Strasbourg 18 March 2010: The European Roma and Travellers Forum welcomes the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 16th March 2010 which finds that Croatia violated the European Convention on Human Rights by placing Roma children in segregated classes in primary school.
The applicants are 15 Croatian nationals of Roma origin who were born between 1988 and 1994 and live in Orehovica, Podturen and Trnovec in northern Croatia. The case concerned the applicants’ complaint that they had been segregated at primary school because they were Roma. The applicants attended primary school in the villages of Macinec and Podutren at different times between the years 1996 and 2000. They participated in both Roma-only and mixed classes before leaving school at the age of 15. The applicants complained that they had been denied their right to education and discriminated against in this respect
The Court maintained that the right to primary education is a civil right under Article 2 of Protocol No 1 (right to education) and applicable to this case. It held that the segregation of Roma children is in violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education), as well as of Article 6 §1 (right to a fair trial within a reasonable time), given the undue delay before the Constitutional Court.
So, although at first glance, this judgement appears to be reassuring news and a positive step in the right direction, it should not overshadow the reality that in many Council of Europe Member States such segregation practices remain in force in one form or another. Yet why should Roma children be seperated in school from their non-Roma classmates? Why should Roma children be placed in “special schools” or classes for children with mental disabilities (despite not having any mental disability themselves)? Why should Roma children be segregated in mainstream Roma-only schools or classes? Why?
The ERTF believes that these tough questions should be asked, especially since we are not just talking about past or current practices but, even more alarmingly, possible future practices.
For example, the European Roma and Travellers Forum cannot but express its deepest concerns regarding the recent proposal by the Slovak Prime Minister to his government to set up a programme aimed at placing as many Roma children as possible in boarding schools and gradually separating them from their regular family lives.
Yet it goes without saying that the separation of children from their families reinforces segregation and exclusion which, in turn, produce emotional and psychological harm in Roma children, in terms of lower self-esteem and self-respect and problems in the development of their identity. So again, the ERTF asks, WHY? The European Roma and Travellers Forum urges the Slovak Prime Minister to withdraw his proposal.
Furthermore, ERTF echoes the recommendations outlined by many international human rights organizations to stop school segregation of Romani children and promote inclusive measures in education, by calling on all the Council of Europe Member States concerned to eliminate the systematic placing of Roma children in special schools and classes, to discontinue psychological testing as a means for assigning children into special education and to ensure inclusive education for all children.
“ERTF strongly believes that it is essential for state leaders to recognize that we have a common destiny in Europe where our children grow up together, knowing and respecting each other, incorporating all diverse backgrounds, and are given the proper educational tools to prepare them for success in our society. All children have the right to an education free from discrimination. Yet if we are to continue along a path of deepening separation and entrenched inequality, this will only diminish our common potential”, insisted Mr. Rudko Kawczynski, President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.