Activity report of the Coordinator for Roma and Travellers: 2004

    In 2004 the activities of the Coordinator covered the following areas:

  • the coordination between the major inter-governmental organisations and institutions.
  • preparations for the establishment of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF)
  • coordination within the Council of Europe.
  • relations with member states
  • alerting crisis situations

1. Coordination between the major intergovernmental organisations and institutions 

      Informal Contact Group

      An Informal Contact Group of Intergovernmental Organisations and Institutions on Roma and Sinti was set up in 1999 with a view to exchange information and coordinate activities. This Informal Contact Group is intended to meet every six months under the chairmanship of the country having the presidency of the European Union. Unfortunately, in spite of efforts to maintain the rhythm of meetings, the Contact Group failed to meet under three successive European Union presidencies: Greek, Italian and Irish.

      With the multiplication of activities on Roma issues throughout Europe, and particularly the increasing interest of the European Union in these issues, such a Contact Group is essential not only to avoid a dispersal of activities but most of all to ensure concentration on top priorities.

    Thanks to our excellent cooperation with OSCE/ODIHR, a recommendation on strengthening the Informal Contact Group was inserted into the OSCE Action Plan on improving the situation of Roma and Sinti.1 This recommendation helped to relaunch the process under the Netherlands presidency which has organised three meetings of the Informal Group. These meetings have proved extremely useful not only in strengthening the relations between the major players in this area, but also in developing a spirit of multilateralism in the conception and implementation of activities.

    As a result of these meetings the Informal Contact Group

- has taken up education, and more particularly, the desegregation of schools as the priority issue for joint action.

- agreed on a Task Force to meet crisis situations. In this context it was agreed to prepare a joint report on internally displaced persons in Serbia who find themselves in a juridical no man’s land and deprived of all social services2.

    The representatives of Luxembourg and the United Kingdom confirmed that they would both call a meeting under their presidency

    Developments in the European Union

    The European Commission is obviously moving towards the elaboration of a Community Programme on Roma and Travellers and has already set up an inter-departmental commission on Roma issues, involving DG Employment and Social Affairs, DG Education and Culture, DG Public Health, DG Environment, DG Justice and Home Affairs, DG Enlargement and DG Eurostat. It has already met twice, in October 2004 and in January, 2005. Its next meeting is scheduled for April, 2005, with a hearing of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.

    A report on the situation of the Roma in an Enlarged European Union prepared by DG Employment and Social Affairs recommends “the establishment of a pan-European steering group on Roma issues involving relevant EU bodies, relevant Council of Europe bodies, the OSCE, Member State governments, representatives of initiatives such as the Decade of Roma inclusion and the European Roma Forum as well as representatives of relevant civil society organisations…”3.

    The proposed steering body coincides considerably with the Informal Contact Group in both composition and purpose. It will therefore be particularly important in the next few months to follow developments within the Community to ensure that the structure and orientation of the Informal Contact Group is used to create the proposed steering body. This would preserve the dynamics which has been created by the Informal Contact Group as well as the continuity of its action.

    The European Parliament can play a very important role in promoting interest in Roma issues. For this reason the Coordinator tries to establish links with the various parliamentary groups. In 2004 the Coordinator was able to address the Confederal Group of the European United Left on Roma issues( 20 April, 2004) and participated in a hearing on Roma issues organised by the European Liberal Democratic Group in Brussels.

    The Coordinator has also established very good contact with Mrs Lydia Jaroka, and Mrs Viktoria Mohacsi, both Hungarian Roma who are European members of parliament and who are interested in working with the Council of Europe in promoting the interests of the Roma.

    There is now an attempt to set up an inter-parliamentary platform on Roma issues but so far only two political groups have shown interest and, according to European Parliament rules three groups are needed to form the inter-parliamentary platform.

    A joint project on anti-Gypsism

    Unfriendly feelings towards Roma, Travellers and other related groups have always existed, even if often latent. The political changes in Central and Eastern Europe brought about economic reforms which impoverished even further these vulnerable groups Anger at socially assisted population groups started being aired freely and a greater liberty of movement enabled limited groups of these populations to move towards Western European countries.

