MINELRES: Renewed Action on Racially Segregated Schools in Croatia

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Nov 1 08:18:24 2004

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

Press release

Joint ERRC and CHC Letter of Concern: Segregation of Romani Children in 
Croatian Primary Schools

Budapest, Zagreb: 28 October 2004. Today, the European Roma Rights
Center (ERRC) and the Croatian Helsinki Committee (CHC) sent a letter to
Dr Dragan Primorac, Croatia's Minister of Education, copied to the
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, to
express concern about recent reports indicating that school authorities
in Croatia have again engaged in segregating practices. In particular,
the letter focuses on disturbing developments at the primary school in
Kursanec, Medjimurje County, where first grade Romani pupils appear to
have been racially segregated. In this regard, the ERRC and the CHC
stress that educational segregation based on race/ethnicity is a
singular evil and as such in violation of numerous Croatian and
international legal standards, and urge Minister Primorac to take all
measures within his competence to remedy the situation. The ERRC and CHC
offer to meet with the Minister and his colleagues in order to
facilitate any integration efforts. With respect to similar incidents in
the past, the ERRC has taken legal action before the European Court of
Human Rights. For further information on ERRC litigation to combat
racial segregation in Croatian schools, see
http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=321&archiv=1. The full text of the
letter sent yesterday follows:

Honorable Minister Primorac,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest 
law organization with consultative status at the Council of Europe and
the United Nations, and the Croatian Helsinki Committee (CHC) are
particularly concerned about recent reports indicating that the primary
school in Kursanec, Medjimurje County, has again engaged in segregating
practices, this time targeting first grade Romani pupils.

According to the information available, prior to the beginning of the 
current academic year (2004/2005), the primary school in Kursanec
planned to create four first grade classes for 77 pupils in all. Due to
prescribed class size and the number of Romani pupils (58), the school
planned to set up two integrated classes consisting of an equal number
of Romani and non-Romani students and another two consisting of Romani
students only.

Foreseeing possible dissatisfaction on the part of the non-Romani
parents and in view of their previous reactions in this respect, the
school decided to call a parents-teachers meeting and present the
parents with the pedagogical justification for the proposed class

This meeting was held on 8 July 2004 and was attended, in addition to
the school principal and pedagogue, by town representatives: Mayor
Branko Salomon, head of the Administrative Department for Social
Activities Slobodan Veinovic, and Town Council member Mrs. Kermek.
Non-Romani parents were informed about the plans and it was stressed
that most of the Romani children had received high quality preparation
for primary school participation through a two-year pre-school programme
funded by the Open Society Institute and a number of other donors
including the Croatian Ministry of Education. No Romani parents were
invited. Notwithstanding these arguments, the non-Romani parents
vehemently expressed their dissatisfaction with the school's proposal,
stressing that their children in such classes would still fall behind
compared to the pupils in schools with no Romani students. They demanded
that all of their children be placed in a single class together, with
the possibility of adding only several Romani pupils. The non-Romani
parents appeared resolute and categorically refused to listen to all
pedagogical reasons, and also would not even acknowledge the school's
legal obligation to provide integrated education. Ultimately, the
parents left the meeting in protest, demanding that the necessary
approval from the Ministry of Education be obtained in order to
restructure the classes in accordance with their wishes. In the
meantime, they requested that their children be disenrolled.

Subsequently, the school informed Assistant Head of the State
Administration Office Mrs. Mirjana Krnjak of the emerging problem and
asked for a meeting at the Ministry of Education. On 16 July 2004 this
meeting was hosted by the Administrative Councillor for Minority
Education Mrs. Jadranka Huljev, and attended by Mrs. Krnjak,
representative of the County Mr. Drago Golubic, town representatives Mr.
Slobodan Veinovic, and principal of the primary school in Kursanec Mrs.
Marija Tepalovic. Having been briefed on the situation, Mrs. Huljev
stressed that the non-Romani parents' demand was justified, and that
students whose native language is Croatian ought to be allowed to be
schooled according to their parents' wishes. Several days before the
start of the new academic year in September 2004, the primary school in
Kursanec received the formal approval from the Ministry of Education to
restructure its first grade classes in such a way that three out of four
classes consist of Romani students only and the fourth class comprise 6
Romani pupils out of 25 attending that class, the total number of pupils
in the first grade being 77 and 58 of them Romani.

Honourable Minister Primorac, in view of the above, we respectfully
submit that even when Romani children undisputedly acquire the necessary
Croatian language skills, language is still used as an excuse to
segregate them. Their placement therefore in reality is a result of
discrimination/segregation based on race/ethnicity carried out by the
schools concerned, the dominating and 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
address this situation appropriately. This is why the ERRC has in the
past, concerning similar incidents had no choice but to turn to the
European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where we believe that
legal redress will be obtained and justice served. Both the ERRC and the
CHC are however saddened by this latest episode which only seems to
confirm that to date the situation remains of deep concern.

We also take this opportunity to repeat that educational segregation
based on race/ethnicity is a singular evil and as such in violation of
numerous Croatian and international legal standards, including the
European Convention on Human Rights - in particular, of Article 3
(freedom from degrading treatment), Article 2 Protocol 1 (right to
education), Article 13 (right to an effective domestic remedy) and
Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

Honorable Minister Primorac, in view of the forgoing the ERRC and CHC
respectfully urge you to take all measures within your competence to
remedy the situation in the primary school in Kursanec and indeed
throughout Medjimurje County. As a state aspiring to European Union
membership, Croatia must comply and be seen to comply with its
fundamental human rights commitments. Romani pupils can therefore no
longer be treated as second class citizens.

The ERRC and CHC kindly request to be informed of your decisions and
actions in this regard and would welcome the opportunity to meet with
you and your colleagues in order to facilitate any integration efforts.

Sincerely yours,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director
European Roma Rights Center

Zarko Puhovski
Croatian Helsinki Committee


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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