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