Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Building Bridges – or Burning Them?
The Escalation of Violence against Roma in Europe
Senior Adviser on Romany Issues,
European Roma Rights Center
The Hearing Was Held at 2:00 p.m. in B-318 Rayburn, Washington, D.C.,
Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) Moderating
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Federal News Service
REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER SMITH (R-NJ): The commission will come to order.
And let me begin by expressing my apology for being so late. It’s 45 minutes
after we were supposed to start. We did have a series of votes – five votes –
on the floor. And so I do apologize for that.
I’d like to welcome everyone for joining us this afternoon, particularly our
witnesses who have traveled here from Europe to be able to testify today before
the Helsinki Commission. We appreciate your dedication to the human rights and
dignity of the Romany people, probably the most discriminated against and
disadvantaged people in Europe today.
Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, has faced discrimination and worse for
hundreds of years. In parts of Europe, they were even literally enslaved as
late as the 19th century, when our own country was battling this evil, and in
the 20th century were the victims of German genocide during World War II. An
estimated 500,000 Roma were exterminated by Nazi Germany and its accomplices.
In 1990, hopes for the democratic transitions under way were enormous. And the
OSCE was likewise optimistic that it would play its part in ensuring that Roma
would be equal sharers in the benefits of freedom, democracy and the free
economy that it would bring. But the 1990s were difficult years for Roma, who
were faced with – (inaudible) – murderers and other acts of violence and police
With a view to that violence, I wrote then-secretary – assistant secretary for
democracy, human rights, and labor, Harold Koh, regarding Romany human rights
and religious freedom, and urged the State Department to be sure that these
issues were fully covered in the State Department’s annual country reports on
human rights practices. The commission became increasingly active on Roma
human rights issues. In 2002, we held a Helsinki hearing on the situation of
Roma. In that same year, my resolution on improving equal opportunities for
Roma in education was adopted by the OSCE parliamentary assembly.
Though about 10 years ago many countries began to implement measures to stem
the violence, resulting in fewer attacks and more accountability when attacks
occurred, the sad fact is that these positive developments have not – I repeat
– have not been sustained.
To make matters worse, in recent years, there has been a terrifying escalation
of violence against Roma, prompting the Helsinki Commission to hold a briefing
on this issue in 2009. The current wave of violence has resulted in horrible
fatalities like the murder of the 5-year-old, Robert Csorba, in Hungary, who
along with his father was killed by sniper fire when they tried to flee their
burning house, which had been set afire by a Molotov cocktail.
There are many cases of horrifying violence against Roma, people who have been
maimed or disfigured for life, like the 13-year-old girl in Hungary shot in the
face by the extremists who also killed her mother, or the toddler known as Baby
Natalka in the Czech Republic who was burned over 80 percent of her body in a
Molotov cocktail attack.
As we discuss today the anti-Roma mob attacks and demonstrations that continue
to occur in several countries, we should ask what is the impact on families and
children who huddle in their homes while a mob outside yells: “Gypsies,” to
the gas”? Exactly this sort of thing is really going on in 2012. The Roma
still have to face such open savagery. It’s beyond imagination.
Yet, at the same time, many governments are voicing serious concerns about this
situation. One of the purposes of this hearing is to ask how well the
solutions respond to the problem. Every EU country is now working up a
national strategy for Roma integration. Do these strategies respond to the
real gravity of the danger threatening the Roma?
Likewise our own State Department has prioritized the rights of the Romany
people. And this has been implemented with real commitment by many ambassadors
and human rights officers. Yet the country reports on human rights practices
has been uneven. And so we will all have to continue to watch them carefully.
They should be a touchstone of our government’s commitment to the human rights
of the Romany people.
Finally, we should also talk about humanitarian concerns. In the
post-communist countries, Roma have been the absolute losers in the transition
to market economies. Last year, the Hungarian minister for social inclusion,
Zoltan Balog, said that their situation is worse today than it was under
communism. Over the past 20 years, Roma have been caught in a downward spiral,
accelerating at exponential rates. While they’re – they were at the bottom of
the social ladder during the communist period, they are often off the grid,
living in shantytowns, urban ghettos, or segregated settlements. And I and
members of this commission have visited. I remember one visit to a Romany
ghetto that was right next to a dump, and the smell of garbage was
overwhelming. And yet these individuals had to live there and raise their
A UNDP report concluded that Roma in five Central European countries live in
conditions more typically found in sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe. And I
would note parenthetically, as chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the House
of Representatives, I’ve been to many very, very poor places in Africa. And
when – what I saw at some of these Romany holds or townships has clearly
approximated what I’ve seen in some of the most destitute places in Africa.
But can governments really expect to make improvements with regard to other
problems Roma face in housing, in employment, education and so on, if shocking
acts of violence continue unabated? That is the open question and part of what
we hope to at least to begin to address today.
We will begin by receiving testimony from our two distinguished witnesses,
Andrzej Mirga, who is well-known in Washington. Mr. Mirga is the senior
adviser on Romany issues to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and
Human Rights or ODIHR. He first testified in Washington in 1994 and has
brought his considerable experience and insights to the Helsinki Commission and
to all the other governments of the OSCE. And we thank you for doing it for
our commission as well. We’re grateful for his leadership he brings to the
OSCE on these issues. Mr. Mirga, welcome back to Washington.
Our second witness will be Dezi Gergely, the executive director of the European
Roma Rights Center. The ERRC was established in 1996 and has spearheaded some
of the most important litigation to protect the human rights of Roma. Mr.
Gergely, thank you again for being here today – and my fellow commissioners –
and you have to know and I know you know this, but this record will be very
widely disseminated to many opinion makers, but especially to members of
Congress – House and Senate – and to our commissioners. So this record becomes
information that very often is actionable and gives us a blueprint as to what
we should do, as well as the lay of the land as of today as you present it. So
I thank you again for being here.
ANDRZEJ MIRGA: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I would like my full statement to be
included into the record.
REP. SMITH: Without objection, so ordered.
MR. MIRGA: Honorable chairperson, distinguished members of Helsinki
Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I would like first to express my gratitude to
the chairperson of the Helsinki Commission for organizing this hearing on Roma
and Sinti today. I am grateful for the long dedication of Chairman Smith and
Co-Chairman Cardin to the protection of human rights of Roma. I also
appreciate the statement made by Secretary of State Clinton about Roma human
rights most recently in Sofia on February 5th.
It’s a great opportunity to share with you our views and concerns regarding
Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area with this important commission. It’s the right
time to address these issues as so – as some developments in recent years are
highly disturbing and we need to speak up about them.
I testified here with several Roma friends last time in mid-2009. It was a
time when the financial and economic crisis has erupted. And we signaled the
worrying developments that were evolving with regard to the Roma and Sinti.
Today, with fiscal difficulties in number of European countries and a second
economic crisis looming, I have to report to you that some of these concerns
unfortunately have been come – have become reality. No doubt the ongoing
economic difficulties have intensified – (inaudible) – and exacerbated some of
the negative trends I elaborated upon in the briefing in 2009.
On general note, let me underline that most problems facing Roma and Sinti
population have by no means been resolved. And for the most part, those
minority has not yet benefited from lasting improvements in human rights and
social inclusion. This is unfinished (business ?) in Europe that requires much
stronger and long-term interventions at national – at European level. That was
one of the conclusions in my 2009 briefing here, based on the finding of the
so-called status report of 2008. This conclusion is more valid than ever
Currently, it seems the requirement for much stronger and long-term
interventions is widely recognized. As all major international organization
and EU institutions are calling upon governments to step up their efforts to
realize objectives regarding Roma and Sinti social inclusion, this is done
partly as a response to a serious and dangerous rise in violence and
intolerance against members of this minority in number of countries. It comes,
however, at a time when European governments face real fiscal and economic
difficulties, making it a bad time to approach them on other issues.
Governments are facing tough decisions from the introduction of austerity
programs to reduce public spending and keep national debt under their control.
In the past two years, in the context of deepening economic hardship, we have
witnessed a number of disturbing developments. There was the crisis related to
Roma migrants in France. We have seen the rise of tensions in extreme of –
with extreme right or known as a group in North Bohemia of Czech Republic. We
have seen mass protests against Roma in number of cities in Bulgaria, followed
with the incidents in Katunitsa near Plovdiv.
