MINELRES: Roma Rights at the Centre of European Commission Concerns in Bulgaria and Romania

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Oct 31 18:52:48 2005


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


Human Rights, Social Inclusion and Integration of Roma Key Elements of 
Comprehensive Monitoring Reports on Preparations for Accession to the 
European Union


Budapest, Brussels, 27 October 2005.    Comprehensive monitoring reports 
published this week on preparations by Bulgaria and Romania for
accession 
to the European Union placed Roma rights issues at the centre of EU 
concerns about the state of preparedness of both countries for European 
Union membership. For use by policy-makers, practitioners and media, the 
ERRC summarises below issues the Commission has identified as in need of 
urgent work by the governments of Bulgaria and Romania in the run-up to 
accession.

On general matters related to the adoption of international human rights 
instruments, listed under chapters on “co-operation in the field of
justice and home affairs”, the Commission noted, with respect to both
countries, that there had been “no developments” since 2004 in the
ratification
of international human rights legal instruments. The Commission further
expressed concern that Romania has not yet ratified Protocol 12 to the
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
dealing with the general prohibition of discrimination, while Bulgaria
has not yet even signed it.

The Commission devoted attention to Roma rights issues specifically
under a number of chapters, and most extensively those devoted to
“protection and integration of minorities” and “social affairs and
employment”.
These include detailed comments on current state of play in implementing
EU law banning discrimination, as well as specific areas of concern with
respect to the fundamental rights of Roma. The Commission notes that
Romanian law still does not comply with EU Directives specifying the
requirements, contours and content of domestic anti-discrimination law.

The report on Bulgaria reads as follows on “protection and integration
of minorities”:

“The effective and sustainable integration of Roma remains an issue of 
major concern. The efforts made by Bulgaria to implement the “Framework 
Programme for Equal Integration of Roma into Bulgarian Society” lack 
sufficient strategic approach, coordination and finance. This Framework 
Programme is still in its early stages, and related documents and action 
plans adopted by the government remain largely on paper.

“Key reforms in combating discrimination in education, healthcare and 
housing are still outstanding. A long-term action plan in line with the 
“Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015” (launched in Sofia in February
2005) has been drawn up and contains objectives in the areas of
education, healthcare, housing, culture and discrimination. Bulgaria
needs to ensure that this action plan is properly resourced and
implemented.

“A number of cases were filed under the Protection against
Discrimination Act, and in three cases the Sofia Electricity Supply
Company was found guilty of treating Roma customers unfavourably in
relation to non-Roma customers. An independent Commission for Protection
against Discrimination, as envisaged by the law, was established in
2005.

“The strategic documents and programmes on the educational integration
of children from the Roma minority have not significantly changed the
situation on the ground. Initiatives aimed at attracting and keeping
Roma children in school (e.g. free lunches, subsidised textbooks,
teacher assistants in schools with Roma students, bussing programmes)
were largely unsuccessful. Although an Agency for Educational
Integration of Children and Pupils from Ethnic Minorities has been
established, this body has not succeeded so far in fulfilling its main
function, namely the coordination of efforts made by different
ministries to enhance the educational integration of children from
minorities. As already outlined in the 2004 Report, a number of Roma
children of mainstream mental ability still continue to be placed in
special schools following poorly controlled assessments.

“Many Roma continue to be excluded from access to healthcare services. A
Health Strategy for Disadvantaged Members of Ethnic Minorities and an
associated action plan were adopted in September 2005. The elaboration
of 
this strategy and action plan forms an important part of the Framework
Programme for Equal Integration of Roma into Bulgarian Society. Although
several initiatives are ongoing with international donor support, a
long-awaited National Housing Strategy for Roma has not yet been
adopted.

“A number of national employment programmes aimed inter alia at
addressing long-term unemployment amongst Roma have continued. However,
in order to increase their effectiveness, these initiatives need to be
further combined with complementary measures such as family counselling
and professional assistance in searching for a job.

