Violent hate crime is one issue among many other forms of discrimination—both public and private—that Roma and Sinti face throughout Europe. The principal reports of harassment against Roma concern abusive treatment by agents of governments. Police ill-treatment is a priority concern of the Roma community that combines with other aspects of state-sponsored and state-tolerated discrimination to create a climate conducive to violence by ordinary citizens. In situations where local government and police officials can act arbitrarily to violate the rights of Roma, others too expect to do so with impunity. International legal and political bodies have taken up and issued decisions in cases of police Violence Against Roma and Sinti, including these recent ones:
- On July 24, 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found, in the case of Andreas Kalamiotis v. Greece, that the government of Greece violated Article 2 paragraph 3 (right to an effective remedy) together with Article 7 (prohibition of torture) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The case concerned the lack of an effective investigation into allegations of police brutality against Andreas Kalamiotis, a Roma man, on June 14, 2001. The Committee ruled that Greece must provide the victim with an effective remedy and appropriate reparation, as well as take measures to prevent similar violations in the future.
- In July 2007, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in the case of Belmondo Cobzaru, a Roma man beaten in custody by police officers in Mangalia, Romania, in 1997. The Court ruled that Romania was in breach of the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to an effective remedy, and the prohibition of discrimination.
The racist Violence Against Roma and Sinti that is reported publicly and does not involve state agents tends to concern only the most serious crimes, while even these crimes are generally reported only where nongovernmental organizations are active in protecting the rights of Roma and their communities.
The violence often occurs in an environment where local political leaders speak openly of their desire to expel Roma from their communities. Even as police and local public authorities are often complicit in driving Roma from their homes and seeking their relocation to other towns or cities—or even their deportation—others holding national public office, too, characterize Roma as outsiders who are less than citizens and are unwanted. Many Roma are in fact immigrants from within the newly expanded European Union or the nations of the former Yugoslavia. Their presence in new places of residence is often precarious—in particular when anti-immigrant bias turns to Roma as the scapegoat for broader societal ills.
The language of public discourse on Roma in Europe regularly refers to the expulsion of Roma, to evictions, to the dismantling of settlements, to the destruction of Roma homes and communities, to wholesale incarceration, or the deportation of Roma as a national objective. This is the kinetic language of exclusion that fuels police raids and mob action that place Roma under constant pressure to move on. In this climate, Roma people, reduced to living in camps and abandoned buildings, are attacked by mobs, burned out, their possessions destroyed or stolen by police, constantly uprooted to begin again.
Popular language concerning Roma is also rife with terms reflecting stereotypes portraying Roma as untrustworthy, dishonest, dirty, lazy, violent, and often as criminals, thieves,or kidnappers. Often when a Romani person is a suspect in a crime in Eastern, Southern, and Central Europe, the media emphasize the ethnicity of the suspect as a reaffirmation of these stereotypes.
To the people of Europe’s Roma communities in some countries, the newly virulent anti-gypsyism is an eerie reminder of the Porrajmos, the Romani Holocaust during the Second World War that killed more than half of Europe’s Roma population. When senior European political leaders publicly discuss “solutions” to the “Roma problem,” advocating the use of dynamite; electrified fences; mug shots; fingerprinting of men, women, and children; and deportations, historical parallels inadvertently come to mind.
Indeed, the intensity of the recent anti-Roma violence in Italy should serve as a wake-up call to all of Europe. The multiple factors at work: the negative popular attitudes against Roma; the abuses that they experience at the hands of the police; the official and unofficial discrimination in employment, housing, health care, and other aspects of public life; the violent rhetoric of exclusion and expulsion used by public officials; the failure of many European states to address the challenges of the marginalization of Roma—all combine to create a potentially explosive situation, with dire human consequences. As this report shows, this combustible mix of factors exists in several European countries. Addressing hate Violence Against Roma and Sinti, in the context of their unique situation, should be a matter of priority concern for policymakers and law enforcement officials.
