MINELRES: ERRC: Strasbourg Court Fails to Find Discrimination in Czech Special Schools

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Feb 13 17:41:17 2006

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

Reacting to the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the
case of D.H. and Others v The Czech Republic of February 7, 2006, The
European Roma Rights Centre and the Open Society Justice Initiative
issued today a joint statement which follows.


Case Could Be Referred to Grand Chamber

Budapest, February 8, 2006

By a vote of six to one, a panel of the European Court of Human Rights 
yesterday found, in the case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic,
that 18 Roma children who sought legal redress for discriminatory
schooling, had not sustained their claims. The majority acknowledged
that the applicants’ complaint “is based on a number of serious
arguments.” In particular, “Council of Europe bodies have expressed
concern about the arrangements whereby Roma children living in the Czech
Republic are placed in special schools and about the difficulties they
have in gaining access to ordinary schools.” Moreover, the majority
affirmed that, “if a policy or general measure has disproportionately
prejudicial effects on a group of people, the possibility of its being
discriminatory cannot be ruled out even it if is not specifically aimed
or directed at that group.” Nonetheless, the panel held, as “the system
of special schools was not introduced solely to cater for Roma
children,” the applicants had not proven a violation of Article 14 of
the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibiting
non-discrimination), taken together with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1
(the right to education).

Concurring with the majority “only after some hesitation,” Judge Costa
of France observed that, “[g]enerally speaking, the situation of the
Roma in the States of Central Europe … undoubtedly poses problems.” When
it comes to the special school system at issue in this case, “[t]he
danger is that, under cover of psychological or intellectual tests,
virtually an entire, socially disadvantaged, section of the school
population finds itself condemned to low level schools, with little
opportunity to mix with children of other origins and without any hope
of securing an education that will permit them to progress.” Judge Costa
noted that the
Court’s Grand Chamber might be “better placed than a Chamber” to revisit
the case-law applicable in this area.

In dissent, Judge Cabral Barreto of Portugal noted that the Czech 
Government had previously conceded that, at the time relevant to the 
applications before the Court, “Romany children with average or 
above-average intellect [we]re often placed in [special] schools on the 
basis of results of psychological tests”; “[t]he tests [we]re
conceived for the majority population and do not take Romany specifics
into consideration”; and in some special schools, “Romany pupils made up
between 80% and 90% of the total number.” Taken together, these
concessions amounted to “an express acknowledgement by the Czech State
of the discriminatory practices complained of by the applicants.”

Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights
Center, said, “This is a sad day for Roma and for the struggle against
discrimination. The reality on the ground is unchanged. Systematic
racial segregation in Czech schools continues to deprive thousands of
Roma children of quality education. Since the European Convention on
Human Rights is a living instrument according to the Strasbourg Court,
we will work to ensure that our clients’ commitment to equality be
vindicated in future judgments.”

James A. Goldston, Executive Director of the Open Society Justice 
Initiative and counsel in this case, observed, “The judgment’s narrow 
conception of discrimination is at odds with developments in much of
Europe and the world. The Strasbourg Court has missed a golden
opportunity to advance the cause of human rights.”

Pursuant to Rule 73 of the Rules of Court, the applicants have three
months to request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.

Background Note:

This case originated with the unsuccessful filing of complaints in the 
Czech courts in 1999 on behalf of eighteen children represented by the 
European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and local counsel. In 2000, the 
applicants turned to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that 
their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled
contravened the European Convention. Tests used to assess the children’s
mental ability were culturally biased against Czech Roma, and placement
procedures allowed for the influence of racial prejudice on the part of
educational authorities.

Evidence before the Court, based on ERRC research in the city of
demonstrated that school selection processes frequently discriminate on
the  basis of race:
- Over half of the Romani child population is schooled in remedial
special schools.
- 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 schools.

Racial segregation in education remains widespread throughout the Czech 
Republic and in neighboring countries.  ERRC field research in five 
countries has consistently documented the separate and discriminatory 
education of Roma, as well as additional practices by educational 
authorities that result in the segregation of Roma in schools.

An ERRC report, Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and 
Eastern Europe, describes the most common practices of segregating
Romani children in education based on their ethnicity. These include
segregation in so-called "special schools" for children with
developmental disabilities, segregation in Romani ghetto schools,
segregation in all-Romani classes, denial of Romani enrolment in
mainstream schools, as well as other phenomena. Whatever the particular
form of separate schooling, the quality of education provided to Roma is
invariably inferior to the mainstream educational standards in each

Additional information is available at www.errc.org and 
Contact: Dimitrina Petrova +36 1 413 2200 (Budapest)
Contact: James A. Goldston +1 212 548 0118 (New York)

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
knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas: national 
criminal justice, international justice, freedom of information and 
expression, and equality and citizenship. Its offices are in Abuja, 
Budapest, and New York.



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



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