MINELRES: ERRC: Statement on Romani Womens Rights

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Sat Oct 7 08:54:02 2006

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

European Roma Rights Centre
Statement on Romani Women’s Rights

On the Occasion of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in
Europe Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
October 3, 2006, Warsaw

Contact: Ostalinda Maya Ovalle: + 36 70 602 58 31

In recent years, attention by some grassroots activists, civil society
groups, national governments and international organisations to
violations of the fundamental rights of Romani women has increased. As a
result, some positive steps have been taken. For example, the European
Parliament recently adopted a report on the situation of Roma women in
Europe (1) and there has been an increase in research and programmes
specifically focussing on Romani women. However, despite these positive
steps, the worrying situation of many Romani women has hardly changed,
if it has changed at all. Romani women continue to face pressure by
families and communities to comply with certain customs and traditions
degrading to women. At the same time, they also suffer widespread
discrimination in the realisation of a number of fundamental human
rights. In some cases, Romani women have suffered extreme harms at the
hands of public officials, including via practices such as coercive
sterilisation. Despite pressure to do otherwise, some Romani women are
increasingly raising their voices and speaking out to challenge abuse.
These actions have however frequently been met with either contempt or
further attacks and repression on the parts of their families and
communities, public media, government officials and even some civil
society groups. Summaries of some ERRC concerns in the field of Romani
women’s rights follow below.

Coercive sterilization

Romani women have been subjected to coercive sterilization in a number
of European countries. Some Western European governments (Sweden, for
example) have established compensation mechanisms for victims, but have
not yet recognised the racial-targeting aspects of these systemic harms.
In a number of countries of Central and Eastern Europe, these practices
have continued to the present day.

The situation in the Czech Republic and Slovakia involves systemic and
as yet un-redressed practices affecting many hundreds of women. Efforts
to coercively sterilise Romani women in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
have arisen as a result of a combination of factors including but not
necessarily limited to: (i) the unaddressed legacy of eugenics in
Central and Eastern Europe, which continues to influence medical
practice in these countries to today; (ii) a general vacuum of respect
for patients' rights; (iii) particular contempt for the moral agency of
Romani women; and (iv) “concern” at high levels of Romani birth rates.
As a result of these, hundreds of Romani women have suffered extreme
harms at the hands of doctors. These issues have been raised regularly
by domestic and international agencies since the late 1970s. As yet,
however, no action by either government has been sufficient to provide
adequate remedy to victims, or even to stop the practice once and for

In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, some Romani women victims
of coercive sterilisation have pressed justice claims, with only limited
success to date:
· In the Czech Republic, in December 2005, the Czech Public Defender of
Rights (“Ombudsman”) published a report acknowledging the practice,
following investigation of many tens of claims. In his report, the
Ombudsman stated: “The Public Defender of Rights believes that the
problem of sexual sterilisation carried out in the Czech Republic,
either with improper motivation or illegally, exists, and Czech society
has to come to terms with this.” This important recognition
notwithstanding, to date, the Czech government has neither apologised to
the victims, nor established a mechanism for remedy, nor recognised the
racial-targeting aspect of the issue. Indeed, Czech courts have only
provided remedy in two cases, and in one of these cases refused to
provide financial compensation to the victim.
· In Slovakia, actions by the government in response to these issues
have been primarily malicious. In response to complaints by a number of
Romani women, the Slovak Ministry of Health directed hospitals not to
release the records of the persons concerned with the legal
representation of the victims. Slovak prosecutors  despite extensive
advice not to do so  opened investigations for the crime of genocide, a
crime so serious that evidentiary standards could not be met, and they
then predictably concluded that this crime had not been committed,
ending their investigation into the matter. The same authority has
repeatedly released misleading information to the media, deliberately
perpetuating a state of delusion about the matter currently prevailing
among the Slovak public. Slovak police investigating the issue urged
complainants to testify, but reportedly warned a number of them that
their partners might be prosecuted for statutory rape, since it was
evident that they had become pregnant while minors; under this pressure,
a number of victims withdrew complaints.

