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International Roma Day 2017
Friday, April 07, 2017

International Roma Day is observed annually on April 8, commemorating the anniversary of the1971 London meeting of Romani activists from across Europe.

The 1971 London meeting, convened as the "World Romani Congress," was one of the first transnational gatherings of Roma.  Since 1990, International Roma Day has been an opportunity to celebrate Romani culture and counter anti-Roma prejudice that fosters political and economic marginalization. 

Roma—Europe’s Largest Ethnic Minority

Roma live throughout all European countries as well as the Americas and Australasia. In Europe, the Roma population is very conservatively estimated at 15 million, with large concentrations in Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. 

Roma have migrated to the United States since the colonial period. There are an estimated one million Americans with some Romani roots (recent or distant Romani ancestry).  Roma live throughout the United States, with larger communities in New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They are sometimes the victims of racial profiling by law enforcement.  The last explicitly anti-Roma law in the United States was repealed in New Jersey in 1998.

Romani Americans have served as public members on the U.S. delegation to several OSCE human dimension meetings.  In 2016, the President appointed Dr. Ethel Brooks to serve on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council, bringing a Romani voice to that body.

Helsinki Commission Advocacy on Romani Human Rights

The Commission has long record of addressing human rights issues relating to Roma.  Dr. Mischa Thompson, Helsinki Commission policy advisor, at ODIHR workshop on Roma and Sinti participation | Photo: Michael ChiaAs early as 1990, a Helsinki Commission delegation in Bucharest raised alarm orchestrated attacks on Roma conducted as part of a larger crackdown on dissent. 

Helsinki Commissioners have continued to engage regarding the situation of Roma through hearings, briefings, and congressional meetings with Roma in Europe and the United States.  In recent years, the Commission has supported Romani inclusion in annual initiatives for political leaders such as the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference (TMPLC) and Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN). 

On March 27-28, the Commission worked in cooperation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to hold a workshop during “Roma Week” at the European Parliament in Brussels titled, “Strengthening diverse leadership, participation and representation of Roma, including women and youth, in public and political life.” 

Roma Day Events in the United States

Harvard will host its fifth Annual Roma conference on April 10, where Helsinki Commission staff will participate. Scholars of Romani culture and Roma who work as academics, activists, and performers will convene a conference at New York University April 28-29. Later in the spring, on May 6, the 20th Annual Herdeljezi Music Festival will be held in the San Francisco area at the Croatian American Cultural Center.

In the Washington area, the Embassy of the Czech Republic supported a March 30 screening of the documentary about the prejudice faced by the FC Roma football club. On May 17, the Czech Embassy will support a concert at the national Gallery of Art by Romani-Czech pianist Tomas Kaco.

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  • Report: Beyond the CSCE's Institutional Development

    Although some early proposals conceived of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe as an international institution with headquarters, secretariat, and treaty, the CSCE emerged from Helsinki in 1975 as an, amorphous process, moving from conference to conference with no fixed address or schedule. For fifteen years, its reView conferences and experts meetings succeeded in focusing, attention on a range of inter-related problems ftom human rights to the environment to threatening military maneuvers, operating, oa the principle that these and other elements, of security could not, be treated separately. However, the end of the bipolar security "system'' that had characterized the Europe in which CSCE was created led many of its participants to look to the CSCE as a , new over-arching "system" within which its members could improve both their security and cooperation. As such, they pleaded for more structure and permanence for its activities, as well as a larger role for it in addressing the challenges of the time. The Paris Summit of November 1990 endowed the CSCE with its first permanent institutions:, the CSCE Secretariat, Conflict Prevention Center, and Office of Free Elections, later expanded to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. These three institutions, minimally funded and staffed, were created to give the CSCE process some visible permanence and to assist the regular political consultations set up at the same time. The consultations process envisioned meetings of CSCE heads of state or government every two years; foreign minsters annually, plus possible meetings of other ministers; and senior officials three to four times per year. The CSCE Secretariat was set up in Prague to organize these meetings; the Conflict Prevention Center in Vienna to give institutional support to risk reduction efforts; and the Office of Free Elections in Warsaw to assist the transition to democracy across the continent. In April 1991, parliamentarians from the participating States took up proposals from the summit and formed a CSCE Parliamentary Assembly, to meet once a year to further security and cooperation in Europe, reviewing CSCE implementation and activities.

