16 June 2003
The legal situation of Roma in Europe
Recommendation 1557 (2002)
Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 843rd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (11 June 2003)
1. The Committee of Ministers has examined with interest Recommendation 1557 (2002) of the Parliamentary Assembly on the legal situation of Roma1 in Europe. It has requested and received opinions on the recommendation from the Specialist Group on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers (MG-S-ROM) and the Steering Committee for Education (CD-ED).
2. The Committee of Ministers notes that the Assembly considers that although great efforts have been made since the adoption of its Recommendation 1203 (1993) on Gypsies in Europe, nearly ten years ago, the aims set by that recommendation have been achieved to a restricted extent. In the 1993 Recommendation, the Assembly stressed the need for special protection for Gypsies and condemned the various forms of discrimination suffered by them. In Recommendation 1557 (2002), the Assembly stresses that Roma are still “subjected to discrimination, marginalisation and segregation” and that “most Roma are currently faced with a rather severe economic situation in most of the member countries of the Council of Europe”.
3. The Committee of Ministers shares the view of the Assembly that the Council of Europe can and must play an important role in improving the general situation of the Roma and their living conditions. It agrees that there is a need to improve, speed up and harmonise all the efforts towards a better integration of Roma into society in order to improve their present situation.
4. The work of the Specialist Group on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers (MG-S-ROM), composed of governmental experts and representatives of Roma organisations, has from its creation largely responded to this concern. The Council of Europe’s Co-ordinator for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers also contributes to the achievement of these objectives.
Six general conditions addressed to member states
5. The Committee of Ministers observes that the Assembly calls upon member states to complete six general conditions, which it considers necessary for the improvement of the situation of Roma in Europe. These are inter alia (a) to resolve the legal status of Roma, (b) to elaborate and implement specific programmes to improve the integration of Roma and ensure their participation in decision-making processes, (c) to guarantee equal treatment for the Romany minority as an ethnic or national minority group in the field of education, employment, housing, health and public services, (d) to develop and implement positive action and preferential treatment for the socially deprived strata, including Roma as a socially disadvantaged community, in the field of education, employment and housing (e) to take specific measures and create special institutions for the protection of the Romany language, culture, traditions and identity and (f) to combat racism, xenophobia and intolerance and to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of Roma.
6. With respect to the legal status of Roma, the Committee of Ministers would like to emphasise the direct and indirect implications this question may have. This is particularly so in terms of respect for the guarantees attached to the status of national minority groups. The Recommendation refers to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, although the Framework Convention does not define the concept of “national minority” and different states hold different views as to what or who constitutes a “national minority”.
7. It appears from the opinion received from the CD-ED that the problems of discrimination and segregation are particularly flagrant in the education field, where progress has been made although the situation is far from adequate. The Committee of Ministers finds that the approach suggested by the Assembly to elaborate and implement specific programmes to improve the integration of Roma and to ensure their participation in decision-making processes, is important in particular in the education field:
- by taking specific measures to improve equal opportunities and adapting curricula, teaching material, etc. for Roma pupils, without allowing their specificity to have a ghetto effect; and,
- by ensuring that Roma are actively involved through families, Roma experts and associations, in designing and implementing projects concerning them, particularly in the education field, on a genuine partnership basis.
8. The Committee of Ministers strongly supports the Assembly’s call for equal treatment for Roma in the field of education, employment, housing, health and public services. In particular, it agrees that all practices of segregated schooling for Romany children should be stopped, particularly that of routing Romany children to schools or classes for disabled children.
9. As to the mention made of specific measures and special institutions for the protection of the Romany language and culture, the Committee of Ministers underlines that all the factors mentioned in this context have important educational implications reflected in the priorities mentioned in its Recommendation Rec(2000)4 on the education of Roma/Gypsy children in Europe.
10. The Committee of Ministers has agreed to bring Recommendation 1557 (2002) to the governments' attention.
European Roma consultative forum
11. The Committee of Ministers notes that the Assembly recommends that it support the initiative of setting up a European Roma consultative forum. It recalls that at their 111th session on 7 November 2002, the Ministers “noted with interest the Finnish initiative concerning a ‘European Forum for Roma and travellers’ and invited their Deputies to continue considering this issue, bearing in mind its topical nature, with a view to determining suitable follow-up.” The Deputies have set up a Working Party with the task of examining the question of the setting up of a possible forum for Roma and Travellers. It will keep the Assembly informed of the progress made on this issue.
European ombudsman for Roma
12. The Parliamentary Assembly has already in the past recommended appointing an ombudsman (Recommendation 1203 (1993) on Gypsies in Europe) or a mediator for Gypsies (Recommendation 1275 (1995) on the fight against racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and intolerance). In reply to the latter recommendation, the Ministers’ Deputies (560th meeting, March 1996) drew the Assembly’s attention to its reply to Recommendation 1203 (1993) “in which it recalled that a Co-ordinator on Roma/Gypsies responsible for various questions relating to Roma/Gypsies has been designated by the Secretary General, but that it has not seen fit to act on the proposal concerning the appointment of a mediator for Roma/Gypsies.” The Committee of Ministers sees no reason presently to change its position in this respect.
