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ROUNDTABLE ON ROMA AND SINTI NATIONAL POLICIES


Organised by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Council of Europe, and the Project on Ethnic Relations

1, 2 November 1998


along side the

OSCE Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues

Warsaw
26 October - 6 November 1998


Session 1: Development of national policies in favour of minority rights ofRoma and Sinti, in particular the prevention of violence and discrimination


Opening comments

In opening the roundtable, the ODIHR Director expressed his enthusiasm overthe increased participation of Roma in this year's roundtable. He alsostated ODIHR's continued concern for discrimination, pointing out that thesituation among Roma and Sinti is not getting better in the social field,and that racially motivated violence poses an even greater problem.Similarly, there is growing concern over the appearance of extremist,populist movements in both Western and Eastern Europe, and their targetingof Roma and Sinti populations.

In view of this situation, the OSCE is determined to keep Roma and Sintiissues on the agenda, while continuing its awareness-raising activities,especially with regards to social discrimination and racial violence. It wasunderlined that the role of national policies calls for serious attention,and protective legislation should be enacted to impede manifestations ofviolence and discrimination. At the same time, Roma and Sinti should beencouraged to have a higher participation in policies addressing theirneeds. To aid this process, one of ODIHR's goals is to promotecommunication. Activities such as the home page of the ODIHR Contact Pointon Roma and Sinti, the forthcoming meeting of young Romani leaders and theprogramme for Romani interns at ODIHR, supported by the Norwegiangovernment, were presented as actions in this direction. The support of suchactivities, together with enhanced co-ordination among Romani organisations,should contribute to Roma gaining strategic participation in processes aimedat addressing their situations.


Public policies concerning Roma and Sinti

The Council of Europe delegate pointed out that there are interesting andencouraging developments in the region, namely, the adoption of policies insome of the countries with the largest Romani population. Here, specialmention was made of those in Central and Eastern European Countries such asthe renewed policy of the Czech government, the comprehensive strategies inthe Slovak Republic and Hungary, and the policies under discussion inBulgaria and Romania. While stressing that only a comprehensive approach cando justice to the situation, it was also pointed out that adoption ofprogrammes alone is insufficient. Policies must also be accompanied by otherspecifications such as adequate resources, precise measures and deadlines.

As public policies concerning Roma and Sinti in the OSCE region was thetheme of this year's background Paper. 4, some highlights of the paper werepresented. While recognising that a number of governments seem to haveresponded positively to concerns raised over the situation and treatment ofRoma and Sinti in the region, the paper points to some possible shortcomingsand negative side effects of what may be considered well-intended policies.In particular, there is a risk that new policies concerning Roma and Sintireflect the old language and approach of a "social problem", withinstitutional tools of past policies. Similarly, historically rootedprejudice may be formalised in public policies, where Roma are definedaccording to long-standing negative attitudes, using statistics and otherrecordings, which contradict standards on the protection of personal dataand free choice of ethnic identity.

One Romani participant stressed that Roma are the first to be hit by theeconomic crisis, especially in Central and Eastern European countries, whereunemployment rates among Roma are 4-5 times higher than non-Roma. Concernwas raised over the extent to which programme funding by institutions suchas the World Bank actually reaches Roma. It was later suggested by anotherparticipant that governments consider possible ways to encourage Westernbusinesspersons (especially Romani) to support trade and investments amongRoma in Eastern Europe through different incentive programmes.

In addition, greater stress should be put on a multi-cultural approach,which allows for the development of Romani culture, especially in the fieldof education. Along these lines, it was expressed that much still needs tobe done to support greater participation of Romani students in universities,while ensuring full equality of human rights among Roma.


Romani 'unity', representation and participation in government policy processes

A delegate from the government of the Slovak Republic stated that they aredeveloping policies to deal specifically with the Romani minority of thecountry. In particular, the government has adopted a special programme andbudget to address Romani issues, which is periodically controlled by aspecial government body for 'people in special need'. He also explained thatthe Slovak government, together with the governments of the Czech Republicand Hungary are trying to organise an International Working Group onRomani-related issues. In response to a question regarding the participationof Roma in this working group, the government representative expressed thedifficulty they face in working with the numerous Romani organisations inthe country. He further specified that it would be useful if there was moreunity among the organisations and one representative person could bedelegated.