“In spite of the establishment of a new National Council for Cooperation
on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, the administrative capacity of the
State structure dealing with minority issues continues to be weak. The
body is not yet fully operational, and it remains to be seen whether the
chosen structure will provide for the powers necessary for effective
minority rights protection, including enhanced political influence and
staffing. In 
particular, attention should be paid to ensuring sufficient consultation
with Roma representatives with a view to developing and implementing the
State policy on the integration of Roma.

“The Bulgarian authorities should demonstrate, at all levels, that the 
country applies a zero-tolerance policy on racism against Roma or
against 
any other minority or group and that this policy is effectively
implemented.”

The parallel chapter in the Romania report, the section devoted to 
“protection and integration of minorities”, states as follows:

“Concerning the Roma minority, very limited progress was registered in
the functioning of the structuresin particular the National Agency for
Roma in its capacity as the reorganised Office for Roma issuesinvolved
in the implementation of the 2001 Roma Strategy. The Joint Committee for
Implementation and Monitoring remains very weak in terms of activity.
Staffing should be further strengthened and, together with improved
inter-sectoral coordination, budgetary resources should be significantly
enhanced at central and local levels. The appointment, in July 2005, of
a new head for the National Agency, coming from the Roma community and
without political affiliation, is an encouraging sign of the
government’s willingness to begin integrating Roma organisations in the
implementation and monitoring of the strategy.

“Positive developments have been made in improving access of Roma to 
education and health sectors. The number of reported cases of police 
violence against Roma has begun to decrease. There have been reports of 
cases of traffic accidents involving Roma victims being closed without a 
full investigation being carried out. The National Council for Combating 
Discrimination has imposed sanctions in cases of discrimination but, de 
facto discrimination against the Roma minority, especially at local
level, continues to be widespread, in particular as regards housing and
access to social services and the labour market (see also Chapter 13 -
Social Policy and Employment). The Romanian authorities should
demonstrate, at all levels, that the country applies a zero-tolerance
policy on racism against Roma or against any other minority or group and
that this policy is effectively implemented.

“Romania is participating in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015”
that was launched in Sofia in February 2005. It took over responsibility
for the Secretariat of the Decade in mid-2005. A long-term action plan
in line with the Decade has been drawn up and contains objectives in the
areas of education, healthcare, housing, culture and discrimination.
Romania needs to ensure that this action plan is properly resourced and
implemented.”

As to “social affairs and employment”, the other rubric of both reports
under which the European Commission provides extensive comment related
to Roma, these read as follows:

Bulgaria:

“… Concerning employment policy, further efforts are necessary to 
effectively implement the priorities identified in the Joint Assessment 
Paper on Employment Priorities in a more coherent and efficient way, 
including the integration of ethnic minority groups, in particular Roma,
on the labour market. There is a need to improving the effectiveness and 
efficiency of the Bulgarian Public Employment Services, in particular as 
regards organisational issues, staff training and strengthening of the 
human and financial resources available. Furthermore, there is a need to 
activate the important number of persons who do not participate in the 
Labour Market.

“… Enhanced efforts are required particularly in relation to healthcare 
and child welfare. The problem of inappropriate living conditions in 
institutions has also to be addressed urgently, including the need to 
improve the de-institutionalisation process and to further develop an 
alternative system of community-based social services. Moreover, further 
efforts are needed to improve the situation of vulnerable groups and 
promote their full integration into society, such as the Roma community, 
who face extremely high risks of poverty, exclusion and isolation across 
the country or the persons with disabilities by improving access to
public areas, buildings and transport as well as to education and the
labour market.

“Concerning anti-discrimination, the law on protection against 
discrimination is largely in line with the acquis in this area. Minor 
adjustments are still necessary as regards instructions to discriminate
and the legal standing of associations. The equality body required by
the acquis has been established and legislation has started to be
applied by Bulgarian courts in several cases to protect victims of
discrimination. The Commission for Prevention of Discrimination has been
established but it is not clear whether it has sufficient human and
financial resources in order to perform its functions independently.
Despite continuous efforts, the situation of the Roma minority still
requires fundamental improvements.”

