< Viewpoints < 2006
“Forced eviction of Roma families must stop”
In recent months a number of Roma families in several European countries
have been evicted from their homes by force. In most cases the decisions
were taken by local authorities. The tenants were not given adequate notice
or offered a real alternative. It is clear that several of these evictions
violated European and international human rights standards.
Several serious cases have been reported to me. In the Dorozhny village in
Kaliningrad more than 200 Roma were evicted in late May and early June and
had their houses bulldozed to ruins. This followed speedy court procedures
which were criticised by reliable non-governmental organisations for being
unfair to the Roma.
In the village of Elbasan in Albania a similar action was taken in July
against 109 Roma residents. It is reported that they were not allowed to
remove their personal belongings before the destruction of their homes and
that many of them now are homeless. In Patras, Greece, 13 homes of
Makrigianni Roma who were away for seasonal work elsewhere were demolished
in late July.
I have also received information about evictions or planned actions of this
nature in other parts of the Russian Federation and in Bulgaria, the Czech
Republic, France, Turkey and the United Kingdom. In several cases the
destruction of homes and property has been accompanied by violence and
These reports, many of them confirmed by the European Roma Rights Centre in
Budapest, raise several concerns. One is that there appears to be an
alarming element of racism or anti-ziganism behind these actions and the way
they are enforced.
Another is, of course, the dramatic consequences for the families
themselves, including their children. Without a real home they also face
difficulties in enjoying other rights, such as the right to education and
health. A pattern of social segregation is perpetuated.
An argument put forward for the evictions in several cases has been the need
to construct new, more modern buildings in the same area. However, Roma
families are seldom offered accommodation in such new houses. Indeed, they
are still disproportionately represented among the homeless and those living
in sub-standard housing. Roma ghettos and shanty towns can still be found on
our continent today.
My predecessor as Commissioner for Human Rights reported several times that
poor housing conditions is a major cause of Roma exclusion in Europe. He did
not accept, rightly, the old “argument” that Roma people are nomads and
therefore do not want or need proper housing.
Decisions that cause some people to move because of new city plans are of
course sometimes justified. However, the manner in which such initiatives
are prepared and implemented should be in accordance with agreed human
rights norms and procedural safeguards.
The consequence of these norms is that forced evictions only can be carried
out in exceptional cases and in a reasonable manner. Everyone concerned must
be able to access courts to review the legality of planned evictions before
they are carried out – this requires the existence of both legal remedies
and legal aid possibilities. Alternatives to evictions should be sought in
genuine consultation with the people affected, while compensation and
adequate resettlement have to be offered when forced evictions take place.
These norms also apply to local authorities. That abusive decisions are
sometimes taken at the local level does not absolve central government from
responsibility under its international obligations. The state should
exercise oversight and, if necessary, regulate local action.
The monitoring mechanisms of the European Social Charter have already found
several countries in breach of their treaty obligations regarding the
housing rights of Roma. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has
judged that poor housing conditions can, in certain cases, amount to
breaches of the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment
under the European Convention. The UN Committee against Torture has taken a
National, regional and local authorities have to take action now. In a
recommendation dating from 2005, the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe has given clear guidance to all member states on improving the
housing conditions of Roma. Instead of evicting Roma families, we should
respect their right to adequate housing. One precondition is an effective
consultation with the Roma themselves.
Europe has a shameful history of discrimination and severe repression of the
Roma. There are still widespread prejudices against them in country after
country on our continent. This makes it particularly important that
governments are alert to the risk of unfair and degrading treatment of Roma
by local authorities.
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