Doc. 9424
24 April 2002

Legal situation of Roma in Europe

Opinion1

Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Rapporteur : Mrs Marlène Rupprecht, Germany, Socialist Group

I       Conclusions of the committee

1.       The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, based on the analysis made by its Rapporteur, proposes the following amendments to the draft recommendation contained in the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights :

2.       In paragraph 15 c after indent i, insert the following wording :

“to develop positive measures to recruit Roma in public services of direct relevance to Roma communities such as primary and secondary schools, social welfare centres, local primary health care centres and local administration;”

3.       In paragraph 15 d after indent ii, insert the following wording :

“to ensure budgetary support and assist Roma communities with technical training to upgrade the existing settlements;”

4.       In paragraph 15 d indent iii, replace the wording “housing programmes for the Roma” with the following wording :

“integrated projects, developed in partnership with the Roma communities concerned, in order to improve their living conditions and to facilitate their economic independence;”

5.       In paragraph 15 e after indent iv, insert the following wording :

“to recruit Roma teaching staff, particularly in areas with large Romani population;”

6.       In paragraph 16 after indent iv, insert the following wording :

“consider recruiting Roma staff in the Secretariat of the Organisation;”

7.       In paragraph 16 at the beginning of indent v, insert the following wording :

“in recognition of their common responsibility for the advancement of the Roma as the largest European minority group, ”

II       Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Rupprecht

1.       The activities of the Council of Europe concerning the situation of Roma in Europe stem from 1970s, and were intensified over the last decade following the accession of new member states from Central and Eastern Europe which have a significant Romani population. As social cohesion became one of the main priorities of the Organisation after the Vienna Summit of Heads of State and Government in 1993, the activities regarding Roma evolved towards a more global strategy, addressing simultaneously a number of issues : human rights; education; employment; health; social welfare; and housing. Moreover, the Assembly’s Recommendation 1203 (1993) on Gypsies in Europe gave a timely political impetus for further work in this field.

2.       Since then, the Committee of Ministers has adopted Recommendation No. R (2000)4 on the education of Roma/Gypsy children in Europe and Recommendation No. R (2001)17 on improving the economic and employment situation of Roma/Gypsies and Travellers in Europe, and a similar recommendation on housing is in preparation.

3.       Certain activities of the Council of Europe have also been developed in cooperation with other international partners – the OSCE and the European Union in particular. The enlargement of the European Union to the candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe gives a particular political context for improving the rights and situation of Roma in Europe.

4.       At the Tampere Summit in December 1999, the European Union (COCEN group) adopted Guiding principles for improving the situation of Roma based on the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies and on the recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

5.       The Guidelines cover the institutional framework at national level; participation of Romani communities in the design and implementation of Roma government policies; anti-discrimination measures; education; women; (un)employment; urban planning; housing; health; and international mobility of Roma in Europe.

Legal instruments of the Council of Europe

6.       The Rapporteur wishes to highlight the importance of implementing the existing legal instruments of the Council of Europe which form a basis for protection of Roma rights as part of general human and social rights in Europe : the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities; and the European Social Charter.

7.       The Rapporteur therefore welcomes the initiative to provide specific training for relevant Roma organisations regarding the collective complaints procedure, as a means to make the social rights enshrined in the European Social Charter more accessible to Roma communities across Europe.

Roma identity

8.       As a consequence of historic discrimination and persecution of Roma since their arrival in Europe in 14th century, Roma have developed in turn a strong social and cultural bond to sustain their way of life and thus protect their community from threats imposed by mainstream societies. Loyalty to the family is maintained at all costs. While in the past, formal education and technology were not significant factors within their culture and were not traditionally considered important, there are indications that this is now changing.

9.       The Rapporteur therefore considers that respect for the Romani tradition and way of life is crucial . At the same time joint efforts have to be made in order to guarantee the exercise of their political and social rights on an equal footing with mainstream society and to improve their social and economic situation in such a way that Roma communities become part of the society while being able to preserve their culture, language and traditions and remain self-sustaining.

Health

10.       Many Roma live in extremely poor conditions and have inadequate nutrition. The state of health within Roma communities is in general worse than that of the majority population. Roma are faced with more serious health problems, have lower life expectancy and high infant mortality rates.

11.       Roma communities most often lack basic primary care - first aid, vaccinations and medical information. Romani children therefore suffer from diseases such as poliomyelitis, hepatitis and diphtheria, which could otherwise be prevented through vaccination and prophylactic treatment.