In most of these situation, we have seen populist, extremist – extreme right or
neo-Nazi groups actively exploiting anti-Roma prejudice, sometimes generating
hostility or instigating violence against the Roma and Sinti communities. We
are concerned about current public discourse of Roma and Sinti that revives
past anti-Roma rhetoric centered on the image of them as a nomad, viewing them
as a burden to social system, or as a danger for public security and order
based on alleged gypsy criminality.
Roma and Sinti migration has become a key challenge. And it will likely to
remain so for some times. The social stigma associated with Roma and their
visibility as migrants will continue to heighten the risk of discriminatory
practices and social exclusion in countries of destination. The rise in open
and often radical anti-Roma politics and policies at local level is another
challenging and new phenomenon.
We witnessed local authorities and mayors actively pursuing policy aimed at
forcing Roma and Sinti from their communities. Exclusion or separation is
openly advocated in some municipalities, including in the segregation of
children in the educational system. There are also cases of refusal by local
authorities to accept or request state aid aimed at supporting Roma
communities. (Inaudible) – in the past have been focused on providing
assistance to newer democracies and states in crisis or post-crisis situation.
Today and likely over the new – next future – near future, such assistance will
be provided to consolidate it in young democracies in instances of hate crime
targeting Roma and Sinti – as instances of hate crimes targeting Roma and Sinti
may become a recurrent issue there.
Parallel to this worrying development, we are witnessing more promising efforts
and initiatives aimed at ensuring Roma human rights and social inclusion. The
most important are the new agenda of the European Union of Roma. The EU has
both the political and financial tools to enforce some measures on its members
some think the other organizations don’t have. Most recently on April 5th
2011, the commission issued a communication on EU framework for national Roma
integration strategy, which was endorsed by the council in June. The framework
commits all 27 member states to develop of targeted policies that
systematically tackle the socio-economic exclusion and of discrimination
against the Roma people in the EU.
This complex EU agenda on the Roma and Sinti has been overshadowed, however, by
the euro crisis itself. Much of the response to the question of how this new
effort of the EU regarding Roma can be successful and lasting will depend on
the response to other question, how will the EU resolve the present crisis and
how long it will take to recover from it? Surprisingly little has, however,
appears to have – having been paid to its possible negative impact on the most
socially and economically disadvantaged group in societies, like Roma and
There seems to be a somehow parallel discourse of Roma disconnected from
ongoing debates and concerns. The report recently commissioned by the EU on
use of its financial and policy instruments with regard to Roma are in most
parts critical. Minimal progress has been achieved. Disproportional funds
were used to produce short-living outcomes. The effective use of – (inaudible)
– has been also questioned.
To conclude this part, prospects in near – in short terms appear poor in fields
where there has been some constant, if minor, improvement in the past, such as
in education, housing, political participation, or Roma representation in
public media. A number of participating states that appear to have been
set-backed into area mentioned – (inaudible) – as the gaps between standards
for Roma and Sinti and the majority population have been in fact widening.
With few social and economic indicators showing improvement in situation of
Roma, the evidence of increased – increasing hostility toward the communities
among – (inaudible) – Roma in some states, these disturbing trends might not
just continue, but could very well worsen.
The last part of recommendation I will – I may leave for later. And in
discussion, I may elaborate more on this. Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Mirga, thank you very much for your testimony and the
comprehensiveness of it and the longstanding nature of your commitment on this
and other issues, but specially the Roma. Thank you so much.
DEZIDERIU GERGELY: Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to
extend my gratitude on behalf of the European Roma Rights Center to be invited
to this prestigious even in order to testify about the human rights situation
of Roma in Europe. And with your – with your approval, I would like my full
statement to be included in the record.
REP. SMITH: (Off mic.)
MR. GERGELY: Distinguished representatives of the commission, ladies and
gentlemen, a recent European Union survey on minorities and discrimination
highlights that on average, one in five from our respondents were victims of
racially motivated personal crime at least once in previous 12 months.
Eighty-one percent of Roma who indicated that they were victims of assault,
threat or serious harassment considered that their victimization was racially
motivated. Between 65 percent and 100 percent of Roma in the surveyed European
countries did not report their experiences of personal victimization to the
The main reason given by the Roma was that they were not confident that the
police would be able to do anything. This lack of confidence is not surprising
to someone familiar with Roma in Europe, and I will explain why. Two weeks
ago, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted an official
declaration to express deep concern about the rise of anti-Gypsyism and violent
attacks against Roma, which constitute a major obstacle to the successful
social inclusion of Roma and a full respect of their human rights.
The fact is that the racist or stigmatizing anti-Roma rhetoric has been on the
rise in public and political discourse, including accusations that Roma, as an
ethnic group, are engaged in criminal behavior. There are well-documented
examples from France, from Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, or Czech
Republic. And in some cases, these words were understood as – as encouraging
violent action against the Roma, such as mob riots or violence. Extremist
groups, political parties, and politicians have sharpened their anti-Romany
rhetoric and actions, galvanizing segments of the public against Roma in
Hungary, Czech Republic, Lithuania in particular, or Bulgaria. Anti-Gypsy
stereotypes also continue to be spread and perpetrated in the media across
Europe, which reports primarily on Roma in the context of only social problems
Violence against Roma remains a serious problem not only because it harms Roma
directly affected by the attacks, but because Roma as an ethnic group are
impacted by the lack of effective response by state authorities. In 2011, the
European Roma Rights Center published a report examining the state response to
44 selected attacks against Roma in Czech Republic, in Hungary and Slovakia.
And a number of shortcomings in the state response to violence against Roma are
apparent. Many Roma victims of violent crimes do not secure justice. A
limited number of the perpetrators of violent attacks Roma are successfully
identified, investigated, and prosecuted. Even fewer are eventually imprisoned
for the crimes they have committed against Roma.
At the time of publications, judgments finding the perpetrators guilty have
been reached in nine out of the 44 selected cases. Of those nine cases, only
six resulted in imprisonment; several are under appeal. And three resulted in
suspended sentences or fines, including persons with known affiliations to
neo-Nazi groups in the Czech Republic, for example.
Police investigations were suspended with no perpetrator identified in 27
percent of all the cases. Racial motivation was confirmed in only three out of
44 selected cases of violence against Roma. In 11 other cases, racial
motivation is included in the indictment of impending cases, and in 50 percent
of all the selected cases racial motivation of the crimes committed against
Roma was ruled out or not confirmed.
The failure of law enforcement authorities to identify the perpetrators of
crimes against Roma in a considerable number of investigations creates a
climate of impunity and may encourage further acts of violence against Roma.
The issuance by courts of only suspended prison sentences to persons found
guilty of serious crimes against Roma reinforces the message that it is OK to
Recognition of racial motivation in such a small number of cases may indicate a
low level of importance placed on aggravating circumstances of the crimes
committed and may fail to account for the full nature of the attacks. These
findings may have a serious negative impact of the will on the Romany
individuals to report crimes committed against them to law enforcement
authorities, and explains the results of the European Union survey on
minorities and discrimination.
How can governments put an end to impunity and restore the confidence of Roma
in law enforcement and reduce the level of violence? First, governments must
adopt a zero-tolerance policy against racist speech uttered by public
officials. All such racist speech should be immediately denounced and the
responsible official removed from his or her job. Racist speech by private
actors should be also vigorously condemned by government at the highest level.
It is important that the government distinguish between free expression, which
must be protected in a democratic society, and acts of intimidation, which must
be strongly suppressed through acts of law enforcement. The spectacle of
neo-Nazis carrying flaming torches through Roma settlements, shouting
anti-Romany epithets, preventing people from going to their jobs or to schools,
as occurred in several countries – Hungary or Bulgaria, for example – must not
be allowed to recur.
Most important of all, governments must take a firms stance against racially
motivated violence. They should guarantee speedy and effective investigations
and prosecutions of all crimes committed against Roma, and identify any racist
motives for such acts, so that the perpetrators do not go unpunished and
escalation of ethnic tension is avoided. Governments should ensure full
assistance, protection, and compensation for the victims of violence.
