MINELRES: ERRC Reaction to ECHR Judgment in Croatian Education Discrimination Case

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Tue Jul 22 15:12:42 2008

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

European Court of Human Rights Fails to Find Discrimination in Education
against Roma in Croatia 

18 July 2008, Budapest, Zagreb: In a setback for Roma rights, the
European Court of Human Rights yesterday ruled that Croatia’s
segregation of Roma children in separate classes does not breach
European human rights standards.

The judgment in the case of Orsus and Others v. Croatia held that the
applicants – 14 Romani children attending primary school – were not
subjected to discrimination in access to education. As a result, the
Court found no violation of Article 3 (prohibition against inhuman and
degrading treatment) or Article 2, Protocol 1 (right to education) of
the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), in connection with
Article 14 (non-discrimination), or of Article 13 (effective domestic
remedy). The Court found that the government of Croatia had violated
Article 6(1) of the ECHR (right to due process and fair trial) as the
proceedings before the Constitutional Court in Croatia lasted more than
four years. The application was filed by the European Roma Rights
Centre, in partnership with the Croatian Helsinki Committee and Croatian
attorney Lovorka Kusan.

The applicants, born between 1988 and 1994, had in the past and at the
time of the submission to the European Court still attended, segregated
Roma-only classes in what are otherwise mainstream primary schools in
the Croatian villages of Macinec, Podturen and Orehovica in the
Medimurje County. In December 2004, the applicants turned to the
European Court claiming that their placement in the Roma-only classes
stemmed from a blatant practice of discrimination based on their
ethnicity by the schools concerned, reinforced by pervasive anti-Romani
sentiment of the local non-Romani community. The applicants further
claimed that the school curriculum in the Roma-only classes was
significantly reduced in scope and volume as compared to the officially
prescribed teaching plan, which resulted in lower quality education. As
a result of their segregation, the applicants suffered severe
educational, psychological and emotional harm, damage to their future
educational and employment opportunities, as well as stigmatization. 

The evidence presented to the European Court, based on data provided by
the Medimurje County Office of Education, Culture, Information, Sport
and Technical Culture, indicated that in school year 2000/2001 all
primary schools in the County had a total of 4 577 pupils of whom 865 or
18% were Romani. Even though Romani pupils comprised only a small number
of the total primary school population at the county level, an
overwhelming number of them - 59.07% - ended up in the segregated
classes for the Roma only.  In school year 2001/2002, based on official
government statistics, in the primary schools in Macinec and Kursanec as
many as 83.33% and 88.49% of all Romani students respectively continued
attending separate classes for the Roma only.  

Savelina Danova, Acting Director of the ERRC, said, “It is a regrettable
fact that the Strasbourg Court missed a crucial opportunity to reaffirm
that racial segregation of Roma in schools throughout Europe will no
longer be tolerated.”

Ivo Banac, President of the CHC, stated, “Now that Croatia has adopted
an anti-discrimination law banning segregation, we call on the Croatian
government to ensure that this ban is enforced with respect to the
education of Romani children in Medimurje County.”

The Court ruled there was not “sufficient evidence that there existed a
prevalent prejudice … to attain the level of suffering necessary to fall
within the ambit of Article 3 of the Convention” notwithstanding
documentation of the psychological impact of segregation on the
applicants, and statistical evidence showing the significantly lower
chances of finishing primary school of Roma pupils as compared to their
non-Roma peers. 

The Court also rejected the applicants claim’ of discriminatory
treatment in violation of Article 14, on the grounds that “in the
present case the difference in treatment was based on adequacy of
language skills” and that the practice of separating Romani children
“allowed for a change from a separate class to a regular class without
formalities”. The applicants maintained that their language deficiency
was never substantaited, moreover segregation can never be an
appropriate response to language deficiency. 

In its description of the facts of the case in the judgment, the Court
did not reflect evidence about key facts pointing to the racist motives
underlying the segregation of the Romani children, including:

- The fact that the applicants had no knowledge of their Croatian
language ability being tested upon enrolment as there was no formal
decision or other documentation communicated to them in this regard at
that time; the claim that the separation was necessary due to the
applicants’ poor command of the Croatian language was introduced by the
Government only when the case had been filed before the domestic courts;
all of the applicants received good grades in Croatian language in the
course of their studies; 

- Widely publicised anti-Romani protests by non-Romani parents in 2002
and 2003 which resulted in the abandonment of official plans by the then
Ministry of Education and Sports to move the Romani children into
mainstream classes; 

- The victimisation of the applicants throughout the entire process of
the case, which resulted in many of the plaintiffs refusing to be
involved in proceedings at the European level and one of the applicants
dropping out of the case before the ECHR; 

- Evidence of harassment of the Croatian Deputy Ombudsman who condemned
the practice of school segregation in the Medimurje County; the
retraction in the course of the domestic proceedings of the 2000
Croatian Ombudsman report which confirmed the school segregation of
Romani children in the Medimurje County and which had already been
adopted by the Croatian Parliament; and 

- Numerous reports from 2001 forward regarding the continuing existence
of school segregation of Romani children in Croatia by international
institutions and nongovernmental orgganisations, including the United
Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Council of Europe European
Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the European
Commission, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia
(EUMC), the US State Department, Amnesty International (AI), and the
Roma Education Fund (REF).
Speaking on the occasion of the judgment, Viktoria Mohacsi, Member of
the European Parliament and ERRC Board Member, stated: “I feel sorry as
a member of the Romani community witnessing the political sphere in
Europe. This judgment reveals that, even in the European Court of Human
Rights, evidence presented by Roma regarding anti-Romani motivations is
not taken seriously.  Nowhere in this judgment did the court deal with
clear evidence of anti-Romani protests by non-Romani parents as well as
the continuous victimization of persons involved in this case. I
question the level of proof required of Roma to establish discrimination
cases before officials.”


The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the human rights situation 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 

To support the ERRC, please visit this link:

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel: +36.1.413.2200

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