Oršuš and others v. Croatia | 2010

Children’s court case brings an end to discriminatory Roma-only classes

Oršuš makes clear that language deficiency cannot serve as a pretext for racial segregation.

James A. Goldston, a lawyer for the children, quoted on PR Newswire (in English)


Fourteen Roma children took their schools to court after they were put in segregated classes. The children considered this to be racial discrimination.

The pupils also complained that the quality of the education they received was worse than in non-Roma classes.

Drop-out rates among young Roma children were far higher than for non-Roma pupils where the schools were located. Most Roma children in the area said they felt unaccepted at school. Many expressed the simple wish to have a non-Roma child as a friend.

Despite this, the schools insisted that all pupils were treated equally, claiming that the children were grouped together not because of their Roma ethnic origin, but because they did not understand the Croatian language well enough.

A Croatian court agreed with the schools and dismissed the case.

Lawyers for the children then appealed to Croatia’s top court, which, after a four-year wait, ruled that the schools’ actions were not discriminatory.

The children decided to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that Croatia denied the children a right to education and discriminated against them.

There were no adequate safeguards to ensure that the schooling arrangements met their special needs as members of a disadvantaged group, the court found.

Among other things, the court pointed to a lack of clear criteria around transfers to mixed classes, meaning that the children stayed in Roma-only classes for long periods of time.

Moreover, the curriculum taught in Roma-only classes might have been significantly reduced, and it was not clear that this was an appropriate way of helping the children to learn Croatian.

The European court also found that Croatia’s top court took too long to decide on the children’s case, particularly given what was at stake. This also violated their rights.

...the placement of the [children] in Roma-only classes at times during their primary education had no objective and reasonable justification.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, March 2010


In response to the European court’s judgment, Croatia took steps to end discrimination against Roma children in primary education.

This included a new law, which entered into force in July 2010, abolishing Roma-only classes and setting out a clear legal basis for Roma children’s access to quality education – including by making sure they are taught the same curriculum.

Croatia also introduced other forms of help for Roma children lacking language skills, as well as more teaching assistance to address the high drop-out rate.