    Today anti-gypsism has become a worrying phenomenon thriving on age-old myths and constantly resulting in all forms of discrimination and agressions. The European Commission Report on the situation of the Roma and Sinti in an enlarged European Union states that “the treatment of Roma is today among the most pressing political, social and human rights issues facing Europe

    In its conclusions the Report says “In the light of the current crisis of anti-Romani sentiment in Europe the establishment of a standing body to monitor and report on developments in the field of anti-gypsism to be located at a relevant European institution, should be seriously considered”4.

    At the last meeting of the Informal Contact Group on 18 November, 2004, it was proposed to hold a European conference on the phenomenon of anti-gypsism in the first half of 2005.
    The conference would be organised jointly by the Council of Europe, the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Union. Such a conference would aim at showing that anti-gypsy feelings are not random and sporadic but a generalised, and sometimes institutionalised, phenomenon throughout Europe, and therefore requires a European reply.

2 The establishment of the European Roma and Travellers Forum 

The Coordinator has dedicated a considerable amount of time to the establishment of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) and has been responsible, inter alia, for chairing the meetings of Roma experts preparing the statute of the Forum, drawing up information documents, and supervising the preparations for the ceremony for the signature of the Partnership Agreement.

The ERTF is now registered as a non-governmental organisation and has started functioning through an acting executive committee. The Coordinator attends the meetings of this committee and is currently following the adoption of rules of procedure and the preparations for the selection of delegates in the various member states. The OSCE/ODIHR has made a grant of 20,000 euros to the Forum to help in the selection procedure (meetings of national NGOs, information sessions).

In preparation of its future work the Coordinator has requested all interested steering committees or other bodies involved directly or indirectly in Roma and Travellers issues to discuss the relations which they would like to establish with the Forum. Most bodies have manifested a deep interest in the future work of the Forum and the acting chairman of the Forum, Mr Rudko Kawczynski, was invited on 8 December 2004 to address the Commission on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Coordinator was invited to address the plenary meeting of the ECRI on 17 December 2004.

The Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities have both invited the acting chairman of the Forum to a hearing at their respective Spring sessions.

Once the delegates of the various countries have been selected and the first plenary meeting is held it will be important for the Forum to get down to work. For this purpose, the Coordinator is now drawing up a draft strategy for the Forum, together with an outline of the structures and working methods to be followed.

In conformity with the provisions appended to the Partnership Agreement he will be liaising between the Forum and the Council of Europe bodies to ensure that the relations which the Forum will have with the various Council of Europe bodies are of mutual benefit.

3. Coordination within the Council of Europe 

    Apart from the contacts made in relation to the setting up of the European Roma and Travellers Forum mentioned above, the Coordinator called a meeting of all those sectors which deal with Roma issues to initiate a transversal activity.

    The Group of Specialists on Roma,Gypsies and Travellers (MG-S-ROM) has adopted a series of recommendations on employment, education, and the encampment of Travellers, has submitted a recommendation on housing for adoption, and is now preparing a recommendation on health, and another one on participative evaluation and monitoring of policies. The MG-S-ROM plans to merge all these recommendations into one single general recommendation which would set down the general principles applicable to all aspects of life.

    With this in view, the Coordinator called a meeting of all those sectors involved in Roma issues and proposed a transversal activity, involving all the interested sectors. The initiative was warmly welcomed by all the sectors and there has been considerable input by them towards the completion of the general recommendation.

    The Coordinator has also proposed to all monitoring bodies a set of arrangements with the Migration and Roma Department to ensure that monitoring experts have all the necessary information concerning the situation of the Roma in the country to be visited, as well as the names of Roma personalities to be contacted during the visit.

4. Relations with member states 

    Ukraine

    In 2003, the Ukrainian government adopted a strategy for the improvement of the situation of the Roma and invited the Coordinator to a seminar in Kiev on the subject. Unfortunately, this “strategy” did not go beyond a declaration of intentions and the Coordinator strongly recommended a more detailed and precise strategy which can be implemented.
    The Ukrainian authorities invited the Coordinator again in March, 2004 with a view to elaborating a strategy on the lines previously suggested. Following that meeting a more detailed text was elaborated although no specific funding was provided.

