Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Statement of Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Chairman - Helsinki Commission


Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Representative Christopher H. Smith


"Human Rights of the Romani Minority"

June 8, 2000

Two years ago, the Helsinki Commission held its first hearing on Romani human rights issues. Today, we revisit
that issue and take stock of the developments since then.

Much of today's hearing will focus on Central and Southern Europe - post-communist countries where Roma are
the most numerous. But there are Roma in almost every OSCE country and Roma face prejudice in every country
in which they live. In the United States, there are an estimated one million Roma and it was only in 1997 that the
legislators in my own State, New Jersey, unanimously voted to repeal the last anti-Roma statute - originally
adopted in 1917 - still on the books at the state level. American Roma continue to fight the straightjacket of ethnic

Roma in other democracies also have problems. In early May, the parents of more than 600 students in Spain
kept their children from going to St. Juan Bosco Catholic School to protest the admission of three Romani
children - ages 3, 7, and 8 - to the school. Police had to establish a cordon to bring the Romani children and six
other students to class. In Germany, courts have upheld a ruling that landlords may deny Roma housing, solely on
the basis of their ethnic identity, and the Bavarian police continue the discredited Nazi practice of maintaining
records which single out Roma for identification based on their ethnicity. In Nea Kios, Greece, municipal
authorities have issued a declaration saying Roma are not welcome and suggesting that Roma property owners
"return" their lands to the city.

In other countries, Roma may face even greater dangers. In Slovakia, one local official called for a "Chinese
fertility program" for Roma, raising the threat of renewed forced sterilizations. An official in Hungary was
reprimanded for his proposal that the government address Romani problems by distributing birth control free to
Romani women.

Some government officials have shown courage and wisdom in condemning such racist views. When a Slovak
parliamentarian called for punishing Roma because they had exercised their right to seek asylum, government
human rights official Juraij Hrabko condemned the legislator's remarks as "cheap populism" and "racist."

Regrettably, racist words and deeds are too often met with silence on the part of elected representatives and
public leaders. In April, for example, a Hungarian mayor said that the Roma in his town "have no place among
human beings. Just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled." In the face of this outrageous statement,
public officials in Hungary have remained silent. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph
of evil is for good men to do nothing."

I welcome today our distinguished panel of experts who have come to address this important subject. Our first
witness will be Professor Diane Orentlicher. Ms. Orentlicher is professor of international law at the Washington
College of Law and has expertise in virtually every area of human rights law. Most recently, she served as Special
Advisor to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

We will also hear from Dorina-Celia Zoon. Ms. Zoon is perhaps best known to the Helsinki Commission for her
meticulously prepared reports documenting the denial of citizenship to members of the Romani minority in the
Czech Republic. She is currently preparing a report on the access of Roma to municipal services in several

Monika Horakova was elected to the Czech Parliament in 1998 as a member of the Freedom Union party.
Trained as a clinical psychologist, she previously served as Executive Vice-Chair of the Inter-ministerial
Commission for Roma Affairs.

Rumyan Russinov became Director of the Open Society Institute's Roma Participation Project in May. Prior to
that, he worked with the Human Rights Project in Sofia and played a leading role in forging a landmark agreement
between Romani NGOs and the Bulgarian government on a national agenda for Roma.

Angela Kocze is Human Rights Education Director for the European Roma Rights Center, an international public
interest law organization which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defense to victims of
human rights violations. She works with Romani communities in many Central European countries.

Finally, I welcome Karolina Banomova. Ms. Banomova is a Romani activist and member of the Czechoslovak
Roma Association of Canada. In 1997, Ms. Banomova fled her native country, the Czech Republic, and sought
asylum in Canada along with hundreds of other Czech Roma.