ECRI latest report on Romania: Roma rights still in danger

by ERIO on June 10th, 2014

By Gianluca Cesaro, ERIO
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released its fourth report on Romania on the 3rd June. ECRI is an independent organ of the Council of Europe and assesses main trends in racism and discrimination issues in the Council’s member states. The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) is pleased to present ECRI’s findings related to the Roma population, which was treated in a dedicated section.

This fourth report shows some limited progress with respect to ECRI’s last evaluation (2007). One of the main results achieved, as the report underlines, is the introduction of the racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance for all criminal offences provided under the Criminal Code. The principle of the sharing of the burden of proof before the courts has also been introduced by law.

Positive measures have been taken also in order to strengthen the fight against anti-Roma prejudices. The employment of Roma mediators in schools and hospitals, as well as the development of education programmes tailored for Roma pupils, are further key results.

Despite these positive developments, a number of shortcomings continue to challenge the concrete implementation of Roma rights. National strategies for the inclusion of Roma experienced great difficulties to take off and produced little progress. Moreover, these strategies are almost entirely supported by EU funds and do not receive appropriate national resources.

Public insults and defamation on racial discrimination grounds are not prohibited under the law. This is all the more crucial for the Roma population, as “stigmatising statements against them are common in the political discourse, they encounter little criticism and are echoed by the press, the audio-visual media and on the Internet”.

One countering example is a 2013 case involving an extremist group based in Timisoara, inciting Roma women to undergo medical sterilisation, which ended up in an investigation in relation to the promotion of fascist and racist ideology. Cases as such, however, remain the exception, the majority being silenced. For instance, another fascist organisation, Noua Dreapta (the New Right), commemorates each year leaders of the legionary movement, promotes their ideas and makes hateful statements against Roma among others without ever being legally questioned.

Training of public officials remain insufficient. As for the training of judges and prosecutors, the “Equal Access to Justice for Roma” project addressed incitement to hatred and genocide, but was limited to the civil aspects, neglecting the necessary criminal dimension. As for law-enforcement authorities, the Romanian version of the OSCE manual on police, Roma and Sinti people was launched in 2011, still no broader approach for combating prejudices and anti-Roma discrimination has been envisaged.

ECRI acknowledges the positive impact of some measures aiming at fostering a tolerant climate of opinion, mainly through television programmes. Nonetheless, stigmatising statements abound among politicians and public personalities, often echoed by the press, television and Internet. For instance, in 2007 three members of Parliament presented a draft law in order to change the official name of the Roma to tsigani. More recently, two MPs submitted an amendment to the Committee for the Revision of the Constitution proposing that “no minority, except those with common scientifically attested roots with the Romanians, be entitled to use in its official denomination the term ‘Romanian’ or variations/roots of this term”. Similar attitudes are visible also in the sport sector, with the Bucharest’s football clubs (Steaua Bucharest) regularly making racist statements against the Roma.

Education is one of the most problematic fields. The number of classrooms/schools in which Roma pupils are segregated continues to be very high and discrimination remains one of the main disincentives for Roma pupils to finalise their studies in addition to socio-economic factors. A number of education-support programmes have been launched in order to assist children who are socio-economically disadvantaged, including the Roma, still no specific projects currently target Roma children in pre-school.

As for employment, only 35.5% of Roma were employed in 2011, against a general unemployment rate of 7.4%. The authorities have identified the following as being the main obstacles to securing the durable employment of the Roma: the lack of personal identification documents in many cases; low educational background; low income which hinders their ability to reach places in which training workshops are organised; the entitlement to a minimum guaranteed income; high levels of discrimination towards this community.

As regards health, Roma suffer a higher mortality rate and lower life expectancy. Only 45% of them have medical insurance, as opposed to 85% of the non-Roma population. More generally, Roma continue to represent the ethnic group which is most affected by discrimination in the field of health, as proved by cases where Roma were refused medical treatment, or segregated in separate wards in hospitals.

Other forms of discrimination detected by the report include lack of identity document, precluding access to political rights, social benefits, health care and the job market, discriminatory access to social housing, forced evictions and racist violence. Worryingly enough, in 2012 Romanian police was reported to kill Roma individuals in three different instances after altercations. Official documents justify these killings as self-defence or state of emergency, situations that are contradicted by civil society testimonies.

You can read the full report here.

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