12.       Dietary habits include high fat and salt content in foods. In addition, a large percentage of Roma smoke. These practices put the Roma at increased risk for hypertension, diabetes, occlusive vascular disease, strokes and myocardial infarctions. Again, social isolation and resistance to screening result in increased health risk such as organ damage from undiagnosed hypertension or diabetes, especially among women who are even less likely than men to be screened.

13.       Crowded living conditions lead to an increased incidence of gastrointestinal infections, respiratory infections and hepatitis. The results of hepatitis tests in Ano Liosia and Aspropyrgos in Greece for example, indicate that 99% of the community has been exposed to the illness2.

14.       In most countries of the Council of Europe, legal provisions guarantee the right to access health care, but in practice these rights are often limited.

15.       Isolation and discrimination against Roma contribute to barriers in accessing the health care system in many countries of Europe. Lack of proper identity documents precludes many Roma from obtaining effective medical services. Discrimination against Roma in medical institutions also occurs. Examples of segregation in hospitals and maternity wards have been recorded3.

16.       The Romani people tend to use the non-Romani health care system only in crisis situations when there is an acute and/or unresolved condition for which folk medicine has failed.

17.       It would be therefore crucial to provide adequate information and step up the level of primary care for Roma communities in cooperation with the communities themselves. Recruitment and training of Roma staff, women in particular, would be essential. The Rapporteur considers that successful pilot initiatives of ambulant service provided to reach Roma communities ought to be further developed and used more widely in conjunction with the mainstream health care service.

18.       Raising awareness amongst healthcare staff is also necessary in order to respond better to Roma needs and their cultural behaviour and to prevent further cases of discrimination and segregation.

19.       Finally, recruitment of Romani staff in areas with large Roma communities would seem a necessary step to provide interface between health care service and local population.

20.       The Rapporteur welcomes the project on Roma women and access to healthcare which the Council of Europe has undertaken together with the European Commission of the OSCE. The project will lead to a publication of an in-depth research study including a set of recommendations by the end of 2002.

Housing and living conditions

21.       Poor quality housing and living conditions are major factors that induce socio-economic deprivation and bad health. The majority of Roma population live in precarious conditions whether they lead a sedentary, itinerant or semi-itinerant lifestyle.

22.       While in the past Roma lived in rural areas, in recent decades they migrated towards urban areas in search of new sources of revenue. They often find themselves in urban fringe areas with very poor environmental quality (soil, air and water pollution) and lacking basic infrastructure (drinking water supply, electricity, sewage, waste collection, etc.). Roma and other Travellers in some cases occupy land "illegally" due to lack of adequate camping sites or residence permits granted by local authorities. The European Roma Rights Center (ECCR) regularly reports of brutal eviction cases most often due to lack of political will to integrate Roma, explosive inter-community tension and violence, or in connection with urban renewal projects.

23.       It should be made clear that access to adequate shelter, for Roma as for other groups of the population, is a basic human right, acknowledged as such in the Revised European Social Charter.

24.       As mentioned earlier, a recommendation of Committee of Ministers regarding housing of Roma is in preparation and expected for adoption in 2002. The Rapporteur strongly commends the preparatory work of the Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies, as outlined in the Memorandum on problems facing Roma-Gypsies in the field of housing in March 2000.

25.       The Rapporteur also welcomes the work of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), which adopted Resolutions 125(1981), 16(1995) and 249 (1993) and Recommendation 11 (1995) concerning the role of local and regional authorities, especially regarding land management, provision of basic infrastructure and allocation of appropriate camping sites for Romani population.

26.       In this regard, the Rapporteur would highlight the need to remedy the illegal housing situation through the issue of residence permits, and where applicable, through assistance to Roma in purchasing land and in upgrading existing settlements by means of loans and training in construction skills.

27.       The Rapporteur therefore calls on international financing institutions to invest in Roma housing and infrastructure projects and on member states to make use of such loans or other financial instruments.

Education

28.       Problems connected to primary and secondary education of Romani children are most acute, as a very high level of illiteracy amongst Roma population prevents them from breaking the vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion.

29.       The Rapporteur recalls the Assembly Recommendation 563 (1969) and 1203 (1993) and commends the recent Committee of Ministers Recommendation No. R (2000)4 on the education of Roma/Gypsy children in Europe.

30.       Principles of non-segregation in schools, multiethnic curricula covering both majority and minority cultures, staff recruitment within Roma communities and vocational training for adults are crucial to remedy the existing situation. The schooling of girls and young women is of particular concern as they suffer double discrimination within and outside the Roma community.