    A parliamentary hearing on a strategy for the Roma was foreseen in November, 2004, but given the political situation, this did not take place. With the improvement of the political situation it might be possible to achieve some results in 2005.

    Croatia

    In March, 2004, the Coordinator participated in a Seminar for young Roma leaders and lectured to them about the work of the Council of Europe and other international bodies on Roma issues and particularly on the objectives and functioning of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.
    In recent years, there has been an increasing number of educated young Roma who could be tomorrow’s leaders. It is, therefore, particularly important to get young Roma interested in issues concerning them and eventually get them involved in the work of the Forum. Roma society is unfortunately governed by elderly men who do not want to see any change and by old traditions that often hamper their integration.

    Albania

    On 5 July 2004, the Coordinator chaired a Seminar organised by the Council of Europe on the trafficking of Roma children between Albania and Greece.

    The Greek authorities, who are particularly interested in solving this problem, were heavily represented at the Seminar but the Albanian authorities were only symbolically represented by a few junior officials who did not participate in the debate. In fact, the Coordinator was subsequently informed that all the ministries had been instructed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to stay away from the Seminar.

    Though the Seminar had a mitigated success due to the absence of the Albanian authorities, it provided nonetheless the opportunity for the representatives of the Greek Ministry for Foreign Affairs to have, at the margin of the seminar, talks with their Albanian counterparts on a draft bilateral agreement between Albania and Greece for the management of this situation.

    The bilateral agreement has not come into force as a result of difficulties with several Albanian ministries.

    The Coordinator strongly suggest that this aspect of child trafficking should be more closely looked into by the Organisation’s monitoring bodies. Council of Europe assistance and encouragement should perhaps also be considered in the preparation of bilateral agreements such as the one envisaged between Greece and Albania.

    Serbia and Montenegro

    On 13-14 December, 2004, the Coordinator participated in a seminar on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Belgrade, organised jointly by the Council of Europe and the UNHCR, and chaired one of the sessions.

    The fate of these IDPs is one of the most tragic stories in Europe today. Refugees from Kosovo , they are now forcibly deported to Serbia, where they live in appalling misery, and often in a juridical vacuum, due to lack of documentation. The countries that gave them refuge no longer want them and Serbia and Montenegro have unwillingly accepted them without offering them anything.

    The Serbian authorities were present in force and showed a certain willingness to solve the problem.

    There is now an agreement to have a meeting, restricted to the Council of Europe, UNHCR, government officials and IDP representatives to discuss practical issues which could improve their living conditions. The Coordinator is in contact with the UNHCR representative at the Council of Europe to organise this meeting as early as possible.

5. Alerting crisis situations 

    It should be made clear that the current mandate of the Coordinator does not empower him to act as an ombudsman. It is however difficult not to intervene when a crisis situation presents itself.
    On these occasions the Coordinator limits himself to alerting the Deputy Secretary General, who then uses her discretion on what type of action needs to be taken, if any.

    During 2004, the Coordinator drew attention to the following incidents: Vilnius (forced evictions and destruction of houses); Belgrade (forced evictions), Tirana (forced evictions resulting in one death), Slovakia (violent repression of protests against the reduction of social assistance).

    On 1 September, 2004, following several incidents in France with Travellers (Gens de Voyage), the Coordinator wrote to Mr Yves Bur, the Mayor of Lingolsheim, responsible in the Region for the management of encampment areas for this nomadic population, and sent him a copy of our new recommendation on the encampment of Travellers. The Coordinator invited him to participate in the discussions on a study by the Group of Specialists on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers on the social and economic rights of itinerant populations in Europe.
    There was no reply to the letter.

6. The role of Coordinator in the future 

    Background

    The role of Coordinator of activities on Roma issues was created in 1994 in order to coordinate the various activities that were started in the various sectors of the Council of Europe. At this stage activities concerning Roma issues were being carried out within the framework of wider mandates e.g.education, human rights, minority rights, racism and so on. No structure existed with a specific mandate on Roma issues. The role of Coordinator was therefore wide enough not only to cover coordination in a strict sense but also activities proper to an operational sector.