The discriminatory Violence Against Roma and Sinti by private citizens and the state is a manifestation of a broader framework of anti-Roma discrimination. This extends to the full range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The right to education, to housing, to health care, and to due process of law is often a dead letter. Even as public policy and private violence conspire to drive Roma from the shelter they can find in camps and abandoned buildings, pervasive discrimination denies them access to legal remedies for the loss of homes and property and the access to public housing or rental properties that would provide an alternative. Even as Roma are reviled in public discourse for being homeless, they are constantly under pressure to relocate.
This report focuses upon the violent manifestations of prejudice and hatred in which private persons are responsible for hate crimes. In addressing the issue of violence toward Roma, however, the intersections between popular prejudice and public policy, and between private violence and violence by state agents are part of the reality of violent hate crimes; as is the intersection of prejudice and violence with the systemic discrimination that excludes many Roma communities across Europe from the full enjoyment of their human rights. In many areas Roma are confined to segregated camps or ghettos, are denied access to basic education and prospects for formal employment, and may even be refused recognition as citizens in their own countries.
The denial of the full range of rights is enforced and exacerbated by the lawless resort to violence of local authorities and private citizens in what is often described as collective punishment against Roma communities. Whether taking the form of arbitrary police raids or officially sanctioned bulldozing of Roma property without financial compensation or judicial approval, discrimination and other rights violations take place in tandem with private racist attacks and mob violence. Consequently, stamped as “nomads,” Roma are denied an opportunity to settle down.
Violations of other fundamental rights often derive from the denial of a permanent place of residence to Roma, even when Roma communities have been present in the area for hundreds of years. By denying Roma the personal documentation required to function freely in many societies (from birth certificates to housing permits), local authorities may effectively bar Roma children from attending public schools, exclude Roma families from receiving public housing, health care, and other social services, and make formal employment impossible.
In one example of international attention to this problem, in the February 2007 report on Ukraine, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted that “the lack of personal and other relevant identification documents effectively deprives many Roma of their right to equal access to the courts, legal aid, employment, housing, health care, social security and education.” To overcome this reality, which can effectively bar many Roma from legal remedy to abuse, CERD recommended Ukraine to “take immediate steps, e.g. by removing administrative obstacles, to issue all Roma with personal and other relevant identification documents in order to enhance their access to the courts, employment, housing, health care, social security and education.”
The constant assertion that Roma “do not fit” in any society also extends to national frontiers. As the largest pan-European minority, Roma are present throughout the region, but have no single European homeland, although most have the citizenship of the European country of their birth or long residence—or the formal right to this. The breakup of the former Eastern Bloc countries and realignment of states initiated a process in which the new states, created out of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union, vied to exclude “their” Roma from the new landscapes of citizenship. In the new order of the expanded European Union, in turn, the lifting of restrictions on the movement of citizens within the E.U. brought with it concerns about the fact that tens of thousands of Roma were among those new E.U. citizens seeking employment outside of their own countries.
Some steps have been taken to address these problems. For example, in 2005, the heads of government of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia signed a joint declaration launching the Decade of Roma Inclusion: 2005-2015. In the declaration, they agreed to eliminate discrimination against Roma as well as to close existing gaps “between Roma and the rest of society,” in accord with national action plans. As part of this commitment, the nine governments agreed to support the full participation and involvement of Roma communities in achieving the goals of the initiative—and in measuring progress. In order to facilitate this, Roma activists and researchers have joined forces in DecadeWatch, an organization supported by the Open Society Institute and the World Bank, aiming to produce periodic monitoring reports. In July 2008, Albania joined the initiative. Ukraine is an outstanding holdout from participation.
In March 2008, a group of eight nongovernmental organizations launched the European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC) with a view to press the European Union to develop a coherent policy to counter social exclusion and discrimination against Roma. Goals include the E.U.’s adoption of a “Framework Strategy on Roma Inclusion, to be developed in full consultation with Roma communities,” and to mesh with other European initiatives on Roma rights, and in particular the Decade of Roma Inclusion.