Last year, the EU launched an important process to promote Roma integration,
focusing on education, on health, employment, and housing. Member states of
the EU are obliged to develop and implement strategies for such integration,
but it is crucial that the states recognize the interdependence of inclusion
and anti-discrimination. Any strategy developed to improve the social and
economic integration of Roma must include measures combating discrimination and
The United States has long been a leading global example in ensuring the
inclusion of minorities in society. Last week, the U.S. announced its
intention to become an official observer of the decade of Roma inclusion,
another important European initiative designed to encourage Roma advancement.
Here is how the U.S., from our point of view, can assist Europe as it tries to
achieve true integration of Roma at all levels of society.
Offer assistance of U.S. law enforcement in addressing bias crimes against
Roma. Offer good practices as examples of promoting minority inclusion in
education, in housing, health care, or employment. Offer financial assistance
to civil society organizations in Europe addressing anti-Roma discrimination
and rights violation. Thank you very much for your attention.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much for your testimony and your extraordinary
leadership on this very, very important human rights issue. Let me ask you a
couple of questions, starting off with the anti-Roma riots, which are
increasing. The fact that they’re occurring throughout EU countries is
shocking in and of itself.
And then some have the gall to call it demonstrations – which is, you know, a
misnaming to a huge extent. What proactive steps are the governments taking to
mitigate this incitement that’s occurring, and much of the violence that ensues
from these bogus-called demonstrations, these riots? Mr. Mirga?
MR. MIRGA: The question you pose brings some challenges because we, in fact,
do not have much to report as positive steps to counter such phenomena like
extreme right and what they do campaigning against the Roma. We know about
some steps taken, for example, into the public to (prison ?) some of the
leaders of the extreme right, but they are finding way to get out of course.
And we know about some steps in Hungary to – (inaudible) – for example, but
they are reappearing under new name, yes? So they are still able to organize
I think that the main objective of these kind of groups is to benefit during
the election time, yes, because they are trying to get public support by
staying up, at that time especially, anti-Roma slogans, rhetorics, because they
believe this can give them votes. And as we warned in 2009 when I was here, I
said that one test case will be – (inaudible) – and just after we landed it
became the – (inaudible) – in the country. So that is a telling story.
I – we also know about some cases which were very positively handled, like in
the case of Natalka in Czech Republic, and the court sentence the perpetrators.
But after we had some statement of the state of issues which a little bit
undermined – or trying to undermine the court sentence which, again, is
something which should probably not happening in this situation.
So we are kind of – we receive some something like ambiguous messages, yes? On
one hand we see some reaction which is proper – as I said for example, court
cases are highly appreciated, but again from the politicians we are receiving a
mixed messages, which as I said, should be here – the line should be kept and
the message should be one: condemning such situations.
REP. SMITH: Thank you.
MR. GERGELY: I would only like to add the fact that even though we cannot name
these proactive measures, what is extremely crucial is speed and effective
response. Unless the government does not react to violence riots or mob riots
attempting to attack communities, which happened in several countries – as long
as there is no reaction in defending these communities, of course that it would
spread out. And this is the case of Bulgaria, where last year we could see in
more than 15 cities mass protests against the Roma communities.
The state response was initially slow. When the law enforcement officials
reacted, they could manage the mobs. In Czech Republic is the – it was the
same. It is even interesting that when the mobs were stopped by the police,
the mobs were shouting: You are defending gypsies. So law enforcement
officials haven’t defended gypsies. This is what they have to do, to act and
to ensure protection.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Mirga, let me ask you, as you know, OSCE-participating states
are charged with collecting hate crime data and providing that to ODHIR. Have
the – have the countries provided information on these hate crimes to ODIHR as
it relates to Roma?
MR. MIRGA: We – with TND (ph) and other departments – we are preparing such
reports every year. There is a standard question of central governments who –
to get some response to. In fact, we are receiving very few information from
countries about the cases of irrational hate crimes – (inaudible).
REP. SMITH: Did they give an explanation? And could you provide to our
commission those countries that have responded and those that have not? And do
you find the quality of that information is – you know, are you encouraged that
those that do respond are actually doing a – their due diligence?
MR. MIRGA: Well, we are trying to encourage –
REP. SMITH: I know you are, but I’m talking about the countries, in terms of
MR. MIRGA: Oh. Yeah. I think that governments who provide us information –
there are few, yes; I don’t want to name them here. But –
REP. SMITH: Could you? It would be helpful if you would.
MR. MIRGA: – they are few – yes? I’ll be – (inaudible) –
MR.: Put you on the spot.
MR. MIRGA: I (can’t ?)
MR. MIRGA: – at the moment, yes? But there are really few, yes? And they’re
– in general, we do not have much information. So we have to rely on other
sources coming from the civil society mostly, yes? And this has to be checked.
MR. MIRGA: Yes. We have, for example – yes, I am from Poland, yes? And I am
closely monitoring the situation because I am Roma from Poland. And I have a
good relationship with the minister of interior, and they are providing us in a
letter if we wish to have, yes? And they are providing. In some countries,
it’s more difficult to get such information.
REP. SMITH: As the European Roma Rights Center has pointed out in a report on
human trafficking, that research in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and
Romania and Slovakia during early 2010 indicated that Roma represent 50
(percent) to 80 percent of victims in Bulgaria, at least 40 percent in Hungary,
70 percent in Slovakia, and up to 70 percent in parts of the Czech Republic.
Our own U.S. government TIP report – trafficking in persons report – and I
would note parenthetically, I wrote the law. It’s called the Trafficking
Victims Protection Act that created our response, includes that TIP report.
Well, in the annual report country-by-country, it makes for very disturbing
reading. Country after country, with regards to Roma – for example, in Hungary
Roma victims are over-represented in trafficking victims from Hungary. Roma
women and girls who grew up in Hungarian orphanages are highly vulnerable to
internal sex trafficking. (Coughs.) Pardon me.
With regards to Romania, that there are reports that ethnic Roma criminal
groups in Romania (Romanians/Romanys ?) throughout Europe. There is a very
disturbing statement – and this runs through these – that some did not approach
police out of fear of traffickers’ reprisals. There’s others who said they
didn’t want to go to the police because they’re not sure which side the police
On – in Slovak republic the comment is made that the government’s poor
relations with the Roma community resulted in significant problems in victim
identification and prosecutions, including a government estimate that only
one-third of all trafficking cases involving Roma are investigated. In other
words, two-thirds are not. And it goes on and on, you know – you read country
after country – you know, trafficking is modern-day slavery, whether it be
labor or sex trafficking.
And as both of you know so well, the ODIHR and the OSCE is certainly absolutely
committed, as are you are, Mr. Gergely. Could you speak to the issue of
trafficking of Roma, and elaborate on some of those numbers if you would? And
the fact that law enforcement ought to be absolutely, proactively and
aggressively – as well as the governments that support law enforcement – on the
side of these victims – please speak to.
MR. MIRGA: As regard trafficking, it’s – ODIHR is involved in supporting some
of the programs or project on antitrafficking. And the focus is on the
victims, yes? We are trying to obtain some more concrete data from some
countries, yes? Recently we were very much focused provide some support to
Albania, for example, and for some activities there on Roma who were trafficked
and brought. It seems to be one of the key issues for number of countries in
Western Balkans, yes, this ongoing process.
To obtain, however, datas is one of the challenging thing. We in fact missing
concrete numbers, yes? This regard that there is a number of agencies dealing
with these issues, yes, and NGOs who are involved. I was recently visiting
Italy, where we were supporting some civil organizations dealing with
trafficked Roma families – childrens, mostly. And we visited a center for
children trafficked in Rome, yes, where NGOs are taking care and taking them
from the street there. We visited families who were involved in – were victims
of trafficking as well, and they were placed in some (camps ?).
We are trying to obtain more information how – what is the extent of the issue?
How numerous are this population, for example, in Rome, yes, and whether these
countries from – aware they were trafficked. Most of them were from Western
Balkan countries, and some of them especially – (inaudible) – in from Romania.
