The declaration was presented by John Warmisham, Congress Spokesperson for Roma Issues, and Valeriu Nicolae, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (SRSG) for Roma Issues.
In his speech, Mr Warmisham emphasised that “we, as mayors and elected local and regional representatives, play a key role in ensuring that minority rights and, human rights in general, are protected and implemented. In particular, we have to ensure that Roma and Travellers are not subject to hate speech, discriminatory policy-making or racist policy implementation. This particular form of racism that is directed towards Roma and Travellers is called anti-Gypsyism.”
In the adopted Declaration, the Mayors commit themselves to defending human rights and democratic principles and to reject all forms of discrimination, violence, harassment, incitement to hatred and hate speech against Roma and Travellers and any other form of anti-Gypsyism. They also commit to refraining from any forms of political alliance or co-operation at all levels with any political parties or local and regional authorities which incite or attempt to stir up racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred.
“The anti-Semitic and anti-Roma political speeches from those years sound nowadays almost inconceivable. Old, toxic and insane conspiracy theories became popular once again and were used to blame Jews for the economic downturn while we, Roma, were called sub-humans, a pest for humanity, born criminals and scum that should be eradicated from the planet, by leading politicians including a prime minister” regretted Valeriu Nicolae.
Mr Nicolae also mentioned the need for revising the Charter of European Political Parties for a non-Racist Society adopted in 1998 in order to take into account a) that Europe derives from its history a duty of remembrance, vigilance and combat against the rise of racism, racial discrimination, gender-based discrimination, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, anti-Gypsyism and intolerance, as well as of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes and the public denial, trivialisation, justification or condoning of such crimes; and b) concerns about the resurgence of rhetoric presenting migrants and refugees as a threat to, and a burden on, society which increases negative reactions among the public to immigration and immigrants.
The European Parliament will endorse the Charter this year. A common initiative to have the Charter endorsed during a joint session in Strasbourg, by the president of the Parliamentary Assembly, the President of the European Parliament and the President of the Congress is envisaged.
In his concluding remarks, Valeriu Nicolae requested the help of the members of the Congress in order to endorse the review of the Charter since “we need the Congress to be at the forefront of this initiative as local administrations are the very basis of our democracies. At the level of local and regional authorities the tone for the political discourse is set and human rights have to be implemented at the local and regional level.”