MINELRES: ERRC: Desegregation Court Victory in Bulgaria

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Fri Oct 28 16:44:42 2005

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

ERRC Prevails in Court against Bulgarian Ministry of Education on School 
Segregation of Roma

On October 25, 2005, the Sofia District court released its decision on Case 
11630/2004 finding that the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the Sofia 
Municipality and School Number 103 of Sofia have violated the prohibition of 
racial segregation and unequal treatment provided in Bulgarian and 
international law.

Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Centre, 
said: "After a period of fifty-one years, the soul of Brown v Board of 
Education crossed the Atlantic and was reborn in Europe. For the first time, a 
civil court in a European country, Bulgaria, found that separate by coercion 
means unequal."

The Bulgarian anti-discrimination act in force since January 2004 explicitly 
defines racial segregation as a type of racial discrimination. Racial 
segregation consists in actions or inaction leading to coercive separation, 
distinction or isolation of a person on grounds of race, ethnic belonging or 
colour of skin. The 2003 Act on Protection against Discrimination further 
introduces a positive obligation of the authorities to take measures to prevent 
and eliminate discrimination (Article 29). In the instant case, the court found 
that the Bulgarian authorities have committed racial segregation against the 
Romani children of Sofia School 103, a typical ghetto school with one hundred 
percent Romani students, situated in the poor Romani settlement Filipovtsi in 
the larger Sofia. The Court ruled that the Romani children who have attended 
and are attending School 103 have been and continue to be subjected to 
segregation and unequal treatment and that their right to equal and integrated 
education has been violated.

The civil suit against the Ministry of Education, the Sofia Municipality and 
School 103 was filed by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in October 2004. 
The ERRC, testing the procedural possibility provided by the 2003 Act on 
Protection against Discrimination (APAD), filed the case as an independent and 
sole claimant in its own capacity as an international public interest law 
organisation, represented by lawyer Daniela Mihailova of the Sofia-based Romani 
Baht Foundation, working on a joint project with the ERRC funded by the United 
Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The ERRC challenged the failure of the 
Bulgarian authorities to terminate the conditions of racially segregated 
education of the Romani children attending School 103 and ensure that the 
Romani children have equal access to education and equal treatment in 
education. The ERRC claimed that the fact that 100 per cent of the student body 
of School 103 was Romani constituted segregation on racial grounds prohibited 
by Article 29 of the APAD. Furthermore, the ERRC claimed that inaction on part 
of the Bulgarian authorities, namely - substandard material conditions in the 
school, lower expectations for the students' performance, lack of training for 
working with bilingual children, and lack of control on school attendance, 
violated the right to equality in education and the right to equal treatment in 
education of the Romani children in School 103.

The Court ruled that the separation of the Romani children in the Roma-only 
School 103 "was not the result of their free will but of circumstances beyond 
their control, accompanied by inaction on the part of authorities obliged to 
take measures to remedy this situation." The Court accepted that the separation 
of the Romani children in School 103 was the result of lack of opportunity to 
attend other schools caused by residential segregation in an all-Romani 
neighbourhood, obstacles for enrollment in other schools, and fear of racist 
abuse by non-Romani children.

Further, the Court affirmed that the poor material conditions in School 103, 
the low educational results of the children, and failure of the school 
authorities to exert control on truancy are manifestations of unequal and 
degrading treatment of the children in School 103. Regardless of the fact that 
the national standard educational criteria were applicable to School 103, the 
available evidence indicating that the Romani children could not meet the 
standard educational requirements to a degree comparable with that of children 
in other schools, was sufficient to prove violation of their right to equal and 
integrated education. The Court also rejected the argument that the poor 
educational performance of the Romani children was due to irregular school 
attendance, stating that the Sofia municipality and the Ministry of Education 
had been required by law to exert control on the school with regard to such 
matters. Finally, the Court stated that "the negative consequences for society 
resulting from the existing situation are tremendous."

Mikhail Georgiev, Executive Director of Romani Baht Foundation, 
commented: "From now on we must work hard to ensure that this historic court 
decision marks the start of real change to eliminate segregated schooling for 
Roma. The law is on our side. There are dozens of schools in Bulgaria that are 
similar to School 103. It will take time and hard work to give effect to the 
law, but the road is now open."

For details, contact:
Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, ERRC, Tel. +36 1 413 2200; 
Dimitrina.petrova@errc.org; or Daniela Mihailova, Legal Director, Romani 
Baht Foundation, Tel. +359 2 231303; email: baht2000@rtsonline.net

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 http://www.errc.org.

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

Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax: +36 1 4132201


The European Roma Rights Centre is dependent upon the generosity of 
individual donors for its continued existence. If you believe the ERRC 
performs a service valuable to the public, please join in enabling its 
future with a contribution. Gifts of all sizes are welcome; bank transfers 
are preferred. Please send your contribution to:

European Roma Rights Centre
Budapest Bank Rt.
1054 Budapest
Bathory utca 1

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