So that was what our findings was. But again, to obtain concrete datas about
numbers, it was quite difficult. When we are working with trying to talk to
those agencies – state agencies, police – we do not, again, get something
concrete. That is a main concern, that it’s difficult to get something real.
The other issue which emerged also in Italy and France and other countries is
about the expulsion policy of – or the treatment of women and children who are
sometimes on the street begging or doing other things. We’re trying to talk to
some of the governments that – the effort to get rid of these people, yes, from
the streets, yes, and to deport them may – should be maybe rethinked, yes,
because some of the – of the women with children may be victims of trafficking.
And for the second time you are just punishing them by deporting back in a
very straightforward way; whereas those people may be a subject for care,
because we have to recognize who is a real victim and who is not a real victim
of the trafficking.
And here I think still there is very little understanding of the part of the
enforcement bodies who would like to see these women, children as a – simply
organized by mafia, yes, and disregard that they consider that they are
victims. They are expelling the women if – without due consideration for their
situation. And it is something concerning.
MR. GERGELY: I think that there are a couple of issues which we have to
underline when we speak about trafficking, as well as when we speak about hate
crimes or other similar, related areas. And on the first place, we have to be
aware of the fact that the Roma minority – it is placing a major discrepancy
situation in comparison with the majority of the populations in the – in the
European countries. In terms of social, economic, educational situation, this
low level puts them in a – in extremely high risks, in terms of being victims
of trafficking or being victims of other sort of crimes.
There are two things which we have to underline here. First of all, there is a
lack of desegregated data on the basis of ethnicity, when we are speaking about
minorities which are victims of trafficking. We do not have the information to
what extent – and when I – when I say information, I am saying official
information coming from the governments – on to what extent this phenomenon is
affecting the Roma minority.
And secondly, due to this fact that we are lacking official data, we lack also
policies targeting these particular groups which are affected by the
trafficking, for example. So basically we do have – we do have policies which
are targeting trafficking, but we do not have targeted policy to the victims of
traffickings – in our case, the Roma women or children. So this is something
which needs to be addressed.
REP. SMITH: Are groups like IOM and others at least attempting working with
MR. GERGELY: There are several examples of cooperation –
REP. SMITH: Yeah.
MR. GERGELY: – of course. But the problem is that – when you have a state
policy which is not targeting by its policy a vulnerable group, and seeing
exactly the extent of the situation and trying to really tackle in a particular
way that phenomenon – it’s really hard to see improvement. And unfortunately
we can see the same situation in other areas of concern. We are lacking data
on health situation; we are lacking data on the unemployment situation; we are
lacking data on several areas. And because of this lack of information, we
don’t know, first of all, to what extent we have the problems; and secondly, to
what extent the governments are addressing the problems fully or not.
REP. SMITH: Let me ask you with – the recent European court case which
concluded that sterilization of a Romany woman in – from Slovakia violated the
European Convention on Human Rights – called it cruel and inhumane. And I
understand there are at least five more similar cases pending against Slovakia.
Obviously forced sterilization is an egregious form of violence. Is it
continuing? Is it systematic? Your view on that? And then I’ll yield to my
colleague, and then I’ll come back to some additional questions.
MR. GERGELY: First of all, of course, this is a major decision from the
European Court of Human Rights. And it has a major impact on this topic. I
have to say that there are several similar cases pending before courts in other
countries as well. And I would only name the Czech Republic, for example,
where there are a couple of cases pending before the national courts. Last
year there was a successful case before the supreme court which acknowledged
this. And a victim had received compensation. There is a similar situation in
Hungary as well. There are – there are cases before national courts pending
until now. And also, as you mentioned, there are several cases pending before
the European court.
Now it is quite difficult to state whether this phenomenon is systematic still.
But what it is clear is that, in several member states, there is a lack of
ensuring process of compensation for victims of sterilization. We have to say
that many of these victims were sterilized during the communist regime, so
before ’89. And they could not raise those cases at the time.
REP. SMITH: Like in China, where women are routinely forcibly sterilized.
MR. GERGELY: So – yeah. We have to take into account and – that in several
countries, there are time bars. So for a victim, it’s really difficult to
raise a case now after 20 years. So I think that what we need here is from the
governments to take a positive step in – to ensure, on the first place, a
compensation procedure for the victims; and secondly, to ensure that such acts
will not be repeated anymore – meaning that you have to have a full and
informed consent when you deal with such a situation. Without any consent, we
cannot speak about – right.
REP. SMITH: Well, you know, and just for the record, in places even like in
Mexico, there are hospitals – they call them social security hospitals – where
women, particularly indigenous women, give birth. Unknown to them, they – in
some cases they’ve gotten tubal ligations. In other words, they’ve been
sterilized. And I’ll never forget – in work that I was involved in in Peru and
still am – upwards of 100,000 women were sterilized, many of them at health
fairs, when President Fujimori erroneously thought that one way to combat
poverty was to eliminate the possibility of poor people giving birth to
children who might be poor as well – a bit of a presumptuous thought to begin
And I actually held a series of hearings on it, and it was amazing: He took
his impetus for that from the population conference in Cairo, that you need to
adopt a sterilization mentality, and quickly crossed the line from voluntary
sterilization to forced. And it was – it was awful. And so I’m glad you’re
very much on the – on the forefront of trying to prevent and to provide
compensation for those who have been so harmed by the government.
Oh yes, Mr. Mirga.
MR. MIRGA: I will just say that we do not see that there is something like a
systemic continuation of sterilization. I think that the cases which were
brought up very much contributed to raise awareness, yes, which is important.
We still need to get to the compensation issue. This is a – another step to be
made, yes? There are some cases of the national courts, yes, which recognize
also that sterilization against Roma women. And that is also very important,
that it’s not only from the European level court, but also from the national.
So I believe there is a step forward, but we have to push a little bit farther
to get to full – fully to have – those who are doing this responsible for these
acts, yes? And compensation should follow.
REP. SMITH: Robert? Great. I yield to Commissioner Aderholt.
REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT B. ADERHOLT (R-AL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you
for your testimony here today and for your presence. One thing that we hear
concerning this issue that was – (inaudible) – hearing is, we hear from a lot
of extremist parties the – these – the anti-Roma sentiment. But many examples
of anti-Roma statements come from public figures associated with what we’d call
normal parties or mainline parties across political spectrum. My question
would be, has extremism against the Roma gone mainstream? And can you give us
a more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon?
MR. MIRGA: Thank you. Well, we see a danger that rhetoric – anti-Roma
rhetoric which pays can be adopted also by mainstream parties. And this is
kind of approach to pre-empt, maybe, the support for the extremists, so you are
bringing in some kind of rhetoric to attract more voters during the elections.
We notice – we observe that some of the mainstream parties or leaders of the –
or member of the mainstream parties using the same, sometimes, language as it
was in case of extreme-right parties. Yes?
So it becomes more tolerable to speak the language which usually we associate
with extreme. And this is something really worrying. Whether this is a
pre-empting something or new strategy to get more votes, or simply people feel
more free to speak racist language because they do not meet a strong reaction
from the public or condemnation – this is something to discuss. But we see
this kind of phenomenon present.
The second thing is that we see in the Europe a tendency or trend that extreme
parties are winning. They are getting more votes, yes? Finland, for example –
REP. ADERHOLT: Did you say Finland?
MR. MIRGA: Finland, yes; and nationalist extreme-right party made some
winning, yes? U.K., for the first time, extreme right get into Parliament.
(Inaudible) – we already talked about, yes? So in the number of countries, you
can notice this trend that those who are playing with anti-immigrant,
anti-minority, anti-Jew, anti-Roma, anti-Muslim – they are getting votes. This
pays. And this may be attractive strategy for mainstream parties, because they
may become losers, yes? They will – if extreme will win, they will lose. So
they have to think how to eventually – what kind of strategy they have to
develop. The easiest seems sometimes for some of them to be a little bit
radical and play for these voters who are in the crisis trying – maybe because
of the crisis they are getting a little bit more sensitive to extreme
And this is something worrying. And we saw first kind of test case in Hungary
in 2000 during the last local – parliamentary election, when they get like 15
percent of votes. We are now approaching Slovakia’s elections, yes? SNS
already is playing with anti-Roma rhetorics openly. But we are also hearing
mainstream politicians who are talking similar language.
