Report of the meeting of the Informal Contact Group of International Organisations on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

Brussels, 18 November, 2004

Background 

This Informal Contact Group of International Organisations dealing with Roma, Sinti and Travellers issues (Council of Europe, OSCE, European Union, UNHCR, Open Society Institute, World Bank) meets once every six months under the chairmanship of the country that has the presidency of the European Union.
The purpose of these meetings is to keep each other informed of developments within each organisation. Under the Netherlands presidency, the meetings were largely concentrated on a multilateral approach to issues and on establishing common priorities.

Opening

The chairman, Mr Jos Douma, said that the Informal Contact Group was an initiative of the Finnish presidency in 1999.. Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, and France had all held meetings of the contact Group, but Italy, Greece, Spain and Ireland had failed to do so.
.The Netherlands presidency held three meetings in 2004. The next meeting was scheduled under the Luxembourg presidency, to be followed by the United Kingdom. Mr Douma appealed to the representatives of Luxembourg and the United Kingdom to organise a meeting under their respective presidency.

The meeting 

This was the third meeting under the Netherlands presidency and was attended by representatives of the Council of Europe, OSCE, several Directorates of the European Commission, the UNHCR, the Open Society Institute, the World Bank, Roma MEPs, and representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, the two countries next in line for the presidency of the Union.

The issues discussed could be summarised as follows:

1. Major developments in the various international organisations

OSCE (Mr Nicolae Gheorghe)

Council of Europe(Ms Miranda Vuolasranta)

The European Commission ( Ms Ivana Skodova; D.G. Employment and Social Affairs, Mr Detlev
Boeing, D.G. Enlargement; Ms Louise Head, Ms Harris, D.G. External Relations)

(a) General Information

(b) Accession countries (Mr Detlef Boeing)

Non-accession countries

The Roma Decade Initiative (Mr Andre Wilkens, Open Society Institute; Ms Sabine Simmross,World Bank)

This is a regional effort to close the gap between the Roma and the non-Roma, supported by the World Bank, the OSCE, the EU and the OSI. It concerns four areas: education, employment, housing and health and entails action programmes for the governments for the next ten years. It was being proposed to have the secretariat in Budapest or Bucharest and to internationalise the secretariat.

Many countries participating in the Decade have a wrong perception of the initiative and see it as a funded project. This is not the case, except for the issue of education where the Fund is to be seen as a separate initiative. The seat of the Education Fund will be in Paris at the Council of Europe Development Fund.

2. Monitoring and evaluating activities on Roma issues 

The question of monitoring was raised by Mr Nicolae Gheorghe (OSCE/ODIHR) who expressed his regret that the states did not make better use of the OSCE Action Plan for Roma and Sinti, which was hardly known outside the Ministries for Foreign Affairs. He would be shortly submitting a report on the implementation of the OSCE Action Plan to the Permanent Council of the OSCE.
He had to admit however that, in the absence of a monitoring system, which was not wanted by the states, it was not possible to ensure a follow up of the Action Plan. Results on the ground needed to become more visible. He believed that the reluctance of states to monitoring was also linked to the fact that there was too much duplication.

This view was shared by Mr Ian Naysmith (United Kingdom, Home Office) who proposed a better coordination between the different organisations involved in monitoring.

Mr Henry Scicluna (Council of Europe) said that a considerable amount of monitoring was done by the Council of Europe on human rights issues, including issues concerning Roma and Travellers. The ECRI, the Framework Convention for the Protectionof national minorities, and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages all monitored developments concerning Roma and Travellers. The experts of these bodies who carry out field visits on their monitoring exercises are supplied with relevant background information and a list of Roma representatives to contact during their visit. On the other hand, the Group of Specialists on Roma/Gypsies and Travellers issues numerous recommendations and, without monitoring, there is no way of knowing their effect.

He recalled that in the third Stability Pact project the Council of Europe would concentrate on the evaluation and monitoring of the national strategies in the various countries.

Ms Ivana Skodova (European Commission, DG Social Affairs) said that the Commission realised it was necessary to know how projects, including PHARE projects, were implemented. She proposed that Commission representatives visit Roma settlements, that Commission officials and national civil servants should receive specific training and that Roma professionals could assure the monitoring of projects. She recognised that there was a need for a strategy on evaluation.

Mr Jos Douma underlined that the Commission survey “Roma in an enlarged European Union” recommended evaluation and clear bench-marking.

Mr Detlev Boeing (European Commission, DG Enlargement) said that his DG was very active in monitoring in the context of pre-accession strategies and accession negotiations. He said that there was currently an evaluation of projects financed under the PHARE programme., covering programmes of a total value of between 60 and 90 million euros and included projects in Bulgaria and Romania.

Mr AndreWilkens (Open Society Institute) recalled that evaluation as an issue was also raised in the context of the Decade of Rome Inclusion.

During this discussion, several participants mentioned the difficulties concerning Roma participation in monitoring and evaluation. The Roma were not always prepared to take responsibility and get involved in monitoring exercises. The Roma representatives on a steering committee on structural funds in Slovakia were not competent to carry out evaluation and needed training.

The issue of monitoring raised considerable interest amongst the members of the Contact Group, who are aware that the credibility of the various organisations does not depend on meetings and seminars but on tangible results. It was also obvious that there was a lot of uncoordinated monitoring carried out by different organisations.

3. The situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) 

The situation of Roma IDPs in Central Europe was raised by several participants.
Ms Annabelle Roig, (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) said that, with regard to refugee status for asylum seekers, it was possible to consider ongoing discrimination as persecution according to the Geneva Convention and a ground for asylum. Roma were frequently attacked by
radical groups. She added that statelessness specifically affected Roma, who do not have proper documentation.

Mr Jens Schwab (Migration, Asylum Refugees, regional Initiatives - MARRI) said that the aim of his organisation was to promote law reform in order to give IDPs social and economic rights.. At a later stage the initiative would be extended to other vulnerable groups, including Roma.

Ms Miranda Vuolasranta, (Council of Europe) referred to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concerning IDPs and to the need for a lasting solution. She added that 120 Romani families had been evicted from the neighbourhood of Belgrade and transferred to rural areas where they lacked access to infrastructure and services.

Mr Nicolae Gheorghe (OSCE) said that a Roma meeting held in Vienna on 4-5 November, 2004 favoured a regional approach to the problem of Roma refugees and IDP’s. He called on the Luxembourg and United Kingdom representatives to ensure that the issue of IDPs is discussed at the European Council Group on the Western Balkans.

Mr Henry Scicluna (Council of Europe) proposed that each of the organisations present should collect their documentation on the IDP issue (recommendations, reports,etc.).

Mr Nicolae Gheorghe(OSCE) said that he would contract an expert for a compilation of the documents. The various issues resulting from the compilation would be discussed at the next meeting.

Mr Jos Douma (Chairman) said that the subject was of a sensitive character and should be discussed from a technical rather than a political perspective.

All the organisations represented agreed to send their respective documentation on IDPs and to discuss the various issues involved on the basis of a document to be prepared by the OSCE consultant.