  • Report: the U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation to Hungary, Greece, Macedonia and Croatia (Nov. 11-17,1992)

    Budapest, Hungary, was the first stop of the Helsinki Commission delegation led by Commission CoChairman Senator Dennis DeConcini to Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, and Croatia. While in Hungary, the delegation planned to discuss a variety of domestic, bilateral, and regional issues with President Arpad Goncz, Prime Minister Jozsef Antall, and other high-level Hungarian officials. Chief among them were questions regarding the ongoing crisis in the former Yugoslavia; the delegation hoped to gain perspective on the regional ramifications of the crisis, and to learn more about Hungary's needs, concerns, and recommendations. Also critical was discussion of the specter of anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary, as manifested by the outspoken Vice President of the ruling Hungarian Democratic Forum Istvan Csurka; the delegation wished to express its strong condemnation of Csurka's divisive and exclusivist version of nationalism. Hungary's relations with the soon-to-be-independent Slovakia were also on the agenda, as well as the ongoing controversy over the Gabcikovo-Nagymoros Dam. The Commission delegation travelled to Macedonia to meet with government leaders and private citizens, including representatives of ethnic communities, with the goal of discussing questions related to Macedonia's recognition by the international community, and to observe the economic, political and social impact of the denial of that recognition to date. The delegation also wanted to examine the possibilities for violence and conflict in Macedonia due to the ongoing conflict in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina and repression in neighboring Kosovo, and to hear Macedonian insights on this conflict and repression. Related to all the above, and central to the Commission delegation's concerns, was the degree of democratic development in Macedonia, especially in regard to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The delegation travelled to Macedonia via Thessaloniki, Greece. Taking advantage of this transit, a further objective of the delegation was to hear the views of Greek officials on issues related to Macedonia, and the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia in general. Finally, the Commission delegation wished to visit refugees from the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina to gain information on the circumstances leading to their presence in Macedonia, as well as to observe the quality of their treatment as refugees in that country. The Commission delegation's main interest in travelling to Croatia was to examine the situation for Bosnian refugees residing there as winter approached and to hear their reports of what was happening in BosniaHerzegovina. More generally, the delegation wanted to obtain a more detailed picture of the situation in the region as a whole as the fighting raged on. This included developments within Croatia itself, such as the situation regarding displaced persons and in the United Nations Protected Areas, as well as Croatia's role in the Bosnian conflict. Finally, the delegation had an interest in seeing the newly created U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit at Pleso Airport outside Zagreb.    

  • Helsinki Document: The Challenges of Change

    The Heads of State or Government of the States participating in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe returned to the birthplace of the Helsinki process, to give new impetus to our common endeavor through the Helsinki Summit Declaration. 

  • Report: The CSCE Human Dimension Seminar on Tolerance

    The structure of the seminar was designed to maximize contact and dialogue among participants during the brief week in Warsaw. Modeled after a U.S. proposal, three discussion groups were designed to focus on: the role of educational and cultural institutions, as well as the media, in promoting tolerance; the role of local authorities; and legal issues and law enforcement. Two groups ran simultaneously at any given time, enabling even the smallest delegations to rotate reasonably efficiently among the different discussions. Moderators from Switzerland, the United States (Colonel Ronald Joe, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, U.S. Army), and the United Kingdom were selected by the ODIHR to manage the three discussions respectively.

  • Report: Russians in Estonia: Problems and Prospects

    In summer 1991, the Helsinki Commission examined the situation of Russians in Estonia, in the form of a chapter of a larger report on national minorities in the CSCE context. The present report is essentially an update, and was occasioned by the most significant event affecting the status of Russians in Estonia since the country regained its independence in_ September 1991. In February 1992, Estonia passed a law that restored citizenship only to citizens of the interwar Estonian Republic and their descendants. Consequently, the great majority of Estonia's Russians, most of whom came to Estonia after its forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940, did not automatically becom citizens of Estonia and could not vote in the country's first: national election after the restoration of its independent, statehood, held on September 20, 1992. Estonia's citizenship law and the resultant exclusion of about 40 percent of the resident population from voting elicited from Russians, both inside and outside Estonia, charges of discrimination and human rights violations. Russian government officials and parliamentarians protested Estonia's treatment of Russians in international forums, in the media, and in Washington and other Western capitals. Considering their allegations of human rights violations, the Helsinki . Commission sent two staffers to Estonia to talk to Russians and Estonians and Study the situation on the ground before the election and on election day. Their primary mission was not to observe the election per se and this is not an election report; in fact, the Commission believed that the Estonian election authorities were quite capable of organizing free and fair elections. Rather, the Commission hoped to examine the reasons for, and possible consequences of, Estonia's deliberate decision not to giye citizenship and the vote to. some 40 percent of the population. The following is a report of the Commission staffs investigation. Their research and conclusions are based on interviews and discussions conducted in Tallinn, Kohtla-Jarve, Sillamae and Narva. The last three cities are in northeast Estonia and are mostly populated by Russians.

  • Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in an Independent Croatia

    On August 2, 1992, Croatia held elections for the position of President of the Republic as well as for seats in the House of Representatives, one of two chambers in Croatia's "Sabor," or Assembly. These were the second multi-party elections in Croatia since 1990, when alternative political parties first competed for power. They were, however, the first since Croatia proclaimed itself an independent state in 1991, and achieved international recognition as such in 1992, following the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia. Incumbent Franjo Tudjman easily won a first-round victory among a field of eight presidential candidates. His party, the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), also won just over half of the parliamentary seats allocated in proportion to votes for the lists of 17 parties, and a very large number of the seats designated for particular electoral districts. This result allows the HDZ to form a new government alone rather than in coalition with other parties. A shift to the far right, which many feared, did not materialize. Despite a number of open questions, the election results likely reflect the legitimate choice of Croatia's voting population. At the same time, the elections demonstrated disappointingly little democratic progress in Croatia since 1990. Detracting most from the elections was the lack of serious effort by the authorities to instill confidence in the electoral system, followed by the perceived political motivation in scheduling them in August. The elections also revealed some shortcomings on the part of the opposition, including a lack of coordinated effort to ensure that they were conducted freely and fairly. Croatia has a western-oriented, well educated and sophisticated society which provide a basis for democratic government. Decades of communist rule and a fierce nationalism linked to Croatia's search for independence have, at the same time, unleashed societal trends contrary to democratic development. The context in which these elections took place was also complicated by the conflict in Croatia that began in earnest in July 1991 as militants among the alienated ethnic-Serb population of Croatia, with the encouragement of the Serbian leadership in Belgrade and the help of the Yugoslav military, demonstrated violently their opposition to the republic's independence. After severe human casualties, population displacement and destruction, the conflict generally ended in January 1992 with a U.N. negotiated ceasefire that included the deployment of U.N. protection forces on much of Croatia's territory A new constitution and growing stability argued for holding new elections. Despite opposition complaints that August was not an appropriate time for elections, President Tudjman scheduled them with the likely calculation that his party stood its best chances in a quick election before growing economic hardship and pressure for genuine democratization replaced the joys of independence and renewed peace. During the campaign period, 29 political parties fielded candidates. They faced no major difficulties in organizing rallies and distributing their literature to the public. At the same time, the Croatian media was only moderately free, with television and radio broadcasts much less so than newspapers and journals. Only toward the end of the campaign did the media seem to open up fully The stated objective in organizing the elections was to be fair and impartial to all contending parties. At the same time, the electoral procedures were not as fully satisfactory as they easily could have been, raising suspicions of an intent to manipulate the results. However, opposition political parties considered the process sufficiently fair for them to compete. They also had the opportunity to have observers present at polling stations and election commissions on election day. According to a constitutional law on the matter, Croatia's national minorities enjoy certain rights regarding their representation in governmental bodies. Ethnic Serbs, the only large minority with some 12 percent of the population, were guaranteed a greater number of seats in the new Sabor than all other minorities combined, but, unlike the smaller minorities, no elections were held in which ethnic Serbs alone could chose their representatives. This was viewed as discriminatory treatment of the Serbian minority, despite apparently small Serbian participation in the elections. Balloting on election day was orderly, despite the enormous complications caused by the conflict and questions of citizenship and voter eligibility in a newly independent country. There were few complaints in regard to the way in which the voting and counting were carried out, although several isolated problems were reported and the security of ballots cast by voters abroad was a constant concern. Despite these faults, holding elections might well have been a watershed for Croatia. Problems in that country's democratic development were given closer scrutiny, and public concerns can now shift from the recent past to future prospects. The winners could view their easy win as a mandate for continuing current policies, largely viewed as nationalistic and insufficiently democratic. However, the far right's poor performance could lessen pressure on the HDZ to show its nationalist colors and permit greater democratic development. The behavior of HDZ leaders to date favors the status quo in the short run, but domestic and international pressure could both encourage more significant democratic reform than has been seen thus far.