And this is really concerning. This is – this is something which is a danger,
yes, because it’s like a disease, yes? You can maybe think that this virus –
you are strong, you can overcome it. But maybe this virus will cause a damage
to you. So we have to warn a little bit mainstream politicians about the way
they think they can play at politics in future. This is a danger.
REP. ADERHOLT: OK. Yes, could you?
MR. GERGELY: If we would go back in time for 10 years or a bit more, we would
see that what was different from today is exactly the political discourse or
politics in general. If you are looking now into what is happening in several
European countries, we would very clearly see that politics has been
deteriorating a lot. Now, there are many things which we have to consider.
Anti-Romany sentiment or anti-Romany prejudice was all there. It – 20 years
ago it was the same high level of anti-Romany sentiment.
But now we see a gap which has been widened between the situation of the – of
the Roma and the majority of the population. We have the economic crisis. The
economic crisis in Europe has affected the majority of the population, but had
a much greater impact on the vulnerable groups and in particular on the Roma
communities. This widening of the situations, this big difference is fueling
prejudice, rejection, exclusion of this minority – the Roma minority in
Now, the economic crisis has – it is playing an important role in terms of the
feeling insecure as a mainstream citizen. You cannot feel but insecure about
what is happening. Having this situation, there is an erosion of trust in
governments, there is a lack of trust in the political environment. So the
parties have to find something in order to counterbalance this erosion. So
what is that? It is exactly on minorities, immigrants, criminality, Roma.
Playing – putting this issue on the table in terms of political debate and
mixing up with the insecurity of the majority of the people, it seems that it
works, it pays votes, you know? So we have the case of France, when mainstream
government representatives have been involved in anti-Romany rhetoric. We have
the case in Italy where the same – mainstream government representatives have
been involved in anti-Romany rhetoric.
And then we go to Central and Eastern European countries – Czech Republic,
Hungary. In Slovakia now, for example, in the political debate – in the
political campaigns we can find banners on the streets: How long do we have to
pay for the Gypsies? This should stop. So it is an issue for political
campaign. And if in 15 – if 15 years ago only extreme right parties or extreme
right movements were playing this card, now it is played by the mainstream as
well because, at the end of the day, it pays votes.
REP. ADERHOLT: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. SMITH: Commissioner Aderholt, thank you so very much. Let me just ask a
couple of final questions and then ask you if you have any final comments you’d
like to make.
Mr. Mirga, you mention in – that there is a need for more Roma in police
forces. I would just note, parenthetically, there may be a model that needs to
be replicated throughout all of Europe, and that’s Northern Ireland. I
actually chaired 11 congressional hearings, including – in the Subcommittee on
Human Rights, which I chair, and our commission here, on the need for
integration of Catholics into Northern Irish police force.
It used to be called the RUC, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. And Mr. Patten,
the foreign minister for the EU, former – very distinguished career – authored
what was known as the Patten Report that made sweeping recommendations to
London as to what they needed to do to make that police force more responsive.
And I always argued that I felt that was the Achilles’ heel. You don’t get
peace if you don’t have a police force that’s fair and unbiased, professionally
trained, has a human rights focus to it.
And I’m wondering if there’s any attempt to try to take the Northern Irish
model and replicate it elsewhere, because they have recruited very fine
officers, you know, through – in the Catholic community. And now that force is
working very cohesively. If you ring up a policeman you’re not going to get
somebody who’s – might commit a human rights abuse – although there are bad
apples or bad policemen in any police force – but not based on sectarian
issues, or at least it’s less likely now.
And I’m wondering, has there been a look at the – you know, the experience in
Northern Ireland? And secondly, what countries are getting that right and
brining Roma into the police force?
MR. MIRGA: Two years ago, together with SPMU from Vienna, we published a
booklet on police and Roma – building trust between police and Roma. It
contains a lot of good practices collected from various countries about what
police can do in multiethnic society, how they can increase representation of
minorities in the police forces. So a higher-end example probably is also
What we are trying now to do is to promote this booklet and to launch in
national languages. We had already two such launches – one in Romania, one in
Hungary. When we were in – on the field visit in Hungary we were paying
attention to the issue of representation of Roma in police forces, especially
because we had this number of killings there. And we were meeting with Roma as
well who are police officers. At the time when we were in the field – on the
field visit, the spokesperson for Roma – for national police was a Roma himself
– a young, Roma police officer.
In Vienna where we were launching the book we had three Roma officers – one,
and this spokesperson of the police from Hungary – policewoman from Hungary,
and Roma officer from U.K., from metropolitan police. And he was a Czech Roma
who migrated to U.K. And there he became a police officer – the first ever
Roma officer in the police force in U.K. So we have some of their examples,
In Hungary, for example, there is around 300 Roma in the police force. It’s a
significant number. However, and paradoxically, in this country we had this
series of attacks, yes? During the elections, in this country, trade union –
police trade union has agreement – has have agreement with Jobbik to support
Jobbik. So this is kind of a confusing messages, yes, coming from police
forces – kind of exceptional situation, yes?
In some other countries – in Romania, there is number of Roma in the police
forces as well, but less than in Hungary. Some Roma are in police forces in
Bulgaria, but not much, yes? So this is something which should be encouraged
and bring in more and more – and to have Roma and career – open career for them
to be done. And this can contribute, of course, to the improvement of their –
of the integration of Roma into society. So this is something still ahead.
REP. SMITH: Let me just ask you, with regards to countries like Germany that
continue to deport Roma to Kosovo 13 years later, where the prospects of
reintegration – unless it’s very carefully done could be a very, very painful
experience, and especially when you have forced repatriation being a part of it
– what is the status of that? Is Germany and others still doing that? And
what happens when that person who was forcibly repatriated arrives in Kosovo?
MR. MIRGA: Two years ago there was a briefing in U.S. – in the Bundestag. I
was part of this briefing on the situation of Roma of Kosovo and about the
policy of Germany vis-à-vis those who are in Germany and supposedly should be
going back, yes? Our official position was that while Germany has a right to
do what they do, because there was agreement – temporary protection was
provided after the conflict where – to victims of the conflict, yes, including
Roma – (inaudible) – and (Egyptians ?) – and when they considered that there
are already safe conditions in Kosovo, so they should be going back.
We were saying that maybe it’s a premature action. It’s maybe not right
timing. There are still tensions there, economics – (audio break) –
opportunities for those who are return are very minor. So in fact, the
decision to send them back, puts them in very bad situation after return there;
the second – those who are returned may not be going to Kosovo itself, because
some of them were asked where they want to go – to Belgrade or to Pristina?
Most of them are choosing to go to Pristina, and – not to Pristina, to Belgrade.
When we were trying, for example, to identify Roma who were returned in Kosovo,
it was very difficult to find people because they were already not there. So
maybe the policy of so-called voluntary or forced return is not effective at
all, because people stay 10, 12, 13 years in Germany, living there, have their
networks there, being with families, suddenly deported. They will try to find
a way to go back.
We were visiting also Roma communities in Mitrovica – southern Mitrovica, which
is rebuilt now. U.S. also leave some funding for rebuilding and closing in the
– (inaudible). And again, we are trying to find the people there from Germany,
whether they are there. We found one person, yes, a young 20-years-old man who
spent half of his life in Germany, spoke perfect German, and who suddenly was
taken, put on the airplane and send back. And he was completely lost in this
environment, yes? All his family and friends are there. So what he is doing
So my conviction – my point – my view is that Germany should rethink its
policy, disregard that there are some agreements, they are – they are entitled
to do this. It might be not effective. On the other hand, in Germany there is
a movement among the Roma and supporters to argue to have them stay in Germany.
Romany Rose is one of the leading Roma activists in Germany who is advocating
for this also with the government. So there is a hope maybe that some of them
REP. SMITH: Commissioner Aderholt.