31.       The Rapporteur highlights the need to develop an innovative approach to the education of Romani children both within mainstream education and as part of informal education. An Innovative approach to further education and vocational training of older members of Roma community is equally necessary.

Employment

32.       The unemployment rate among Roma communities is extremely high, often much higher than that of mainstream society. Some communities have reached record unemployment levels of 80-90%. Women and young people are particularly affected.

33.       Developing access to legally gainful employment while respecting Romany tradition and way of life would therefore be fundamental to sustaining the well being and independence of Roma communities.

34.       To this regard the Rapporteur commends the 'Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation No. R (2001)17 on improving the economic and employment situation of Roma/Gypsies and Travellers in Europe and calls on member states to implement positive measures in favour of Romani population according to the general principles listed in the appendix of the Recommendation.

35.       Governments should establish strong partnerships with Roma communities, the private sector, trade unions and NGOs in order to develop positive anti-discrimination measures in both the public and the private sectors; to create incentives for the employers; to provide information, assistance and advice with regard to employment opportunities, vocational training, and the creation of small enterprises.

36.       The Rapporteur particularly highlights the need to develop micro-financing for the creation of small income-generating enterprises as a genuinely promising way of creating jobs and income on a large scale. The Council of Europe, as part of its project on Roma/Gypsies in Central and Eastern Europe, funded a preparatory study on the creation of a PAKIV European Roma Fund, which so far focused on projects in Romania and Hungary4. Most projects have involved small-scale farming and livestock breeding, metalworking, traditional crafts, retail trade and service provision.

37.       Facilitating access to bank loans, and in particular to micro-credits, is a strategy which has been used in various parts of the world, often successfully, to alleviate poverty while encouraging the participation of the groups concerned, especially women within those groups.

38.       In the long run, the setting up of national support funds, involving players as diverse as the government and the communities concerned, via representative NGOs, international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Council of Europe’s Development Bank, national banks and local authorities, can help income-generating projects develop rapidly by providing increased access to funding and improving the guarantees given to financial institutions.

Conclusion

39.       The Rapporteur strongly believes that the situation of Roma in Europe could be improved, providing there is political will at international, national and local levels to develop, together with Roma communities, ways to preserve their identity while overcoming discrimination and social exclusion. This process will only succeed if all parties are willing to change their attitude and establish a long term dialogue and valid partnership based on respect and trust.

40.       Changing the perception of Roma in the media, political discourse and mainstream education would be the first step forward. Public authorities would also need to develop positive measures to recruit Roma in public services of direct relevance to Roma communities such as primary and secondary schools, social welfare centres, local primary health care centres and local administration. Such positive measures would help to create an interface between communities, innovate and develop methods that are more adapted to Roma culture in order to reduce existing barriers.

41.       The Rapporteur considers that the Council of Europe should set the standard in this respect and recruit Roma staff within the secretariat of the Organisation.

42.       In order to break the vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion, Roma communities need to enjoy equal social rights on the one hand and to improve their economic situation on the other. Developing viable small income-generating enterprises or taking up jobs in the public sector would help decrease unemployment rates in Romani communities, improve their living conditions and increase their capacity to be economically independent.

43.       The Rapporteur therefore recommends that member states provide vocational training, technical, legal and financial assistance to Roma communities in order to help them enter the mainstream economy in ways that are adapted to their tradition and culture. Micro-financing through loans of the Council of Europe Development Bank and other international financial institutions could be a significant way forward to improve the living conditions of Roma in Europe.

44.       Finally, the Rapporteur draws attention to the need to recognise common responsibility for the largest minority group in Europe and calls for solidarity between member states. Countries of Central and Eastern Europe are in particular need of technical and financial assistance, if the living conditions of the most significant proportion of Roma population in Europe are to be improved.

Reporting committee: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Doc. 9397 rev.)

Committee for opinion : Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Reference to committee: Doc. 8830, Ref. 2539, 25.09.00

Opinion approved by the committee on 23 April 2002

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Newman, Mrs Meunier and Mrs Karanjac


1 See Doc. 9397rev.

2 Information provided in Greek Helsinki Monitor, report to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) No. 93, November 2000.

3 Open Society Institute : “On the Margins : Roma and public services in Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia”, “Roma and public services in Slovakia”, New York, 2001

4 Council of Europe document MG-S-ROM (98)10