  • The Helsinki Follow-Up Meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation on Europe

    The end of the Cold War posed new challenges to the CSCE, with increasing intensities of ethnic conflict raging around the Yugoslav region. The European Community was struggling with uncertainty under a less-than-effective presidency, and a questionable state of unity following the Danish rejection of the Maastricht Treaty; thus, a need was felt for a US presence in Europe. This record of the Helsinki Follow-Up meeting in 1992 shows that the even reaffirmed, but did not complete, the CSCE's transition from process to structure. The network of CSCE bodies and work methods described in the beginning sections of the Helsinki Decisions was greatly developed and clarified from its Paris genesis. Some effort was also made to integrate existing structures and past practices. Notably, the CSCE took as its central concept for the future the US-proposed theme "managing change." While the United States put this forward as a response to percieved European negativism and tendancy to paint the future in apocalyptic colors, requiring only conflict-orientated responses, it was also telling that the United States and others were ready to see the CSCE as a key instrument for the management of inevitable change, rather than looking past the CSCE in efforts to maintain the status quo.

  • The New Commonwealth of Independent States: Problems, Perspectives, and U.S. Policy Implications

    This hearing discussed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of a series of succeeding states. The hearing covered the theme of regional and ethnic divisions as key elements in the unpredicted dissolution of the Soviet Union. The witnesses covered the particular challenges of securing peaceful independence from the “commonwealth of former Soviet Republics” and the democratization process. The conversation centered on the human rights dimension and the process of newly created states signing on to several international treaties and obtaining memberships in international organizations.

  • Report: the Oslo Seminar of Experts on Democratic Institutions

    From November 4-15, the CSCE Seminar of Experts on Democratic Institutions met in Oslo, Norway, pursuant to a mandate contained in the 1991 Charter of Paris for a New Europe. Accordingly, experts discussed means and ways for "consolidating and strengthening viable democratic institutions." During the course of the Seminar, participants met in three closed study groups in which they considered constitutional and electoral frameworks, as well as comparative human rights legislation. In this context, numerous experts participated in the Oslo Seminar, contributing expositions on the differences among their various democratic traditions and often describing their national experiences in these areas. In addition, contacts among experts, non*governmental organizations, and government representatives in the margins of the meeting contributed to the overall work of the Seminar.

  • The Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE

    In accordance with the mandate of the Vienna Concluding Document, the 38 states participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met in Moscow from September 10 through October 4, 1991, for the third meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension (CHD, or CDH from the French acronym) of the CSCE. The first meeting of the Conference was held in Paris from May 20 through June 23, 1989, and the second was held in Copenhagen from June 5 through 29, 1990. The meetings of the CHD address the full range of human rights and humanitarian concerns associated with the Helsinki process.

  • Geneva Meeting on National Minorities and Moscow Meeting on the Human Dimension

    The hearing will focus on two important CSCE meetings, the Geneva Experts Meeting on National Minorities.   The Geneva meeting which recently ended was mandated to discuss national minorities, the meeting had three components: exchange of views on practical experience; review of the implementation of relevant CSCE commitments; and consideration of new measures. The distinguished speaker will outline the major points of the Geneva meeting and how the United States can best utilize its success while moving towards the upcoming human dimension meeting in Moscow.

  • CONFERENCE ON SECURITY, STABILITY, DEVELOPMENT, AND COOPERATION IN AFRICA

    This hearing focused on successes of the Helsinki process in guiding Eastern Europe towards democratic governance and how a similar framework could work in Africa. The joint hearing emphasized the need for expedient action for the continent or risk unmanageable stagnating crises. Many former oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe draw parallels to similar governing system in the African continent, such systems lack rule based institutions, political enfranchisement, and civil protections. The Commissioners and the distinguished panelists discuss what measures African countries are taking in their democratization process and what the additional actions should be.

  • Report by the CSCE Staff: The Geneva CSCE Experts Meeting on National Minorities

    In accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of Paris, the representatives of the participating States had a thorough discussion on the issues of national minorities and of the rights of persons belonging to them that reflected the diversity of situations and of the legal, historical, political and eoonanic backgrounds. They had an exchange of views on practical experience with national minorities, in particular on national legislation, democratic institutions, international instruments and other possible forms of co-operation. Views were expressed on the inplementation of the relevant CSCE commitments, and the representatives of the participating States also considered the scope for the improvement of relevant stardards.They also considered new measures aimed at improving the implementation of the aforementioned commitments.