    The current terms of reference of the Coordinator are the following:

maintain contacts with and between the various services working on Roma/Gypsies questions so as to ensure that these different activities are seen in relation to one another and presented to the outside world as a comprehensive Council of Europe response to the situation of a particularly vulnerable group;

develop working relations with different Roma/Gypsies organisations, to respond to their requests and advise the Secretary General in this connection;

promote dialogue on policies and problems relating to Roma/Gypsies;

cooperate with international organisations concerned (e.g. OSCE (ODIHR), OSCE High Commissioner on Minorities, Commission of the European Communities) with a view to developing the appropriate synergies while avoiding duplication of activities.”

    The Group of Specialists on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers was set up in 1995, with a mandate that covers, directly or indirectly, that of the Coordinator. The role of Coordinator was henceforth linked to the post of Head of the Migration and Roma/Travellers Department, which is responsible for Roma issues.

    It might be questioned why, at this stage, the role of Coordinator was not re-examined and the terms of reference modified. The answer probably lies with the specific nature of Roma issues.

    Specific nature of Roma issues

    Most sectors in the Organisation deal with a theme rather than with a population group. Issues concerning Roma and Travellers cut right through a whole set of themes: education, health, housing, social assistance, discrimination. Hence the need to coordinate activities within the Organisation – a need which is not felt so much or at all, in other sectors.

    The same holds true for coordination with other intergovernmental international organisations and institutions dealing with Roma issues. Though coordination with other international organisations is needed in all the sectors of the Council of Europe, none has as wide a range of international organisations and institutions with Roma issues on their agenda (OSCE, European Commission, UNHCR, UNHCHR, UNDP, UNMIK, the Roma Decade set-up). Moreover many of these organisations and institutions have only recently started activities on Roma issues. While in other sectors relations with other international organisations have long been established, in the case of Roma issues the work of coordination is still at its inception and needs greater attention.

    A similar situation exists with regard to Roma organisations, national and international. Most of them have mushroomed in Central and Eastern Europe since 1990. Unlike other sectors where relations normally exist with long-established NGOs having consultative status with the Council of Europe, the Roma sector maintains relations with a multitude of organisations which are of recent creation and are still trying to find their place and vocation.

    New factors

    (i)The European Roma and Travellers Forum

    The creation of a European Roma and Travellers Forum as a non-governmental organisation having close and privileged links with the Council of Europe introduces a new element in the work of coordination, which could entail a modification of the terms of reference of the Coordinator.

    Given these close links which include, inter alia, relations with various sectors in the Organisation, it will be necessary to ensure a liaison between the Council of Europe bodies and the Forum. This is, in fact, foreseen in the Appendix to the Partnership Agreement.

    A close and permanent liaison between the Forum and the various bodies of the Council of Europe would automatically and simultaneously ensure a proper coordination with Roma organisations (the Roma and Travellers Forum will be composed of representatives of these organisations.) It would also help in promoting dialogue on policies and problems relating to Roma/Gypsies, a task within the remit of the Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies and Travellers and undoubtedly one which the European Roma and Travellers Forum would not be neglecting.

    (ii) Mounting Anti-Gypsism

    Anti-gypsy feelings and actions have become so frequent and so common that it has become extremely difficult for anyone working on Roma issues to ignore them.
    It is definitely not the job of the Coordinator to be an ombudsman. Several monitoring bodies, including the Commissioner for Human Rights, do, to a certain extent, cover this role. Their reports, however, cover general situations and do no deal with specific issues. There is a need for monitoring serious specific incidents and try, in negotiations with the authorities and the Roma population concerned, to find a solution to the problems that arise.

    The role of the Council of Europe in the solution of the crisis in 2003 in Medzitlija on the Greek/Macedonian border where several hundred Roma camped in an attempt to pass to Greece is a case in point.

