What is common and different when addressing racism against Roma, Sinti and Travellers compared to tother forms of racism and intolerance?
(Warsaw, 21 October 2005)

Isil GACHET, Executive Secretary to ECRI

My contribution to this panel is from the perspective of the work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

Within the Council of Europe, ECRI is tasked with combating racism and racial discrimination. It takes a “rights-based” approach to its work and undertakes activities aimed at ensuring that the right to freedom from discrimination is enjoyed by all persons present on the territory of Council of Europe member States. ECRI works to prevent violence, discrimination and prejudice faced by persons and groups of persons on grounds of race, colour, language, religion, nationality and national or ethnic origin.

ECRI’s statutory instruments are the country-by-country monitoring of phenomena of racism and discrimination with specific recommendations addressed to each country separately, and the drafting of standards on important issues in the fight against racism in Europe in the form of General Policy Recommendations.

On the basis of this mandate, and both through its specific and general instruments, ECRI has examined in detail, and on many occasions, the specific situation of Roma in Europe today with regard to the racism and discrimination from which they suffer.

First of all, some figures: the second round of ECRI’s country-by-country monitoring, was completed in 2002, and covered 43 member States. Aspects of the situation of Roma are covered in the reports on 32 member States, while for 16 member States, ECRI decided to include this question in the section of the report dealing with “Issues of particular concern”. These figures concern western European countries just as much as those of central and eastern Europe.

We are currently half way through the third round of ECRI’s country-by-country monitoring. Of the 19 reports already published, 18 deal specifically with the situation of Roma, and of these, 10 consider the issue to be of particular concern.

If we consider that ECRI’s field of action covers all groups which are vulnerable to racism in Europe, then it is evident, when looking at these figures, that Roma do indeed constitute a group which is particularly and specifically vulnerable. In fact, they are a target-group for racism, and one which is in a way ECRI’s “most frequent customer” and which is in the most preoccupying situation.

On the basis of facts gathered from ECRI’s country-specific reports, we can say that:

- In our societies, Roma do not enjoy the equal dignity which is the right of all human beings

- Along with discrimination, they are also the target of racist violence

- The intolerance they face is not decreasing.

ECRI addresses this situation in its General Policy Recommendation N° 3, which deals specifically with the fight against racism and intolerance towards Roma.

In the preamble of this Recommendation, ECRI states clearly that “Roma suffer throughout Europe form persisting prejudices, are victims of a racism which is deeply-rooted in society, are the target of sometimes violent demonstrations of racism and intolerance and their fundamental rights are regularly violated and threatened.”

I wanted to quote this text because we all know that if we want to combat racism against Roma effectively, we first have to grasp the specificities of this racism. I think that certain elements of the phrase in the preamble give us some leads to follow.

First of all, the notion of the persistence of prejudice: We are faced with a situation of permanent racism - both from a historical and geographical point of view; a racism which has endured over the centuries without waning, and which spreads from East to West and North to South.

Next, the notion of systemisation: This is a systematic, regular, repetitive racism; to the point where it almost seems to indicate a sort of “acceptance of that kind of racism” within society.

And, another element contained in the preamble, the violent nature of manifestations of racism towards Roma. Without a doubt, it is a racism where actually putting it into practice seems particularly common. We could ask ourselves if the notion of impunity in the minds of perpetrators is not in some way responsible for facilitating here and there the carrying out of racist acts.

If we turn to ECRI’s country-by-country monitoring reports, we realise that it is most often when dealing with Roma communities that ECRI uses the words “exclusion” and “segregation” to describe a situation in a given country. This is another lead which should be explored. Of course, part of this exclusion, and only part of it, can be explained by the severe socio-economic disadvantage from which Roma communities suffer. But there are obviously other aspects to analyse and deal with in the behaviour of mainstream society in order to put an end to this exclusion and segregation.

Obviously, there is a serious problem here, and in a way we are at the hard centre of racism. A serious problem, of which ECRI is not only well aware, but which it also brings to light as it does a lot of work on this issue.

However, as we all know, it is not enough to analyse manifestations of racism and intolerance. This analysis is not an end in itself. For ECRI, it is a necessary step in the process which consists in offering practical and reliable solutions to combat these phenomena.

As far as the fight against racism and intolerance towards Roma is concerned, ECRI’s recommendations cover a vast range of suggestions. As my time is limited, I shall not mention them here, at least, not all of them. But I would like to highlight two major issues in this combat.

- Do not deny the problem: it is fundamental to take the first step, the one which some of our partners have yet to take, that is to acknowledge the problem. It must be stated loud and clear: yes, it is racism which is at the root of the violence perpetrated against Roma, and at the root of the violations of their basic rights. On this subject, institutions such as ECRI, ODIHR and EUMC have a fundamental role to play and should firmly carry this message together.

- Empowerment: it is evident, as stated by ECRI, that it is through the active participation of Roma communities in decision-making processes that the situation will progress. Here again, priority should be placed on the idea of partnership on an equal footing. Empowerment is all the more important because it is what will eventually give the Roma the opportunity to have their voice heard and understood at European level. This is why the Council of Europe actively supported the setting up of the European Roma and Traveller Forum, of which we expect results in terms of participation and making the voice of the Roma heard.