This last statement led to a series of comments from among the Romaniparticipants who have faced similar situations with the governments in theirown countries. It was pointed out that Romani organisations can also bepolitical opponents, with different ideologies, priorities and interests, inthe same way as other organisations of mainstream society. With this inmind, they should not be treated differently than other like groups. Alongthese lines, governments may seek out Romani partners with similar politicalideologies in some cases, while learning to deal with the diversity ofRomani organisations in other situations. In addition, it was stated thatthe existence of so many organisations should not be seen as a negativefactor, but a good opportunity to hear many voices express the needs fromamong the Romani population. Some Roma participants felt that governmentofficials used the 'lack of unity among Roma' as an excuse to avoid workingwith them. It was pointed out that in Hungary only one nationalrepresentative is allowed, which therefore prevents participation ofopposition groups. It may be more beneficial to have a list of Romanirepresentatives at the national level.

It was suggested that a solution to this challenge may be seen a two-wayprocess. On the hand, Roma should come to speak about a relative unity,based on some commonalties and come together in certain situations wherestates may come to feel that they are working with legitimaterepresentatives. On the other hand, governments must come to accept and copewith the de facto plurality among Roma in their countries, seeking out waysto work with the diverse groups.

One positive example presented was a civil society initiative of the HumanRights Project in Bulgaria, which formed a team of experts in order to draftthe comprehensive policy document concerning Roma, 'For Equal Participationof Roma in Public Life in Bulgaria'. The draft policy document was submittedto Romani organisations throughout the country, resulting in the backing of70 Romani organisations. In this way, these diverse Romani civicorganisations were able to initiate dialogue with the Bulgarian governmentover a national policy.

At the European level as well, it was suggested that Roma, governments andinternational organisations consider the possibility of starting a processfor creating an international representative body such as a Roma Europeanparliament. As a stateless minority, this would provide for a legitimaterepresentative to speak with different bodies, while defending and promotingRoma's rights.


Specific Romani concerns and issues raised during the discussions

A number of issues were raised by Romani participants during the course ofthe discussions. One of these includes concern over discriminatoryadministration of justice in the Czech Republic, citing the case of a youngRomani woman who drowned in the water in an incident last year, and thefailure of the prosecution to recognise the act as racially motivated.

Another Romani participant stated that the recent reporting of some 1000Slovak-Roma migrating to Belgium should be taken as a signal of thedifficult situation of Roma in the country. One participant expressed hisregrets that someone from the Belgian delegation was not present at theroundtable.

Attention was also drawn to recent police raid in Hermanovce, EasternSlovakia, which reportedly included beatings of Romani men, women andchildren and the failure of police officers to explain their actions andpresent search warrants upon entering the homes of the Roma.

In relation to the forced expulsion of Romanian-Roma found in Poland thisyear, one Romani participant brought forth the request that these people beallowed to return to take their belongings.

A case in Romania regarding discriminatory treatment of Roma in benefitingfrom resources aimed at improving local infrastructure was also presented.The Romani lawyer present stated that it is the first case of its kind inRomania, where charges of discrimination are to be brought against localauthorities. The case is especially interesting as it shows the social,economic and political dynamics of discrimination among local level publicofficials.

Finally, the favourable decision of the European Court of Human Rights inthe Assenov vs. Bulgaria case was mentioned as an historical and symbolicvictory for human rights of Roma.


Session 2: European Commission 'Agenda 2000' and its impact on Roma and Sinti in accessing countries


The situation of Roma in view of the political criteria of accession

The second session of the roundtable was opened by a delegate of theEuropean Commission, who presented, in brief, the political criteria of EUaccession from the perspective of the provisions regarding Roma. Among thepolitical criteria, the rule of law, democracy and minorities are crucialelements. In this regard, Agenda 2000 opinions make explicit reference toRoma. It was stated that in general, integration of minorities issatisfactory, except for the situation of Roma. In the opinion of the ECdelegate, there is a high degree of political leverage, as the process ofenlargement involves a permanent screening and analysis by the EuropeanCommission, in view of meeting the criteria.


Financial schemes for assisting governments in developing policiesconcerning Roma

In addition, for the first time the Commission also has a financial scheme,which includes 2 million ECU to assist the Romanian government in developinga policy focusing on strategies for integration of the Roma. It was alsostated that similar initiatives will be taken for all Central and EasternEuropean countries, and that Roma participation was part of the terms ofreference and implementation.