13. However, it carefully follows the activities of the various monitoring mechanisms that take account of the situation of the Roma, ie. the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.
European Roma study and training centre
14. One of the seven recommendations the Parliamentary Assembly makes to the Committee of Ministers, directly concerns education: the recommendation to “establish a European Roma study and training centre, affiliated to the European Youth Centre of the Council of Europe”. The centre should “facilitate the efficient exchange of positive experiences” and “promote the co-ordination of the training of Romany and majority specialists.”
15. The Committee of Ministers takes note of this proposal and of the suggestion made by the CD-ED that an analysis should be carried out as part of the Roma education project that is being launched. It agrees with the CD-ED that it is important not to “reinvent the wheel” and therefore to draw on existing experience and measures currently under way. At the end of the above-mentioned project, the question of a European study and training centre should be addressed in the general policy document requested by the CD-ED.
16. The Committee of Ministers underlines that the Education Directorate can make a fundamental contribution in the fields mentioned in the Recommendation most of which were covered in Recommendation Rec(2000)4 on the education of Roma/Gypsy children in Europe. This is to a large extent already provided for in the work programme for the next three years of the project, designed by the CD-ED for the implementation of that recommendation.
17. The project aims at stimulating national initiatives as well as contributing to the preparation and implementation of new working methods, and in this context at encouraging the most promising innovative measures. Activities launched at national and European level will be stepped up and network building strengthened. The main actions in this framework will be undertaken through intersectorial and inter-institutional co-operation, and will include, inter alia, the preparation of a compendium of best practices and of teaching material.
18. The Committee of Ministers observes that Recommendation 1557 (2002) is fully in keeping with the key features of the project.
Roma staff in the Secretariat of the Council of Europe
19. The Assembly recommends the Committee of Ministers to consider the recruitment of Roma staff in the Council of Europe. The Committee of Ministers recalls that recruitment to permanent posts in the Secretariat is made on the basis of competitive examination open to all who fulfil the requirements for the post in question. Staff are not asked about their ethnic origin upon recruitment. It would like to inform the Assembly that an administrator seconded by the Finnish Government currently works in the Migration and Roma/Gypsies Department. In addition, two young Roma – a male and a female - undergo a 3-month traineeship every quarter in the same department. The Committee of Ministers would like to encourage other governments to use the possibility of secondment to increase the number of Roma staff in the Secretariat.
European solidarity fund for Roma
20. The Committee of Ministers has noted with interest the idea of the creation of a European Solidarity Fund for Roma, to be financed by voluntary contributions. It would like to underline that presently many of the Council of Europe activities relating to Roma are financed by voluntary contributions. It will nevertheless instruct the MG-S-ROM to study the idea of a solidarity fund more in detail in view to elaborating concrete proposals. It considers in particular that, should a fund be created, clear guidelines must be laid down as to which initiatives are to be funded.
An additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights
21. When replying to Assembly Recommendation 1492 (2001) on the rights of national minorities, the Ministers’ Deputies considered that it was somewhat premature to reopen the debate on the proposal for an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the rights of national minorities (799th meeting, 13 June 2002, item 4.2). It stressed that “when Protocol No 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights comes into force, any discrimination against a member of a national minority, including discrimination based on association with such a minority, will be covered by the general prohibition on discrimination.”
Monitoring mechanisms and implementation of initiatives and recommendations
22. On the issue of the strengthening of monitoring mechanisms and of supporting the implementation of initiatives and recommendations enumerated by existing international texts, the Committee of Ministers refers to the reply given above in paragraphs 13 and 14 in relation to the issue of a European Ombudsman for Roma. It also refers to the reply given to Assembly Recommendation 1492 (2001) on the rights of national minorities, in which it acknowledges “that it is important that sufficient resources should be made available to ensure that these convention-related responsibilities can be shouldered”.
23. In that context, the Committee of Ministers also pointed out that the increase in resources and the strengthening of monitoring systems, including with respect to the activities of the Commissioner for Human Rights related to the protection of national minorities, must be considered in the context of the Organisation’s overall needs, in the light of the priority afforded to the protection of national minorities.
24. The Committee of Ministers would like to underline the complexity and relevance of the issues raised by the Parliamentary Assembly. It will continue its examination of these issues in one of its forthcoming meetings, also in the light of a number of major events taking place in this field in the near future.
1 “Roma” refers, in accordance with the Council of Europe and other international organisations’ texts, also to Sinti, Travellers, Gypsies and other Roma related groups.