Romania:

“In the field of public health, … further efforts are needed in the 
implementation of the National Plan of Action for the surveillance and 
control of communicable diseases, including strengthening the capacity
of 
the National Centre for Communicable Diseases. The coverage of the 
surveillance system should be improved to reach out to the most
vulnerable groups, such as the Roma minority. Access to health care,
including preventive services, should be ensured for all citizens in
order to improve the health status of the population. The health system
is in need of reform to improve the efficiency and effectiveness. The
persistent problem of ill-treatment in psychiatric hospitals needs to be
addressed immediately.

“Concerning employment policy, further efforts are necessary to
effectively implement the priorities identified in the Joint Assessment
Paper of Employment Policy Priorities in a more coherent and effective
way, including the integration of ethnic minority groups, in particular
Roma, on the labour market. There is a need to improve the effectiveness
and efficiency of the Romanian public employment services and to
effectively 
activate labour market measures.

“… Analytical work and development of social statistics on poverty and 
social exclusion should be continued in line with the EU’s commonly
agreed indicators on social inclusion. Moreover, further efforts are
needed to improve the situation of vulnerable groups and promote their
full integration into society, such as Roma community, who faces
extremely high risks of poverty, exclusion and isolation across the
country, or the persons with disabilities, by improving access to public
areas, buildings and transport as well as to education and the labour
market. The efforts to develop an inclusive strategy that aims at
closing and restructuring large residential institutions by developing
alternative community-based services, support to families and smaller
residential units have to be continued and reinforced.

“… Legislative alignment in the field of anti-discrimination is still to
be completed especially as regards the shift of the burden of proof in
order to have in place an efficient anti-discrimination mechanism in
Romania. The overall administrative capacity of the National Council for
Combating Discrimination should be enhanced, including funding,
transparency and general awareness of its activities, and its
independence should be guaranteed. Its relationship with the National
Agency for Equal Opportunities also needs to be further clarified.
Effective implementation of the legislation on the ground is still  to
be ensured. Despite promising efforts, the situation of the Roma
minority still requires fundamental improvements. Public expression of
racism against vulnerable groups, such as Roma, should be brought to an
end. Due attention should be paid to awareness-raising activities in
order to eradicate prejudices and stereotypes in society.

“… Access to health services, particularly for the Roma minority, needs
to be enhanced, and immediate attention should be paid to the
improvement of the health status of the population and to health
expenditure.
Improvement of the treatment of inmates in psychiatric hospitals and of
the living conditions of the Roma minority must be prioritised. Unless
significant additional efforts are made in the fields of public health,
European Social Fund and social inclusion, there is a serious risk that
Romania will not have duly functioning structures in place by the date
of accession. In general terms, increased efforts are needed to
strengthen the 
administrative capacity.”

Aside from these primary passages of the two reports, Roma appear under
a number of other EU concerns:

Concerning Bulgaria, the Commission report notes: “Roma children are
still disproportionately represented among victims of trafficking.” The
report also states: “There continue to be reports of cases of
ill-treatment
by law enforcement officials, including excessive use of firearms and
force by the police. Reports indicate that ill-treatment of persons in
custody disproportionately affects Roma. In a number of cases,
investigations of complaints of police ill-treatment were not prompt,
thorough and impartial.”

Concerning Romania, the Commission report states: “There are still
reports of ill-treatment by law enforcement personnel, including
excessive use of force and use of lethal force in non-compliance with EU
and international standards. As in the past, many of the victims were
Roma. Judicial review of such complaints is rare and few disciplinary
sanctions have been handed down in such cases. The legal maximum length
of pre-trial detention appears to be respected, though there are still
instances of pre-trial detainees being put in police cells with
convicted criminals, which violates both domestic law and Romania’s
international treaty obligations. This situation should now be resolved
urgently.”

The full texts of the European Commission’s comprehensive monitoring
reports on Bulgaria and Romania are available at:

Bulgaria: 
http://www.evropa.bg/en/del/info-pad/events.html?date=2005-10-27&eventid=1673

Romania: http://delegatie.infoeuropa.ro/ROMR2005.pdf

_____________________________________________

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.

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