Commenting on the support given by the Commission, a delegate of theRomanian government highlighted some aspects of the programme, including thecreation of an inter-ministerial committee and a technical support unit.While official census data puts the Roma population at less than 500,000, itwas mentioned that the government acknowledges that Roma most likely numberbetween 1 and 1.5 million, and recognises that discrimination against Romadoes exist. The importance of the necessary administrative capacity, coupledwith political will, was also underlined. Another important aspect toconsider was how channels of communication between the government and Romaniorganisations may be effectively implemented.

A representative of the Romanian government Department for the Protection ofNational Minorities also announced that they are currently working ondrafting a Minority Law, along with a Law on Anti-Semitism and Anti-racism.


Concerns and suggestions regarding national policies supported by the European Commission

Some concerns raised with regards to this and other national policy contextsincluded the use of these resources for more sociological andanthropological research, stressing that Roma want to be partners in theprocess, not subjects of scientific studies. Other participants alsostressed the importance of Roma participation, including statements thatRoma want to work together with governments, know how to haverepresentatives and show what they want. At the same time, there was somescepticism regarding the openness and sincerity of government officials tolisten and take into account policy recommendations put forth by Roma.

One suggestion related to the situation in Romania, and relevant for othercountries, was the possibility to have organised dialogue between therelevant government officials and Romani organisations, aimed at improvingrelations and communication around issues related to designing,implementing, monitoring and evaluating national policies concerning Roma.Here the Project on Ethnic Relations was invited to assist in thisfacilitation, while participation of delegates from internationalorganisations would also be constructive.

In terms of monitoring the situation in EU candidate countries, the questionas to whether there are specific instructions and guidelines concerning Romahuman rights issues was also raised. In responding the EC delegate stressedthat there is clearly a need to associate Roma in the monitoring process forfulfilling political criteria, and that the main question for both Roma andthe governments is not if Roma should participate, but how Roma shouldparticipate.

It was also suggested that the EU consider the possibility of including theCouncil of Europe Recommendation 1201 as a necessary binding document tosecure both individual and collective rights among Roma.


Session 3: Co-operation of international institutions: OSCE, Council ofEurope and the European Commission


Recognising strengths and enhancing co-operation among internationalinstitutions

The third session of the roundtable was centred on strengtheningco-operation among international institutions in working with Roma onimproving their situation and consolidating their global human rights. Itwas pointed out that since the OSCE Human Dimension Meeting on Roma in 1994,the ODIHR Contact Point on Roma and Sinti and the Council of Europe havedeveloped a good working relationship. However, there is a need to expandthis bi-partite co-operation by working with other internationalinstitutions, especially the European Commission.

It was underlined that the strength of international organisations has beenmost efficient in their awareness-raising activities, in passingresolutions, setting standards and engaging governments to take commitmentsin the areas of human and minority rights. Along these lines, there may beenhanced activities on working out advisory roles, in monitoringdevelopments in Participating States, and formulating new resolutions andrecommendations. Furthermore, the international organisations may aidgovernments in the identification of more effective means of implementingpast commitments. Here, the European Commission may contribute with itshuman and financial resources, complimenting the comparative advantages ofthe ODIHR and Council of Europe.

The activities of the ODIHR and the Council of Europe may also bestrengthened. In particular, an ODIHR Advisor on Romani issues and anenhanced continuation of Romani interns at the ODIHR were also discussed. Itwas pointed out that the mandate of the Advisor, together with Romaniinterns, may serve as a contact point for addressing human rights problems.Therefore, it may serve like an international Ombudsman, on the one hand,while working with other national Ombudsman institutions, on the other. Thepossibility for a longer term, even permanent Romani position at the ODIHRContact Point on Roma and Sinti was also suggested, as a way to expand thelargely administrative functions of the Romani interns.

In areas related to the prevention of conflict, it was suggested that theHigh Commissioner on National Minorities be requested to intervene, as thisis part of his mandate.

Similarly, while the Council of Europe Specialist Group on Roma has provideda new impetus to addressing the spectrum of Romani-related issues, delegateswere encouraged to request that their governments vote in favour of creatingthe post of a Mediator on Roma, who will have an even broader mandate thanthe Specialist Group. The Chairperson of the Specialist group also suggestedthat they may contribute to the monitoring of the situations in countriesfound in the EU accession process.