    In the light of the above, I would recommend that the terms of reference of the Coordinator should be modified to read as follows:

  • Maintain contacts with and between the various services working on Roma and Travellers questions so as to ensure that these different activities are seen in relation to one another and presented to the outside world as a comprehensive Council of Europe response to the situation of a particularly vulnerable group.
  • Cooperate with international organisations concerned (OSCE/ODIHR, European Commission) with a view to developing common orientations and priorities on Roma issues.
  • Follow the activities of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, and particularly encourage, facilitate and maintain close relations between the European Roma and Travellers Forum and the various bodies of the Council of Europe.
  • Monitor specific serious incidents and crisis situations concerning Roma and Travellers in the member states with a view to reaching an early and equitable solution.

    It is the Coordinator’s view that the proposed terms of reference would be more in line with the role that the Coordinator is to play in the light of recent developments.

General conclusions 

    1. In spite of the fact that initiatives to improve the living conditions of the Roma and Travellers are not lacking, discrimination against them is constantly and rapidly on the increase throughout Europe. The ordinary citizens are opposed to the integration of these populations into their society and governments lack the political will to act vigorously. Authorities at the local level openly object to helping them in any way.

    There is a need for monitoring bodies like ECRI and the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities to widen and deepen the scope of their monitoring to report more effectively on the situation of the Roma and Travellers in the various member states. These bodies dispose of an excellent set of recommendations on various aspects of life which serve as criteria for their monitoring. The Committee of Ministers should then act more strongly towards countries that are reluctant to conform to the conclusions of the reports of the monitoring bodies. One should avoid that the Council of Europe and its monitoring bodies serve as a camouflage for those countries that do not intend to change their ways.

    2. In its relations with other international organisations and institutions on Roma issues, the Council of Europe needs to strengthen its relations with the European Union. There is no doubt that the European Union will eventually play an important role in this area. The Council of Europe, with its monitoring bodies, would be the natural partner for the European Union-which is why these monitoring bodies should broaden their reporting on Roma issues.

    3. Two matters need to be looked into deeply and urgently by the Council of Europe

    The first concerns the trafficking of Roma children, which, in some countries, is unfortunately going on with the passive or active complicity of the authorities. The draft Convention on the trafficking of human beings needs to be adopted and to enter into force as rapidly as possible. It will then be important not only to ensure as many signatures and ratifications as possible, but also the application of the provisions of the convention. A weak monitoring system will not improve the situation.

    The second matter concerns internally displaced persons, notably Roma in Serbia and Montenegro. It is unacceptable that these people should be forced to live as outlaws, deprived of all social, medical and educational services, and feeding off rubbish dumps.

    It is even more unacceptable that rich Western countries that had generously given refuge to these people should now throw them out of their country irrespective of the living conditions in the receiving countries.

    The Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on the legal aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and stateless Persons (CAHAR) has set up a working group on internally displaced persons. The Working Group should, in particular, study the situation of the Roma IDPs. This is a good sign as it indicates that CAHAR is aware there is a serious problem with IDPs. The Working Group should, in particular, study the situation of the Roma IDPs.

    4. The establishment of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, and the Council of Europe’s partnership agreement with it are a major accomplishment of the Council of Europe. The Forum promises to be an excellent opportunity for the Roma and Travellers to take responsibility for their own affairs and to develop skills in negotiation and management at the international level. Though the Forum is autonomous and independent, the Council of Europe should follow its development and provide funds and assistance if necessary. Though the living conditions of the Roma will not change overnight, the effective functioning of the Forum could help a lot in that direction.

1 “The strengthening and upgrading of this informal body will be agreed and implemented in cooperation with all the relevant partners.


2 n 14 December, 2004 I attended a seminar on Roma IDPs, Refugees and Returnees in Belgrade, organised jointly by the Council of Europe and the UNHCR. On this occasion I visited two settlements, both illegal and aimed for destruction. One of them is a shanty town built on a rubbish dump. Tuberculosis and skin diseases are rampant

3 The Situation of Roma in an Enlarged European Union, 2004, p.46

4 The Situation of Roma in an Enlarged European Union, 2004, pp.10, 47.