  • Minority Rights: Problems, Parameters, and Patterns in the CSCE Context

    Principle VII of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act pledges the participating States the "respect the right of persons belonging to [national] minorities to equality before the law, [to] afford them the full opportunity for the actual enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and will, in this manner, protect their legitimate interests in this sphere." Since the adoption of that language, problems of minorities have become more acute and, in some places, threatening to the very stability of Europe itself. As a consequence, minority rights have taken on a heightened profile in the Helsinki process. We are pleased to provide you with the following Helsinki Commission staff report on national minorities. Mandated to monitor and encourage progress in implementing the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, the Commission feels it is its duty to address some of the more troubling issues confronting the CSCE community. Although not an exhaustive examination of minority rights, we hope this report will contribute to the discussion of these pressing issues by considering both violations of minority rights within the CSCE as well as instances of success.

  • Democratic Developments in Albania

    Beginning at the Copenhagen Human Dimension Meeting in June 1990, Albania has been granted observer status at CSCE meetings. Albania would like to move beyond its current observer status and become a full participant in the process. The Commission delegation had stated when it left after its first visit that it needed to see significant improvements in Albania s human rights performance before we could support Albania’s membership in the CSCE. There is no question that the situation has remarkably improved as of last year, a fact which we on the Helsinki Commission have welcomed and have even complimented the existing government for moving in what we consider the right direction. A key question now, in addition to that of CSCE membership, is how the United States can best develop these bilateral relations to the benefit of democracy in Albania.

  • Final Resolution Concerning the Establishment of the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    The delegations of the Parliaments of countries participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting in Madrid, on April 2nd and 3rd 1991 --- Considering the provisions of the Paris Charter for a New Europe which, in recognition of the important role that parliamentarians can play in the CSCE process, calls for the establishment of a CSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

  • Report on the U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation Visit to Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania

    The main purpose of the Commission's visit to Budapest was to participate in the Seminar on Parliamentary Responsibility for Economic Development being co-sponsored by the Helsinki Commission, the Hungarian Parliament, the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, and the Library of Congress. Additionally, members of the delegation discussed Hungary's current political and economic situation with members of the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ), leaders of the Gypsy community, and U.S. business representatives.

  • The Charter of Paris for a New Europe

    We, the Heads of State or Government of the States participating in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, havae assembled in Paris at a time of profound change and historic expectations. The era of confrontation and division of Europe has ended. We declare that henceforth our relations will be founded on respect and co-operation. Europe is liberating itself from the legacy of the past. The courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe. Ours is a time for fulfilling the hopes and expectations our peoples have cherished for decades: steadfast commitment to democracy based on human rights and fundamental freedoms; prosperity through economic liberty and social justice; and equal security for all our countries. The Ten Principles of the Final Act will guide us towards this ambitious future, just as they have lighted our way towards better relations for the past fifteen years. Full implementation of all CSCE commitments must form the basis for the initiatives we are now taking to enable our nations to live in accordance with their aspirations.

  • Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension

    This Hearing was convened by Chairman Dennis DeConcini and Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer to address the Human Dimension of the of the Helsinki Final Act. In attendance were Ambassador Max Kampelmann, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Copenhagen CSCE Conference on the Human Dimension, Prof. Thomas Buergenthal, public member of the U.S. Delegation, and Prof. Hurst Hannum, public member of the U.S. Delegation. Those in attendence discussed the state of human rights in the OSCE region and various humanitarian causes that should be emphasized in the coming sessions.

  • Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE

    The participating States welcome with great satisfaction the fundamental political changes that have occurred in Europe since the first Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE in Paris in 1989. They note that the CSCE process has contributed significantly to bringing about these changes and that these developments in turn have greatly advanced the implementation of the provisions of the Final Act and of the other CSCE documents. They recognize that pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are essential for ensuring respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the development of human contacts and the resolution of other issues of a related humanitarian character. They therefore welcome the commitment expressed by all participating States to the ideals of democracy and political pluralism as well as their common determination to build democratic societies based on free elections and the rule of law. At the Copenhagen Meeting the participating States held a review of the implementation of their commitments in the field of the human dimension. They considered that the degree of compliance with the commitments contained in the relevant provisions of the CSCE documents had shown a fundamental improvement since the Paris Meeting. They also expressed the view, however, that further steps are required for the full realization of their commitments relating to the human dimension. The participating States express their conviction that full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the development of societies based on pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites for progress in setting up the lasting order of peace, security, justice, and cooperation that they seek to establish in Europe. They therefore reaffirm their commitment to implement fully all provisions of the Final Act and of the other CSCE documents relating to the human dimension and undertake to build on the progress they have made. They recognize that cooperation among themselves, as well as the active involvement of persons, groups, organizations, and institutions, will be essential to ensure continuing progress towards their shared objectives.

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