2-17-2012By Joëlle Fiss
Senior Associate, Fighting Discrimination Program
For many of Hungary’s 600,000 Roma, the month of February brings back dismal memories. Just after midnight on February 23, 2009, Robert Csorba and his 4-year-old-son were shot dead as they ran from their burning home in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary.
Other violence stuck Hungary’s Roma in 2009. There were dozens of hate crimes, many involving guns, Molotov cocktails, and severe beatings.
Four men are on trial in Budapest, accused of carrying out nine attacks between July 2008 and August 2009 that killed six Roma, including Robert Csorba and his son. In 2009 Hungarian President László Sólyom said these murders “threaten[ed] the stability of Hungary.” The authorities need to move more expeditiously to bring this trial to a close.
Meanwhile, prejudice continues. “Gypsy criminality” (cigánybűnözés) is one of the most prevalent anti-Roma stereotypes. It permeates all parts of Hungarian life—and can be found as commonly in the media as the local pub. Extremist groups, particularly the xenophobic Jobbik, nurture these prejudices. Also, Ill-treatment and discrimination by the police fuel mistrust among Roma, who for this reason are reluctant to report hate crimes.
These concerning developments have not gone unnoticed by the U.S. government. At a roundtable with young Roma professionals in Bulgaria on February 5, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of completing “the unfinished business of Europe,” which in her eyes includes “the full integration of the Roma people into the societies and nations where they reside.” Most importantly, she announced that the United States will join the Decade of Roma Inclusion, as an official observer.
The Decade brings together governments and civil society to increase the socioeconomic inclusion of Roma. As an observer, the United States can play a positive role in shaping the discussions. The U.S. should develop a strategy to maximize its influence.
And on February 15, the U.S. Helsinki Commission hosted “The Escalation of Violence against Roma in Europe,” chaired by Congressman Chris Smith. Human Rights First submitted a testimony, focusing on what more the U.S. government should be doing. These discussions are important: they ensure that policymakers in Washington stay focused on this serious human rights problem.
Hungary and other European nations have the primary responsibility to address violence against Roma. But the U.S. government is correct to play a role.