In an important breakthrough at international level, in August 2006, the
UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
condemned Hungary for violating the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women in connection with the
sterilisation of a Romani woman without her consent in January 2001. Ms.
S. had been admitted to hospital following a miscarriage and was 
sterilised without being provided with information she could understand
on the implications of the procedure. The CEDAW Committee ruled that
Hungary’s failure to provide Ms. S. with due compensation for the act
violated international human rights law.

Domestic violence

In a recent survey carried out among 237 Romani women in Macedonia, over
70% of the women interviewed stated they had been victims of violence at
the hands of their partners, their in-laws and other members of their
families. The national average is 23%. The great majority of these
incidents go underreported due to a number 
of factors: First, violence against women is accepted in some Romani
families. Secondly, there is the fear of being ostracised and shamed by
their communities and families. Thirdly, perpetrators of violence
against women are rarely held accountable for their acts, which
discourages women from seeking legal help. Fourthly, Romani women fear
further victimisation on the part of the police and/or others. In
addition, there are a number of practical issues that make it virtually
impossible for women to escape these situations. These include lack of 
alternative housing, inadequate economic means to survive on their own,
and/or lack of employment opportunities.

Despite these barriers, some Romani women, often in desperate
situations, have begun challenging domestic violence. To date, however,
few if any of these efforts have been successful. Reactions on the part
of law enforcement officials frequently involve either refusing to
accept complaints and/or further victimising the women concerned with
insults and threats. Out of the 237 Macedonian Romani women interviewed,
34 had reported instances of domestic violence to the police ; 20 (or
59%) of these women stated that the police subjected them to racial
prejudice and degrading treatment. In only 5 out of 34 reported cases
(15%) did the police actually intervene. One Romani woman in Macedonia
told researchers, When 43-year-old D.D. from Stip sought police
assistance after having been beaten by a member of her family, the
police official to whom she 
turned reportedly stated, “You Gypsies fight amongst yourselves all the
time. You have to solve your problems among yourselves.” (2)

Child marriage

Child marriage continues to take place in many countries of Europe with
impunity.(3) Child marriage and the serial human rights abuses
associated with it are problems present in a number of Romani
communities throughout the OSCE region.

In one recent case coming to the attention of the ERRC, in Caras Severin
County, Romania,  M.S., a 10-year-old Romani girl, was sold by her
parents to the parents of D.M., a 17-year-old youth. The contract for
the arrangement specified that M.S. would bear at least two children.
Romanian authorities may have provided a modicum legal recognition for
the arrangement by agreeing to the adoption of M.S. by the parents of
Apparently no adequate investigation of the circumstances of the
“adoption” was undertaken by Romanian child protection authorities. At
the age of 12, M.S. gave birth by caesarean section to a child, but was
told by doctors not to have any more children. At this point, the
parents of D.M. attempted to reclaim the dowry from the parents of M.S.,
citing default of contract. This conflict came to violence between the
two families, and the Romanian authorities were alerted for a second
time. Romanian police have pursued legal action against D.M., who is now
reportedly 19 years old, for the crimes of trafficking and sex with a
minor. He now faces a 
significant term of imprisonment. However, the parents of D.M. and the
parents of M.S. have to date faced no legal consequences whatsoever for
their actions.

The case of M.S. and D.M. is a particularly extreme example of events
which befall thousands of Romani children and youths every year. As in
this case, authorities almost without exception abandon the victims to
the perpetrators, and/or (as in the case of D.M. and M.S.) fail to
prosecute the main agents of the abuse. There has not yet been any real
effort on the part of any significant domestic or international
authorities to address the problem of child marriage in the Romani
community, and to a certain extent civil society groups are mute on the
issue or even actively discourage discussion of the issue.