REP. ADERHOLT: Yeah, Mr. Chairman, if I could interject for just a minute. I
am between meetings, this is – I’ve been at a hearing all morning. It’s really
been a crazy day for hearings on the Hill today. But before I do slip out I
did want to ask about two countries in particular, the next likely candidates
for NATO membership: Montenegro and Macedonia. What is your assessment of the
situation of the Roma in those two countries just briefly?
MR. MIRGA: As regards Macedonia, there is a significant Roma population,
contrary to the – to Montenegro – there is very tiny Roma community, though in
Montenegro you have a large number of Roma from Kosovo who left, yes, around –
over 4,000. And they are still living in camp, yes, where are very bad
In Macedonia, you have, as I said, significant Roma population which benefited,
paradoxically, from the crisis which was in beginning of 2000 with Albanians,
yes? There was the – (inaudible) – agreement, and – (inaudible) – agreement
requires minorities, communities to benefit for equitable representation in
public office, in employment. And that pays also to Roma, not only to Albanian
minority have – I should not say minority, yes, yes.
So because of that, you may see Roma represented in many offices of the
government and authorities. So there is a – in Macedonia, yes, there is a –
actually a minister, a Roma, in the government; there is a deputy minister,
another Roma; there are several directors in various departments. So in this
sense, Roma benefited because of the – (inaudible) – agreement, because it goes
to all the communities in the country.
Another thing is what is the situation of Roma in terms of social, economic,
human rights and so on? This is a little bit different, yes? We have a big
municipality – Roma municipality in in Skopje. It’s over 30,000 people with a
mayor, council, built up by the Roma themselves, yes? So Roma, visible in the
country. They are represented in some offices – not yet to the level they
should because there’s a percentage which it was not reached yet. But this is
Comparing this with Montenegro, yes, well, they started just now to have a Roma
council. And there is a consultation process with the Roma. There is – there
was a new census and – which included Roma and we know a little bit more now
how many Roma are there. This is important because of the representation
eventually in the parliament. If you reach some threshold, you can have
representation in the parliament. So this is something evolving also with
regard to representation.
There are few educated people, though, in the country – around 20. They’re
educated and they are not working sometimes. So one of the issues which we
raised with them – with the government is that as an example of positive,
(perhaps to act ?) as a role model for others to follow in education, they
should give some jobs to – (inaudible) – educated in the country. So we see
some Roma who will be selected probably by the government to take some
So as I said, main problem now for the Montenegro Roma population is Roma in
the camp, yes, which is a big one in Podgorica – Konik camp, over 4,000 people
living on the dump. You mention sometimes the dump; it is live at the dump and
they are there of course surrounded by other people as well, but the conditions
are dire, yeah. So there is an effort a little bit now to improve the
conditions – living conditions there. A commission is ready to put some money
for rehabilitation, but we have to see how it will evolve in next years.
REP. ADERHOLT: That’s very helpful, thank you. Would you like to add
MR. GERGELY: Yeah, I would – just a few things about Macedonia. In terms of
positive developments, we might mention that the government has acknowledged
the situation, has adopted a policy for improving the situation of Roma. And
another thing is that, as positive practice – is that Macedonia adopted a law
for legalization of property rights, which might be of high importance for
Roma, because that means legalizing informal settlements or providing
recognition of property – land property for Roma. So from this point of view,
Macedonia is a good example to be mentioned.
It would be very interesting to follow up on the process of the implementation
of this law, to see exactly if the Roma would benefit from this law in terms of
recognition of properties, because you may know that housing is an outstanding
issue for Roma communities. They live in informal settlements. Most of the
times local authorities, they do not recognize the properties, the land – in
particular land properties. So this law could be of high importance for Roma.
On the other hand, in terms of the human rights situation, there are as well a
couple of areas where Macedonia has to improve. It’s not only the employment,
education, health; but in terms of law reforms – for example, the legal
framework for protecting against discrimination still has to be improved. In
education there are a couple of cases where the Roma children are enrolled in
special schools for children with intellectual disability, even though they are
not disabled. So there are a couple of issues where Macedonia has to still
REP. ADERHOLT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. SMITH: Thank you. Mr. Gergely, can I just ask you – I chair the Autism
Caucus here in the United States, and actually wrote the law in ’98 and just
did it again last year to put considerable money into autism best practices.
And early intervention – beyond anything else that we might do, particularly in
age two or three or four, and the earlier the better – can have a tremendous
impact on whether or not that child has a better life as he or she grows into
I’m working closely with some Europeans and the European Parliament on autism.
It’s a big problem there. I just chaired a hearing last year on global autism,
and the estimates are that there are some 67 million people worldwide who have
– are somewhere on the Asperger – either severely autistic or moderately. And
it’s just an emerging problem that we’re not sure what the trigger is, and
there may be multiple triggers.
But it seems to me that autism – especially as it is all over Europe, all over
the United States, has to be a problem. And many kids, children in – who
happen to be Roma, might be further disadvantaged because the early
intervention initiatives are not available to them. And I’m wondering if
there’s been an effort to include them.
Education per se for Roma children is substandard because of inadequate
response by governments anyway. But this is above and beyond because it –
testing needs to be done. You know, just a general sense of, why is my child
not behaving the way he or she ought to, may not trigger the response. And if
those social services are not there – and if the educational establishment is
not working to help those kids – they are further disadvantaged. Your thoughts
MR. GERGELY: Well, this is an outstanding issue for Roma children as well.
European Roma Rights Center was involved in lodging several complaints on
behalf of Roma childrens before the European Court of Human Rights. And we
have some – a couple of decisions, one against the Czech Republic, one against
Croatia. There is another decision against Greece. And there are several
example of cases before national courts – Romanya, Hungary.
It seems that it is a practice to enroll Romany children in separate classes,
separate schools or special schools for mental disabled children, in the
absence of any medical record that this children would need a special
education, a special attention, paid for. What we are advocating a lot is that
Romany children have to be enrolled in mainstream schools. The practice of
segregating Romany childrens – either in segregated classes, segregated annexes
to the schools or special schools – has to be ended. And the decisions from
the European court are in this regard.
The problem is that, in a lot of member states, there is a lack of reform in
the educational systems. The governments are a bit reluctant in reforming
systems. Czech Republic is maybe one of the – of the cases where we had a
decision from 2007, and the government – it’s still struggling in reforming the
educational system after five years from the decision ,when the government had
to reform its system on the basis of the court’s decision. And still that is
not the case. So we have several situations in other countries as well.
Unfortunately it is a practice in Europe to put Romany children in segregated
spaces, I would say.
REP. SMITH: Could I ask you, with regards to autism, whether or not there has
ever been a surveillance? And again, going back to 1998, I introduced a bill
that was signed into law in 2000 that required the Centers for Disease Control
to set up centers of excellence, as we call them. And it really came out of
case work in my own district, where we thought we had a prevalent spike in
Bricktown, New Jersey. And when we started, or they started, doing their data
cause – calls, they found out that other municipalities had a similar rise,
inexplicable. And we went from believing that the prevalence rate in the
United States was one out of – three out of every 10,000 children to one out of
And I’m not sure – if they’re not part of the surveillance, large numbers of
Romany children could be left further behind because their autism has not been
discovered and early intervention and other – I mean, segregation for a
severely autistic child is required, as long as they’re getting service that is
commensurate with the problems that they face, so that they can become
better-functioning. But if it’s done just to – as you are clearly saying – to
separate in a – in the way that African-Americans were separated in this
country years ago, through laws that were just to set apart – that’s
prejudicial and discriminatory and certainly totally unethical. But I wonder
if that’s been even looked into the way it ought to be.
MR. GERGELY: It was not substantially looked upon, but the other problem is
also the lack of proper testing procedure when they are applied through Romany
childrens, because this is where the problem starts. They are enrolled in
special schools without being properly tested. So basically they are tested –
they are enrolled on the basis of a social-economic disadvantage, not on the
basis of a medical ground. This is what is happening.
REP. SMITH: You know, just to – point for pondering: We’re pushing more
police understanding of what a severely or even moderately autistic child might
be experiencing, because that child – as he or she becomes an adult – might fly
off the handle, and a cop will respond in a way that then leads to an
The child gets – young adult – incarcerated, and they’re dealing with a
disability that made them prone or, you know, almost predetermined – given the
right trigger – to respond negatively and then go to jail. So we have children
– young adults, I should say – in our own jails who shouldn’t be there, who are
really – medical issues that went unaddressed. And I’m sure they’ve got to be
occurring within the Romany community.
