Making Human Rights for Roma a reality
During 2010, the European public saw for the first time the reality of life for Roma as television bulletins showed families awaiting expulsion from Western Europe back to their countries of origin. A community that had been invisible were suddenly in the public eye, with the reality of their condition plain for all to see.
Some 10 - 12 million Roma people are estimated to live in Europe, present in each country. They are amongst the most deprived of all communities, facing daily discrimination and racial insults, living in extreme poverty and exclusion from the normal life that other people take for granted – going to school, seeing the doctor, applying for a job or having decent housing. Past efforts to help them have not brought the hoped-for results, and although laws do exist in Europe, they all too often fail to make an impact on the daily lives of Roma families.
The events of 2010 prompted Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland to propose a fresh approach, calling together all those involved – governments, the European Union and the Roma themselves - in a High Level Meeting. It resulted in a joint pledge to cooperate on Roma issues and practical, easy to implement schemes which involve Roma communities in building a better future.
Who we are (SRSG)
2011 saw a renewed focus on issues concerning Roma issues at the Council of Europe with the creation of a dedicated transversal team led by the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues. This structure acts as a hub bringing together the different projects on Roma being undertaken at the Council of Europe following the high level meeting on Roma. It also builds on the work carried out and results achieved by the Council of Europe in this field, in particular over the past 15 years.
What we do
Developing a network of mediators: Mediators build a bridge between Roma communities and the outside world. Their job is to act as "ambassadors of trust" between Roma communities and local public insitutions – for example, getting Roma children into local schools, making sure that families get proper health care, helping Roma secure decent housing and find jobs that will bring them out of long term unemployment and back into salaried work.
Council of Europe experts will travel to 15 countries this year to work with specialised trainers and equip the mediators with the additional skills they need to gain full confidence of local public insitutions and the Roma community. After the training, the mediators will immediately start putting into practice what they have learned. Progress. will be assessed at a later training session.
The countries so far involved are: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", Turkey and Ukraine, with others to follow.
Harvesting and sharing tactics that work: Work has begun on a database where national and local authorities, along with NGOs or anyone working with the Roma, can find the best practices so far in use. The idea is to build a pool of projects and policies that work and that can be adapted for use in different countries and contexts, creating a momentum for continual positive change throughout Europe. In addition, a new committee has been set up – the CAHROM – to bring together government experts at the highest level to exchange experiences and share lessons learnt.
Building confidence in what already works: The Council of Europe has always played a role in setting standards and judgments from the Court of Human Rights have helped make advances in Roma rights. Very often, though, the Roma have difficulties in defending their rights at national level, using the courts. The Council of Europe is now carrying out training sessions for lawyers, reinforcing their skills in this specialised area.
Campaigning to overcome prejudice – Dosta!: Dosta means enough in the Romani language, and is the slogan of the Council of Europe's campaign to change attitudes and get people to discover the true potential of the Roma people. It was launched in Greece in 2011 and will be taken up in Spain, Turkey and Kosovo(1) during the year.
Building from the grassroots: Most of the problems faced by Roma are at the local or regional level and it is there that solutions can and should be found. This is why the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities has pledged its backing with plans for a dedicated network of these authorities from all over Europe. A first summit of mayors on Roma issues is scheduled to be held on September 22 in Strasbourg.
(1) All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo
The term "Roma" used at the Council of Europe refers to Roma, Sinti, Kale and related groups in Europe, including Travellers and the Eastern groups (Dom and Lom), and covers the wide diversity of the groups concerned, including persons who identify themselves as "Gypsies":
The ROMACT Joint Pogramme of the Council of Europe and European Commission aims to strengthen the capacity of local and regional authorities (targeting both elected officials and senior civil servants) to develop and implement plans and projects for Roma inclusion.
Roma women are a quiet but strong force for change, both a change in the fate of their communities' lives, as well as in their condition as women facing multiple discrimination. Empowering Roma women through trainings and international Conferences is among the Council of Europe priorities
Public knowledge about the history and culture of Roma is still marginal among ordinary people. National governments and international organisations are trying to overcome segregation, stigmatisation and marginalisation of the Roma and to integrate them into society. One of the keys for integration is education of both Roma and non-Roma. An integral part of this educational process is mutual knowledge about the common history and culture of Roma and non-Roma in Europe.