At the same time, it was stressed that as these are inter-governmentalinstitutions, it is critical that an active and independent non-governmentalsector exists to compliment their activities.


Particular areas needing attention and support of internationalorganisations, especially the OSCE ODIHR Contact Point on Roma and Sinti

Participants also identified some particular areas in which the ODIHR andother international organisations may assist. One of these concerns workingwith local authorities in the area of education on anti-discrimination andanti-racism, as much resistance is often met at lower levels of governance.Similarly, the ODIHR's work on the rule-of-law may provide an importantresource for the Contact Point on Roma and Sinti in assisting ParticipatingStates on adequately addressing racially motivated crimes and the enactmentof anti-discrimination legislation.

While an Ombudsman profile of the Advisor on Romani issues at ODIHR may alsocontribute to this, a number of participants again raised the need forbeginning work on a European Charter on Roma Rights. Accordingly, thegravity of the continuing reports of human rights violations, along withother ‘particular problems' confronting Roma, calls for more specificprovisions which are able to guarantee full participation of Roma inrespective societies. It may also be considered to what extent the ODIHRAdvisor on Roma issues may be able to lobby different organisations andcommunicate with Participating States over funding of various programmes.

Last year's proposal for an international donors' conference on Romaniissues was also put forth again this year. Here the idea of having atwo-part meeting was stressed, where Roma could first meet among themselvesbefore meeting with representatives of various donor institutions.

One of the government delegations present also requested that the ODIHRContact Point on Roma and Sinti provide an inventory of organisationsworking on Romani-related issues, including contact information and areas ofwork, so that field officers may be better informed.

Finally, it was suggested that there be intensive training of young Romanipersons, which may contribute to greater participation of Roma in differentorganisations and institutions. Such training could consider a combinationof Romani heritage and culture with skills needed for dealing with moderninstitutions and tools. Human rights, including protective legislation andthe methods for addressing violations, would also be a valuable aspect ofsuch training.


Recommendations

Among the recommendations highlighted below, some of these may be addressedby specialised units of the OSCE ODIHR, while others may be carried out inco-operation with other international organisations, both governmental andnon-governmental. Particular stress should be put on the participation ofRoma, therefore contributing to a raised profile of Roma in differentprocesses concerning their situations.

  • The OSCE-ODIHR Contact Point on Roma and Sinti may consider developing a Special Unit to monitor national policies concerning Roma. In this regard, it is also recommended that the profile of the Contact Point be strengthened. Here the ODIHR experience and programmes on the rule-of-law may also prove an important resource for the Contact Point on Roma and Sinti.
  • One way to strengthen the Contact Point would be to appoint an Advisor on Roma issues. The profile of this Advisor may include that of an Ombudsman, able to provide advice and assistance to governments and Ombudsman institutions, especially in the areas of racial violence and discrimination. Similarly, it should be considered to what extent the Contact Point may work with other institutions in moving forward the suggestion of working on a European Charter on Roma Rights.
  • The ODIHR should continue its awareness-raising activities, while focusing on areas of protective legislation in Participating States. In particular, anti-discrimination legislation, protection of personal data, and laws on minorities are seen as needing attention.
  • The OSCE may consider how it may upgrade the profile of Roma within a broader context of security. Here Roma's own concept of personal and group security may be promoted and protected. Such a clarification may contribute particularly in relation to issues of migration and asylum.
  • The ODIHR, together with other organisations, may work more with public officers, especially at the local levels, in critical areas such as non-discrimination in social policy aspects such as housing, police – Roma relations, prevention of violence, and dealing with extremist groups. Similarly, it may be considered how dialogue among Roma organisations and government bodies may be facilitated, especially in relation to national policies concerning Roma.



Closing words

This year's roundtable benefited from greater participation of Roma fromaround the region, who also met amongst themselves outside the context ofthe Implementation Meeting. Similarly, the participation of governmentdelegates was also appreciated as it provided an opportunity for dialogue.It should be mentioned that a number of Romani participants felt that thisand future meetings should have technical support for translation intoRomani language, a provision usually not made for parallel meetings of theplenary Implementation Meeting. One Romani participant suggested that agroup of young Roma who speak both Romani and English be recruited for thetask.

Overall the greater participation was an encouraging sign and similar forumbringing together different groups and organisations should be organised,therefore creating space for concerns to be raised and possible actions andremedies to be identified.

Prepared by

Jennifer Tanaka

November 1998