Roma and travellers

Some 10 to 12 million Roma and travellers are spread across the Council of Europe's 47 member states.

Many of these communities are subject to discrimination and even violence and are pushed to the margins of society out of fear and a historical legacy of intense stereotyping and repression.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concerns about the treatment of Roma during an official visit to Rome in January 2009.

''The conditions in Roma camps are still unacceptable,” he said after visiting Casilino 900 and four other settlements in the Italian capital. “Roma people struggle for integration. In many cases, their children go to school and are already part of society. No measures should be taken which would stop the integration process.''

Terry Davis, the Council of Europe's Secretary General, has also warned against the spiralling social exclusion of Roma communities and urged governments to combat discrimination and violence towards Roma.

''We must continue to remind authorities not only about their responsibility to combat anti-gypsyism but also their duty to offer advice and assistance, ' ' the Secretary General declared in November 2008 in a speech to the European Roma and Travellers' Forum in Strasbourg .

At the conference, the Secretary General hailed the renewal of the partnership agreement with the Forum and welcomed the Charter of Rights for the Roma as a useful tool in the campaign to advance Roma interests.

The Council of Europe consults regularly with Roma associations and interests groups. Its Dosta! campaign brings together the work of the Organisation to encourage greater participation and respect for Roma culture.

Thomas Hammarberg wants this experience to be magnified by national governments who take up the challenge of bringing Roma communities into the process of political decision-making.

''Roma populations are grossly under-represented in local and national assemblies and government administrations all over Europe ,” he wrote in a Viewpoint' article published in September 2008.

''This is a serious shortcoming in our democracies, violates the right to political participation and perpetuates a situation of exclusion and marginalization.''

The Commissioner does not envisage a ''quick solution'' to ''problems which are so deeply ingrained in attitudes among both the Roma and the majority population.''

Proactive measures

Nevertheless, he does encourage governments to take “proactive measures.” Mr Hammarberg claims the long history of political neglect makes the case for positive discrimination in favour of Roma.

''Proactive measures are absolutely necessary,” he said. “It is not sufficient to unblock some hindrances – there is a need to compensate for the long history of exclusion and marginalization through positive action.''

''The impact of all this will depend on progress in the efforts to put an end to anti-Gypsyism. Clear reactions must be made against any xenophobic discourse and jargon. Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation must be adopted and enforced and the various Roma communities recognised as national minorities.

''In this, our elected politicians carry a great responsibility.''

Pour en savoir plus

''Viewpoint'' of Thomas Hammarberg (Sept. 2008)
Speech of Terry Davis to the European Roma and Travellers' Forum (Nov. 2008)
Website of Roma and travellers division
Website of DOSTA! campaign
File ''Roma and travellers''


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