Online meeting between representatives of the Council of Europe project for protection of national minorities and experts from the Office of the Ombudsperson of Ukraine
The coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected vulnerable groups, including Roma families who reside in uncontrolled settlements. Because of social dislocation, the vast majority of the Roma families in compact settlements are unable to provide themselves with the necessary means of protection, food, or medicine.
The Office of the Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for Human Rights — the partner of the Council of Europe project “Protecting national minorities, including Roma, and minority languages in Ukraine”— initiated an online meeting with Ms. Zemfira Kondur, Project Officer to discuss observance of rights and freedoms of the Roma minority representatives in the context of the spread of coronavirus infection and application of quarantine measures.
The online meeting was attended by Mr. Viktor Ivankevych, the Commissioner’s representative for equal rights and freedoms, Ms. Svitlana Semchyshyn, the Commissioner’s representative in western oblasts, and Ms. Larysa Kobelianska, expert of the CoE project “Protecting national minorities, including Roma, and minority languages in Ukraine”.
The attendees reported that, following the monitoring carried out by the Commissioner and civil society organisations, numerous instances have been identified of restrictions imposed on the rights of Roma in the field of access to medical services, education, social protection, along with violations of the right to freedom of movement. Furthermore, instances of xenophobia against the Roma community, such as physical attacks, incitement of ethnic hatred in the media and social networks, including Facebook groups, have been identified.
The situation facing Roma once again evidences mere formality of the approach taken by the authorities in implementing the “Strategy for the protection and integration of the Roma minority in the Ukrainian society for the period up to 2020”.
In the opinion of Mr. Viktor Ivankevych, the representative of the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for human rights, this state of affairs requires consolidated efforts by the human rights community to draw attention of the authorities to the issues faced by Roma in this difficult period, and to take subsequent account of the existing gaps and shortcomings when drafting a new Strategy for protection and integration of the Roma national minority into the Ukrainian society.
Following the discussion, a decision was adopted to draft a joint Special Report on the state of observance of the rights of the Roma national minority representatives in the context of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will offer relevant recommendations for the authorities at various levels.
It will be recalled that, in her statement made in early April 2020, Ms. Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that in many places in Europe, Roma still lack access to clean water and sanitation. This makes it very difficult to apply crucial hygiene measures such as regular hand washing. It is also unlikely that social distancing and isolation measures can be effectively implemented in overcrowded housing.
Governments in some countries, such as Slovakia, have requested from local authorities that they provide Roma settlements with unlimited access to water The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights insists that these essential measures must be implemented urgently, including by local and regional authorities, in all areas across Europe where Roma lack access to water and basic sanitation. An additional issue of concern, according to Ms. Mijatović, is access to health care for persons living in informal and segregated settlements, which can potentially be difficult, especially for the many Roma who still have no identity documents and those who lack health insurance cover.