MINELRES: Croatian Romani Children Sue at European Court of Human Rights

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Dec 27 09:59:41 2004

Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org>

Legal Action at the Premiere European Human Rights Court Challenges
Racial Segregation of Romani Children in Croatian Primary Schools 

On 15 December 2004, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the
Croatian Helsinki Committee (CHC) jointly filed an application against
Croatia with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The
submission prepared by ERRC staff attorneys in co-operation with Ms.
Lovorka Kusan, a Croatian attorney-at-law, seeks justice for fifteen
Romani children who have been forced to endure racially segregated
education in Croatia, in violation of Croatian domestic law and numerous
international human rights standards. Although the children sought
redress in Croatian courts, more than two years and eight months
following the submission of the complaint locally, two courts have
rejected the case, and the Croatian Constitutional Court is yet to rule
on the matter. This denial of justice has forced the children to look to
the European Court of Human Rights for a remedy. 

All of the 15 Romani applicants whose case will be heard in Strasbourg
attend segregated Roma-only classes in what are otherwise
"regular"primary schools. Their placement stems from a blatant practice
of discrimination based on race/ethnicity carried out by the schools
concerned, the pervasive anti-Romani sentiment of the local non-Romani
community, and ultimately the unwillingness and/or inability of the
Croatian authorities, local and national alike, to provide them with

The teaching syllabus for the pupils attending separate Roma-only
classes is significantly reduced in scope and volume compared to the
officially prescribed teaching plan and program. As a result of this
practice, stretching back to the very beginning of their primary
education, the applicants have suffered severe educational,
psychological and emotional harm. In particular, by being subjected to a
curriculum far inferior to that in mainstream classes, they have
sustained damage to their opportunities to secure adequate employment in
the future, they have been stigmatized with the effects of diminished
self-esteem and feelings of humiliation, alienation and lack of
self-worth, and they have been forced to study in racially/ethnically
segregated classrooms and hence denied the benefits of a multi-cultural
educational environment. Official government statistics show that almost
60% of all Romani pupils in Medjimurje County -- the region at issue --
attend separate Roma-only classes. Moreover, in at least one of the
schools concerned, more than 88% of all Romani students are schooled in
segregated classes.  

On 19 April 2002, as part of a larger group of Romani pupils, the 15
applicants, assisted by local counsel and the ERRC, filed a complaint
with the Municipal Court in Cakovec against the Republic of
Croatia/Ministry of Education, the County of Medjimurje, as well as the
four primary schools in Orehovica, Macinec, Kursanec and Podturen. The
complaint requested:  

* A judicial finding of racial discrimination/segregation in education,
* An order that the defendants develop and implement a monitoring system
and a plan to end racial segregation and discrimination and to achieve
full integration, and
* An order that the plaintiffs be placed in integrated classrooms and
provided with the compensatory education necessary for them to overcome
the adverse effects of past discrimination/segregation. 

On 26 September 2002 the Municipal Court in Cakovec issued a ruling
rejecting the complaint filed by the plaintiffs. This decision was
appealed on 17 October 2002 with the Cakovec County Court. On 14
November 2002 the appeal was rejected and the decision of Cakovec
Municipal Court confirmed. 

Although the defendants failed to produce any meaningful evidence to
justify their practices, and notwithstanding the overwhelming
authority/evidence in support of the pupils presented during the court
proceedings, both the first instance court and the second instance court
failed to provide redress for the violations suffered. 

On 19 December 2002 the applicants filed a complaint with the Croatian
Constitutional Court requesting that both judgments be quashed and the
case retried. Almost two years later, however, this court is yet to take
any action. It has therefore become evident that the constitutional
complaint filed in present case is not an effective domestic remedy, in
law or in practice, because even should the Constitutional Court now
rule in favour of the applicants it could only quash the judgments of
the lower courts and send the case back for a retrial before the Cakovec
Municipal Court. This would mean that the entire litigation cycle would
re-commence, take many additional years to complete, and would in effect
have the result of sealing the fate of the applicants regardless of the
ultimate legal outcome. 

In view of this situation and in the absence of any redress to date, the
Romani children concerned have now turned for justice to the European
Court of Human Rights. The application filed on their behalf by the
ERRC, CHC and Ms Kusan contends that: 

1) the applicants' placement into the separate classes for the Roma only
constitutes "degrading treatment"in violation of Article 3 of the
European Convention of Human Rights, 
2) the applicants have been denied their right to education, in breach
of Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, 
3) the applicants have suffered racial discrimination in the enjoyment
of the right to education, in violation of Article 14, 
4) the applicants have been subjected to a determination of their civil
rights in a procedure that has proved fundamentally flawed and
consequently in clear violation of the fair trial guarantees contained
in Article 6 of the Convention, and 
5) the applicants have been denied an effective domestic remedy, in
violation of Article 13. 

In addition, the applicants have requested comprehensive redress
including just compensation in accordance with Article 41 of the

For additional details regarding this case, please contact:

* Branimir Plese, ERRC Legal Director: branko@errc.org, phone:+361 413
* Bojan Munjin, Croatian Helsinki Committee: bmunjin@hho.hr, phone:
+3851 481 2322
* Lovorka Kusan, attorney-at-law: lovorka.kusan@zg.htnet.hr, phone:
+351288 2447


The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC
website at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Phone:+36 1 4132200
Fax:+36 1 4132201

The Croatian Helsinki Committee (CHC) for Human Rights is one of the
largest, oldest and most famous nongovernmental organizations in
Croatia. The CHC is an independent association of Croatian citizens,
founded in order to protect and promote human rights. It is a voluntary,
non-governmental, non-political and non-profit organization.

Croatian Helsinki Committee
Ilica 15/3
10 000 Zagreb, Hrvatska
Phone: +385 1 4812 322
Fax: +385 1 4812 324
E-mail: hho@hho.hr


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