Child marriage exposes girls to sexual abuse and exploitation. Child
marriage precludes girls from attending school and thereby results in
nullification of the right to education, as well as diminished
employment opportunities. Child marriage also has significant impacts on
the health situation of Romani girls and any children they may bear.
Rates of infant mortality are increased and Romani girls faced increased
risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery, which may lead to
death. Girls who have fallen victim to child marriage are rendered
extremely dependent on their husbands and husbands’ families and are
therefore at high risk of poverty and/or further exploitation in the
event of any subsequent disruption to the family.(4) Victims of child
marriage also face heightened vulnerability to domestic violence.
Indeed, as the case of D.M. and M.S. shows, persons negatively affected
by these practices are not only the girls themselves, but countless
others, starting with (but not limited to) the child groom.

Trafficking in human beings

Poverty, discrimination and marginalisation are entangled factors making
Romani women and children particularly vulnerable to trafficking in
human beings. Many Roma continue to struggle to fulfil their basic needs
such as food and housing and face difficulties in obtaining identity
documents (such as birth certificates) necessary to gain access to basic
social services. Furthermore, patriarchal traditions that put women in a
subordinated role to men place female members of these communities at
particularly high risk of falling prey to trafficking. Special attention
needs to be paid to combating the exploitation of girls, as milder forms
of exploitation such as forced begging are sometimes an entry to more
severe forms of exploitation such as sexual exploitation. Certain
instances of trafficking occur as a result of a lack of knowledge and
misinformation on the part of the family. States should work to combat
all the factors (internal and external) that increase the vulnerability
of Roma to trafficking including by combating corruption and identifying
victims. Prosecution of the victim for crimes related to illegal entry
to the country or similar should be avoided, and programmes should be
developed to ensure that any and all returns to countries of origin take
place with due consideration to the maximum dignity and safety of the


Romani women face compound discrimination on the basis of race and sex.
School segregation and employment discrimination are reported in many
countries of Europe. Many Romani women work in the informal economy
without access to social benefits or other forms of social protection. A
recent study carried out by Open Society Institute found that 54 percent
of Romani women in Romania worked informally in jobs that provided no
benefits or formal work agreements. On October 4, the ERRC will publish
a pan-European report on Roma and access to health care, highlighting
among other things discrimination issues facing Romani women in
particular in the health care systems of Europe.(5) Developments in the
field of anti-discrimination law in Europe in recent years have not been
matched by comparable gains by Romani women.

Policies addressing inequality between women and men tend to disregard
the particular issues facing Romani women. This can be linked to the
fact that political representation of Romani women remains extremely low
nearly everywhere. In Hungary, two Romani women were elected as European
Parliamentarians, providing an important voice for Romani women.
Representation at the European level has yet to be matched at national
level. Not a single Romani woman is currently serving a term in any
national parliament in any European country. Representation of Romani
women at local level is similarly weak.


Human rights progress concerning Roma generally is impossible without
significant advances in the field of Romani women’s rights. Systemic
abuses by states and extreme harms carried out in the name of
“traditional values” need once and for all to be ended. In the course of
the ERRC’s work on women’s rights we have witnessed a pattern: The
courage of Romani women in challenging violence and human rights
violations is met with only limited support by NGOs; the silence of
government officials; family and community pressure to capitulate to
harms; and law enforcement and other officials respond to reports of
human rights abuse with humiliating or demeaning comments, as well as by
refusing to undertake any effective action to secure the dignity of the
victims. To change this situation once and for all, unambiguous
commitments putting human rights first are required from the highest
levels. Governments of the OSCE region are called upon to make and act
upon such commitments.


(2) Research by the European Roma Rights Centre, the Roma Center of
Skopje, and UNIFEM, involving a group of young Romani women undertaking
research toward a submission to the United Nations Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 2004.

(3) Council of Europe report on forced marriages and child marriages,

(4) For more information on the negative impacts on girls of child
marriages please see UNICEF 2005 Report Early Marriage: A Harmful
Traditional Practice at

(5) European Roma Rights Centre, “Ambulance Not on the Way: The Disgrace
of Health Care for Roma in Europe”, October 2006, available by
contacting the offices of the ERRC.


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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