Let me just ask one final question, and then yield to Erika Schlager, our
expert. You know, one thing about the – and you know this, I think – about
this commission is that we are blessed with very, very talented and effective
staff who make it their business, 24/7, year in and year out, to know,
understand and work the issues, including the Romany issue – human rights
issues. So I will yield to her.
I just want to ask one final question on trafficking. The – in your report,
Mr. Gergely, you make it very clear that – and this is just one fact that you
have in there – 24 percent of the Romany trafficked persons interviewed in this
study, the “break into silence” study, had been in contact with the police, and
only one case resulted in the imprisonment of the perpetrator.
You point out in the study, the overwhelming lack of support available to
Romany trafficked persons negatively impacts the ability of many to
re-integrate, leaving them highly vulnerable to retrafficking. And of course
that is true anywhere; it’s true here. When they don’t get the kind of
services that they need, soon as they’re back out on the street, if you will –
even if rescued, the traffickers are waiting there to re-enslave them.
And you also in your recommendations say that there needs – and this would be
to you, Mr. Mirga – to promote networking between Romany NGOs, Romany mediators
and Romany community representatives to law enforcement and antitrafficking
authorities, to combat trafficking in Romany communities.
And I’m wondering, since all of our countries now have plans of actions – or at
least almost all, including the OSCE space – are they looking to put that piece
in, so that the Romany – who are disproportionately trafficked – have those
re-integration services available to them, so they’re not enslaved a second and
a third and a fourth time?
MR. GERGELY: Well, as I said before, the problem is that, in several
countries, this is not acknowledged as an issue. So therefore you do not have
a policy which addresses this. That’s why we recommended in the report that
there should be a networking in place – meaning cooperation between the
communities and the law enforcement. This unfortunately is lacking because the
law enforcement doesn’t see it as an issue which has to be tackled in a
particular way. But this is apply-able to other areas, unfortunately.
MR. MIRGA: Yeah. I think that one of the issues which should be raised here
is neglect, yes? Neglect, yes. And this goes in many other areas, yes? Not
only in the issue of law enforcement and care about something like victims of
trafficking, yes? Because if they identify something like a Roma, well, this
is kind of less an issue. Similarly with education, yes, why Roma children are
not in the school, and there is obligation for having them in the school.
Sometimes school authorities just neglect their obligation to control and –
(inaudible) – that they should be in school, not outside of the school.
So in this way, we can see that Roma are sometimes a second-class citizen, yes,
whether in the situation of victims or in the situation of children who should
be in school. And we see this in many places. And so something like – if we
expect Roma to be included into the society, we should – and be treated equally
or sometimes even positive discrimination applied – we have to – (inaudible) –
of this kind of negligence – of neglect, closing eyes on the issues.
And we should apply strongly the existing law, yes? If there is a convention
of child protection – if there is a law which says, until, you know, secondary
education a child has to be in school – authorities should enforce this, not
just neglect – because you are Roma, we don’t care what you do. So this is one
of the source of being left out completely in many situations, including, you
The second about – thinking about trafficking, I think we already pointed out
that there is a real lack or a little bit of real commitments to fight against,
yes? I know the situation in some of the countries where – because of the
pressure from outside, and providing funding – there were many agencies created
to deal with antitrafficking. But when you try to push to get some datas, what
has been – how this was effective to prevent trafficking, you cannot get
positive results. It’s simply – the procedure is continued, and you do not see
positive results. So that is what is concerning: multiplying agencies and
institutions which absorb funding, various funding from donors, let’s say – but
you do not see a real progress in stopping the process.
REP. SMITH: I’d like to yield to Erika Schlager.
ERIKA SCHLAGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Two years ago, at the time of the
murders in Tata, St. George, in Hungary, there was I think quite a lot of shock
at the brutality of the murder of the father and son there. And two prominent
Romany Hungarian public officials spoke to this. Florian Farkas warned that
Hungary could be headed towards civil war, and Viktória Mohácsi said Roma would
have no choice but to arm themselves or flee. Without limiting yourself to
Hungary – that is, speaking more broadly to this phenomena in Bulgaria, the
Czech Republic, elsewhere – how do you view the prospect of interethnic
violence? Thank you.
MR. MIRGA: I think that, in the situation like we had in Hungary, first
reaction was to escape. Yes? You had a rise in people who were migrating,
yes? Similarly, in Czech Republic, we had a crisis where immigrants were going
to Canada; Canada had to introduce visas. Now we have again similar things in
Western Balkans, when you have significant number of Roma asking for asylum,
claiming the situation.
So I think first reaction is to avoid something like being targeted by some
groups, by extreme, and leave. Yes? The second – if this is not a way out,
yes, and you have to stay – so the potential for some – I would not say
interethnic conflicts, but victimizing the weaker, yes, because Roma are not
strong enough to stand up, yes? So more kind of a violence against the Roma
may happen. And we warn that – against that, especially in the context of a
continuing crisis, where you will see more austerity programs which will impact
welfare transfers to Roma, who are mostly dependent on welfare.
So you may see this kind of situation where Roma can be victimized by majority,
because there is a growing resentment against the Roma, yes, built up by some
elements in society. I would – in my view, I would not see this like a real
conflict like we had with – let’s say, between Albanians and Macedonians in
Macedonia, or like a real civil war. But more like something which the weaker
will be suffering more. Yes? So that’s what I feel may happen more often.
MR. GERGELY: What I – what I would add is that the environment now is very
critical. The economic crisis in Europe on one hand, the deterioration of the
political environment, the gap in terms of social and economic situation of the
Roma – these factors put the Roma community at a high risk. Of course that –
when we see all these manifestations against the Roma taking place in several
countries, when the political environment is changing – unfortunately not in a
very positive way, but rather on negative way – you cannot but wonder where it
would lead to.
So I think that the sentiment of the Roma communities is not a safe and a
secure sentiment. It’s one of insecurity; it’s one of lacking the feeling of
being protected. So it is extremely important that when member states are
addressing the issues of the Roma communities, they are not focusing only on
economic or social perspective, but rather they see it as an interdependent
process with assuring human rights.
If human rights are not protected, if you do not have a human rights-based
perspective which is mixed with the social and economic perspective, and
without having an inclusive approach, as long as we keep the Roma communities
outside and the majority of the societies on the other side, we will never
reach to a common ground, but we will be all the time parallel without reaching
So I think that the member states has to really see this danger which is there.
And they should really put together this economic and social perspective,
ensuring human rights protection. That’s the most outstanding issue now.
MR. MIRGA: Just to add something with – to the question, yes. We see
something which is completely new, yes – mass protests against the Roma, yes.
It never happened before. You – we had eventually a community of violence,
yes, local community was against Roma community. That happened many times in
many places since transition. But to have somehow mobilized a large number of
majority and have them going outside on the streets to protest against the
Roma, this is something new. And this very worrying, yes?
Something new is also how extreme right is organizing people. In North
Bohemia, these groups are organizing protests and they are joined by normal
citizens, young people, yes. And these organizations are small, but they are
mustering to have several hundred or thousand people going against the
community, yes, against something – something new. And that never – (audio
break) – similar things were happening in the past. And this shows the
direction, yes, of how things can evolve, yes.
That, as I said, you may have this kind of victimization of the weaker in this
relationship, Roma-majority. And we have to speak up about this. We have to
raise awareness about this. We have also to ask U.S. to react to this.
Governments have to realize that protection of the communities, the first, and
to diffuse this kind of action which are undertaken by some elements of the –
of the majority.
I would like to, for example, to appreciate steps made by Bulgaria when the
riots started and these mass protests were organized in several cities, they
arrested several a hundred people. And after, we do not hear any more about
such organized protests against the Roma. Also, what is positive thing –
during the local elections, Ataka – they didn’t do well, they lost. They had
over 200-something councilors in the local elections in the previous time.
Now, they have much less, like one-third of this, yes.
