of public affairs is strikingly low, even when it comes to measures affecting exclusively the Roma.

  1. Auspiciously, a number of member states have taken measures to enhance the participation of Roma in decision-making processes through, for instance, the establishment of advisory councils or special governmental structures responsible for minority affairs, or through making a special provision for minority representation in elected bodies at national or local level. Whilst these developments are clearly very welcome, they are not sufficient by themselves. Some commentators have noted that the creation of special Roma posts within the administration has often more of a symbolic value, rather than a concrete impact. I have moreover been informed that those holding an official position representing the interests of the Roma, do not always communicate in an effective manner with Roma communities and, in particular, with young Roma.

  1. What is of critical importance is the long-term enhancement of the right of the Roma to participate, on terms of equality, in the general conduct of public affairs, be it in elected bodies or positions within the administration. Special attention must be devoted to promoting the participation of Roma women and Roma youth in decision-making processes. Strong Roma women and youth movements have emerged in recent years, and I encourage further support to be given to such movements.

  1. Ensuring that the situation of Roma populations is adequately addressed in decision-making processes is not, however, a task for the Roma alone. It is important that non-Roma politicians and authorities recognise that the situation of the Roma, like that of any other individuals, is a cause for the whole society. This requires that discriminatory attitudes within administrations are tackled, and that authorities and politicians assume their responsibilities in ensuring that all individuals are able to enjoy human rights on an equal footing. This does not apply only to those who are explicitly mandated with human rights tasks, but to all authorities, including in areas such as budget planning or formulation of housing policies. It is essential that in all segments of public administration, attention is given to the specific situation and needs of minority groups. This calls for an effective mainstreaming of minority rights issues within state structures.

  1. Ensuring effective participation of Roma at the European level is equally important, particularly when formulating responses to the many challenges faced by them in Europe. I have closely followed and supported the work towards the creation of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, which has been established as an independent association with a special relationship with the Council of Europe. The Forum will be able to provide advice to decision-making bodies at European, national and local levels on issues related to the protection of the rights of the Roma and Travellers. The expertise and advice given by the Forum will undoubtedly make a significant contribution towards ensuring that states are better informed and thereby better equipped to fulfil their obligations vis-