Image via WikipediaA high level meeting of government officials to discuss issues related to the rights and obligations of Europe's Roma communities is scheduled for Strasbourg on 20 October.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland's initiative followed his discussions on 17 September with French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche. (more ...)
Within the Council of Europe, the necessary legal framework exits to combat the discrimination and social inequality faced by many of the 10 and 12 million Roma who live in the organisation’s 47 member states.
Recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers have highlighted the obligations of member states to Roma people with regard to health, housing and education.
Since 1995, the Committee of Experts on Roma and Travellers (MG-S-ROM) has advised governments and international authorities to take appropriate action against intolerance and to prevent social exclusion.
Roma victims of discrimination can seek redress through the provisions of the European Social Charter.
It lays down fundamental rights (related to housing, health, education, employment, social and legal protection and non discrimination), which States Parties have undertaken to secure to nationals of the States Parties (43 out of the 47 member states).
In addition, no one (i.e. including nationals of non Council of Europe member states, persons in an irregular situation, undocumented persons and thus also Roma and Travellers falling within these categories) may be deprived of the rights under the Charter which are linked to life and dignity (e.g. urgent medical assistance should be granted to everyone; no one may be evicted, not even from an illegally occupied site, without respecting the dignity of the persons concerned and without alternative accommodation being made available; everyone has a right to shelter; everyone has a right to procedural safeguards in the event of expulsion, etc).
Violations found by the European Committee on Social Rights with specific regard to the rights of Roma, Sinti and/or Travellers concern Articles 11, 13, 16, 17, 19, 30 and 31.
Fourteen countries, parties to the European Charter For Regional Or Minority Languages, have opted to protect the Romani language.
The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is a legally binding multilateral accord which offers minimum safeguards to groups within the respective territories of the Parties.
Thirty-nine states are party to the Convention and most of them grant protection under the Convention to Roma people.
The Commissioner for Human Rights offers advice on matters affecting Roma communities, whilst the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI) recommends to the member State governments to:
- take measures to ensure that justice is fully and promptly done in cases of violations of fundamental rights of Roma and that no degree of impunity is tolerated as regards crimes committed against Roma;
- enact comprehensive legislation covering discrimination by public authorities and private persons and to provide legal aid to Roma victims;
- encourage Roma participation in decision-making processes, an active role for their organisations and dialogue with the police and local authorities;
- encourage awareness-raising among media professionals and provide training to teachers and all those involved in the administration of justice;
- ensure equal access to education for Roma children and to combat all forms of school segregation; and
- ensure that questions relating to “travelling” within a country, in particular regulations concerning residence and town planning, are solved in a way which does not hinder the way of life of the persons concerned.
ECRI has also recommended improvements on Roma concerns such as cultural identity and data collection, the conduct of law enforcement officials and access to public places, personal documents, social welfare and other services.
As with other Europeans, Roma who feel unjustly treated may also turn to the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights.
The Court’s case-law underlines the importance of Articles 2, 3 , 5 and 13 in offering protection to Roma people and others.
Article 14 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 prohibit discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status , the former with respect to any right guaranteed by the ECHR, the latter with respect also to any other right set forth in national law.
Other examples of discrimination amounting to a violation of Article 14 include: differences of treatment by a Court on account of the accused’s Roma origin (in connection with Article 6 – Right to a fair trial) ; the refusal to grant a pension to a Roma widow because marriage under Roma rites was held to be void of civil effects after having recognised the couple as a family under any other perspective (in connection with Article 1 of Protocol no. 1 – Protection of property) ; ineligibility of Roma people in elections (in connection with Article 3 of Protocol No. 3 – Right to free elections, also found to be a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 12).