MINELRES: European Court of Human Rights Considers Landmark Cases on Racist Violence and Discrimination

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Thu Feb 24 22:03:52 2005

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

Press Release: European Roma Rights Centre/Open Society Justice

European Court of Human Rights Considers Landmark Cases on Racist
Violence and Discrimination

James A. Goldston +1-917-862-2937
Claude Cahn + 36 20 98 36 445

Strasbourg: February 23, 2005.

In the space of one week, on February 23 and March 1, 2005, the European
Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France will hear oral argument in
two of the most important cases in its history concerning racial
violence and discrimination against Roma. The cases raise questions of
fundamental importance for the future of a Europe that is increasingly
diverse and multi-ethnic.

The February 23 argument, in the case of Nachova v. Bulgaria, concerns
the July 19, 1996, shooting death by military police soldiers of two
Roma conscripts. The victims, recently absconded from a military
construction crew, were known to be unarmed and not dangerous. The
killing, by automatic weapon fire, took place in broad daylight in a
largely Roma neighborhood, where the grandmother of one of the victims
lived. Immediately after the killing, a military police officer
allegedly yelled at one of the town residents, "You damn Gypsies!" while
pointing a gun at him.

Relatives of the victims, represented by counsel, sought redress before
the European Court.

In February 2004, the First Section Chamber of the Court, consisting of
seven judges, unanimously found that both the shootings and a subsequent
investigation which upheld their lawfulness were tainted by racial
animus. In particular, the Court found breaches of the right to life
(Article 2 of the European Convention) and non-discrimination (Article
14). The judgment, the first in the Court's history to find a violation
of Article 14 on grounds of racial discrimination, made clear that the
right to non-discrimination has both substantive and procedural
components. The Court ruled that the importance of the prohibition
against discrimination and the difficulties of proof are such that, in
certain cases, it may, when examining complaints alleging
discrimination, draw negative inferences or shift the burden of proof to
the respondent Government.

On the request of the Bulgarian government, the Court's Grand Chamber
agreed to review the initial panel decision. Amicus briefs have been
filed by the European Roma Rights Centre, Interights and the Open
Society Justice Initiative.

On March 1, the Court will hear argument in the second case, D.H. and
Others v. Czech Republic. The first challenge to systematic racial
segregation in education in Europe to be brought before the European
Court of Human Rights, this case has been brought by 18 Roma children
from the southeastern city of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. All were
placed in "special" remedial primary schools for those deemed to have
mental disabilities.

The complaint in this case, submitted to the Court in 2000 by the
European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), builds on intensive qualitative and
quantitative research into the situation of Roma in Czech schooling.
That research has revealed racial disparities of shocking proportions:
* Over half of the Romani child population is schooled in remedial
special education;
* Over half of the population of remedial special schools is Romani;
* Any randomly chosen Romani child is more than 27 times more likely to
be placed in schools for the mentally disabled than a similarly situated
non-Romani child.
* Even where Romani children manage to avoid the trap of placement in
remedial special schooling, they are most often schooled in substandard
and predominantly Romani urban ghetto schools.

ERRC research further found that standardized testing - the principal
justification for high rates of placement in remedial special schooling
- generally takes place only after a child has already been marked for
assignment to remedial schools. The expert "test" is often a stamped
seal on the decisions of school directors who will not accept Romani
children into mainstream, quality schools.

The children note in their submissions to the Court that assignment to
special school forever relegates them to second class citizenship.
Students in special schools receive a markedly inferior education. Most
graduates are shunted into vocational secondary schools limited to
training in basic manual skills. Few Roma attend university. Romani
unemployment rates in the Czech Republic, as in much of Europe, far
exceed those for the rest of the population.

Current educational arrangements in the Czech Republic also fail
entirely to prepare ethnic Czech children for life in multi-cultural
societies. In Ostrava, the Czech Republic's third city, despite the fact
that Roma comprise approximately 10% of the local population, more than
15,000 Czech children of primary school age attend school every day
without meeting a single Romani classmate.

The 18 applicants in the case are represented by the European Roma
Rights Centre and local counsel. In challenging their racial
segregation, the applicants have asked the Court to find that they have
been subjected to degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the
Convention, and to denial of their rights to and racial discrimination
in access to education, in breach of Article 14 taken together with
Article 2 of Protocol 1.

An amicus brief has been filed by Interights and Human Rights Watch.

Further information on these cases is available at www.errc.org and 

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law 
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93

Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201
E-mail: office@errc.org


The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open
Society Institute (OSI), pursues law reform activities grounded in the
protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal
capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines
litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination
of knowledge to secure advances in five priority areas: national
criminal justice, international justice, freedom of information and
expression, equality and citizenship, and anticorruption. Its offices
are in Abuja, Budapest, and New York.