So maybe either population or politician understood that such a(n) aggressive
anti-Roma politics is not anymore right and it’s not – (inaudible) – so society
didn’t buy it in general. So I would like to encourage this kind of freedom,
unwavering opposition of the leadership, yes, of the government, of the
president, leaders of the mainstream parties which stands on principles, yes,
and they saying, “This is not acceptable; we condemn this,” in a uniform voice,
yes. And that’s also what we would like to see happening from the U.S., that
these strong messages about the principles are – should be going straight
forward to a number of countries.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Gergely, is the United States – from the president to the vice
president, secretary of state – speaking bold enough, with enough specificity
to – on the Roma issues – to our European friends?
MR. GERGELY: Yes, they are. I mean, the state secretary, Hillary Clinton, has
a history in taking firm standing on Roma issues. Of course, having a similar
message from the president of the United States would be something which would
very much have a very clear and outreaching message to the European countries –
REP. SMITH: Has he mentioned it? Has the president of the United States
mentioned it – (inaudible) –
MR. GERGELY: Not yet. But it would be something –
REP. SMITH: Sure.
MR. GERGELY: -- which would give a strong message for the – for Europe, I
REP. SMITH: Right.
MR. GERGELY: -- in terms of protecting human rights for minorities. We are
looking very much forward for U.S. to have a similar standing and a position on
Roma issues, as it was until now.
REP. SMITH: Thank you. And I do have one final question. The World Bank in a
report suggested that if there was full integration of the Roma community into
the labor market, that about a half a billion euros per year – annually,
obviously – for some countries would be the result, of positive consequences.
So it’s not just a human rights issue, a humanitarian issue, and a simple
justice issues. It’s also a very positive economic issue if full integration
were to occur. And I’m wondering is that appreciated by governments, that
they’re missing out of a – of a positive economic benefit for the – for the
rest of the community if they were to integrate?
MR. GERGELY: What I would – what I would say is if we – if we look around in
Europe we would see that a lot of political commitments have been in place in
terms of improving the Roma situation, a lot of governments have adopted
policies for improving the Roma situation. But unfortunately, the governmental
commitments which we’re undertaking have been dissoluted (ph) at local level,
which shows that in practice having a commitment is not enough.
On the other hand, when the governments were adopting policies for improving
the Roma situation, what they were missing to put there, beside the commitment,
was the financial resources for implementing those policies. So of course, in
order to ensure employment, you need resources for providing trainings, for
providing education, skills, and so on and so forth – jobs, market, formal
market. It’s not – it’s not easy at all. It is – it is a long process. It
takes time. But unfortunately, the governments are not committing their
resources for implementing such policies.
Now there is a lot of expectation from the European Union, because the European
Union has adopted the framework communication on the policies. Now all the
member states are expected to develop and to have the policies for the next 10
years. There’s a lot of emphasis on the financial resources, because the union
has the financial resources in place. The only thing is that the member states
have to apply for it. You have to request, have to have the capacity.
The reports from the European Union shows that the European funds absorption
rates from the states are extremely low. With other words, the states are not
able to absorb the financial resources which the European Union puts in place.
So now the question is if the – if the member states are absorbing less than 30
percent of the available funds, how would they would be able – (audio break) –
to absorb funds for Roma strategies? So the outstanding question here is
whether the states are able not to put their own money, but to get the money
from the union in order to implement the policies for Roma.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Mirga.
MR. MIRGA: Just to comment on your question, I think it is very valid
argument, financial one, that governments is losing and because of large work
power which is not utilized at all, to some extent of course, yes, because
still if there is no will, this argument will not work, yes. Politicians,
government may just listen to, but they are not ready to, first, to invest to
get after what is the return, yes. If you have a, let’s say, sometimes 80
percent of people not working, so how to mobilize these people if they have no
skills, no education?
So what we are saying, you have to adopt a long-term perspective. You have to
start with early education of new generations, yes, because if you will not
start early and prepare the children to be equal with others in the school,
they will never finish high school, they will never finish universities. And
now education is a key to enter labor market. And there is a competitive labor
market. Some place people are young, educated and they are without jobs. In
some countries, it’s like 40 (percent), 50 percent of young people without
jobs. So imagine now Roma, who have 1 percent educated and they are
discriminated, how they can enter the – such a competitive field. So in order
to really solve the issue, you have to have a long-term start from the
beginning, invest this money and expect that maybe in 20 years there will be
some (return ?).
So the argument that now you can lose many money because they are not involved
in may not work with many politicians at the moment. So our hope is that,
especially in the time of crisis where Roma even more are limited to take
income and jobs, what we can argue is do more with education, right, starting
from the beginning –
REP. SMITH: Are there countries that provide the proper incentives –
scholarships, for example – that do better than other countries, particularly
for higher education, so that those marketable skills can be learned?
MR. MIRGA: Well, there are some countries who provide scholarships, yes.
REP. SMITH: Who would you say is best? You may not want to say, I understand.
MR. MIRGA: The best? Well, I can say some positive steps are taken in Poland,
for example. We have a scholarship system since already for six or seven
years. Each year we have like 50 students supported from the budget, yes.
They are receiving monthly, like, 150 euros. So this is a significant help.
This is a significant support. We have in Hungary a scholarship system. We
have in Romania reserved seats at the universities, yes.
So there are a number of good – but it’s still small-scale, yes, project. It
should be more. But you have to do also not at the only at the level of
university, you have to take care that there is more children going through the
system and reaching university. Now is very small percentage which is able to
pass through education and to reach university.
REP. SMITH: You know, one of the greatest trainer of skills in the United
States and I guess – I would suspect Europe as well – are the U.S. military,
our armed forces. How accessible are the militaries of respective countries to
Romany young adults who want to enlist?
MR. MIRGA: I think – what I know about some countries is like, for example, in
Central, Eastern Europe in former Czechoslovakia, yeah, army was a kind of a
space where you can make a career. Some of the leaders, present leaders, were
(runt ?) officers in the army, yes. I don’t know what is now at the moment,
whether it’s still such openness, but I don’t feel that it not (such ?). At
that time, it was much easier to be subscribed to army and eventually some
prospects was –
REP. SMITH: Is there any attempt on the militaries to recruit among the –
MR. MIRGA: This I don’t know. How it is – whether or they are active, yeah,
they are reaching out the community, here I cannot say. It’s similar probably
like in police; you may have some declarations, but openness of the forces are
sometimes not so. And there are also some inhibitions on the Roma side we have
to be clear about as well, yes, to be in police, for example.
REP. SMITH: I want to thank both of you. If you would like to make any last
comment but – I’ll give you the last word – but you certainly made many very
important and incisive recommendations. Your commentary will be very widely
disseminated. And it helps us to do a better job. And I am deeply, on behalf
of my fellow commissioners, grateful to you for your leadership and for taking
so much time out of your day, and really couple days, to be here to provide us
that. So I thank you. If you would like to just make any final word or we’ll
MR. GERGELY: I would just like to thank you for giving the opportunity of my
organization to have this statement here.
MR. MIRGA: I would like maybe to make some short statement about the ODIHR and
our cooperation with the EU.
Last year, we were working closely with the – (inaudible). We had a number of
high level meetings with the government there to raise awareness about the
needs for concrete action regarding Roma in Western Balkans who are in the
pre-accession. So the pre-accession has to be used differently how it was used
in the past. But this opportunity was somehow missed, because this is at the
right time to exert pressure on the governments and to do more.
We were also awarded with the EC grant to do project in Western Balkans. It’s
called Best Practices for Roma Integration. And we were – we aim to work with
all the countries there, including Kosovo, in identifying best practices in
five areas and will try to implement them.
In this context, I would like to thank also U.S. for supporting financially
this project, made some contribution. Germany made also some contribution to
this money. And we are grateful for that. And at the end I would like to
thank Erika Schlager, a professional staff member of the Helsinki Commission.
I admire her as she is tireless in all her efforts, whether it’s in promote
Roma rights here in Washington and the OSCE area. This hearing is also thanks
to her dedication. So thank you very much, Erika. Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Thank you. On that last word, the hearing’s adjourned. Thank you.
MR. MIRGA: Thank you.