European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

10 years of combating racism

Palais de l’Europe, Room 1
Strasbourg, Thursday 18 March 2004

Europe: Combating racism against Roma/Gypsies

Roma/Gypsies are singled out as a target for racism throughout Europe, to the extent that they do not, in our society, enjoy equal rights. This is, however, a fundamental human right to which all human beings are entitled.

During its second round of country-specific reports covering 43 Council of Europe member states, ECRI monitored the situation with regard to racism and intolerance. This round lasted five years and ended in December 2002: the problems encountered by Roma/Gypsies are covered in 32 of the 43 reports and, in ten of these reports, ECRI considered that they were issues of particular concern. This finding applies to countries in Western Europe as much as to those in Eastern Europe.

Most members of the Roma/Gypsy community are victims of numerous and varied human rights violations.

Sedentary populations are often shunted off into ghettos, where they live in deplorable conditions that are very harmful to their health, while travellers have difficulty finding places where they have the right to camp. Difficulties in obtaining access to public services, public places and healthcare are also a source of concern and studies show that the life expectancy of members of the Roma/Gypsy population is lower than that of members of the majority population. There is a great deal of discrimination against Roma/Gypsies in the fields of education and employment, resulting in considerable economic and social disadvantages.

In short, Roma/Gypsies are confronted with direct and indirect forms of discrimination in every sphere of their daily lives, and legislation does not always provide a remedy, either because it has shortcomings or because it is not enforced by the authorities and the courts. In extreme cases, Roma/Gypsies are victims of segregation, particularly in the fields of housing and education.

Discrimination is based on the racial prejudice and stereotypes that underpin public attitudes towards Roma/Gypsies. It sometimes leads to acts of racist violence, both verbal and physical, including on the part of the police.

Nevertheless, ECRI notes that Council of Europe member states are, on the whole, aware of the problems encountered by members of Roma/Gypsy communities and many governments have adopted national strategies to improve the situation. However, these are insufficiently implemented and sometimes meet with considerable resistance from local authorities, which are themselves often influenced by the population they govern.

ECRI encourages governments to continue improving the living conditions of Roma/Gypsies in close co-operation with civil society, including the representatives of Roma/Gypsy communities, which is becoming increasingly active and organised in defending Roma/Gypsy interests. In 1998, with this aim in mind, ECRI adopted a General Policy Recommendation (N3) on combating racism and intolerance against Roma/Gypsies.