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Helsinki Commission Chairman Welcomes OSCE Report on Roma

WASHINGTON — “Last September, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel described the deplorable problems the Romani minority faces: intolerance, mutual distrust, poor housing, exclusion, unemployment, low levels of education and—an underlying cause of many of these—systemic discrimination,” said Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Today, the High Commissioner made public his long-awaited report, ‘The Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area,’ which should give further impetus to the OSCE’s efforts to improve respect for the human rights of one of Europe’s most abused minorities.”

“Czech President Vaclav Havel once said that the treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for civil society; New York Times reporter Steven Erlanger wrote this week that post-communist Europe is failing that test – and, in my opinion, most countries are failing badly,” continued Smith. “But it is not enough to describe the problem. Governments can and should takes immediate steps to address human rights violations that have grown worse, not better, over the course of Europe’s first, post-communist decade.

“While government officials often argue that it will take years to solve or address the complex problems Roma face, one particular step can be taken now—this year, this month, this week, today. Governments should begin to draft and implement comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that will establish a coherent statutory framework for Roma to seek legal redress through the civil courts when confronted with discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, public places and the military. As it now stands, most post-communist countries have no anti-discrimination provisions in their civil codes at all; the thread-bare patchwork of constitutional references to non-discrimination and criminal code references to race relations have proven completely inadequate for the task at hand.

“I welcome the High Commissioner’s report and am confident that it will prove extraordinarily useful for those governments which have the political will to address the problems of the Romani minority. The High Commissioner’s insightful report will serve as an indispensable tool in fulling the goals established by the OSCE Heads of State and Government at their most recent summit in Istanbul.”


The OSCE Heads of State and Government adopted the following agreements at the Istanbul Summit on November 17, 1999:

“We recognize the particular difficulties faced by Roma and Sinti and the need to undertake effective measures in order to achieve full equality of opportunity, consistent with OSCE commitments, for persons belonging to Roma and Sinti. We will reinforce our efforts to ensure that Roma and Sinti are able to play a full and equal part in our societies, and to eradicate discrimination against them.” (Para. 20, Charter for European Security)

“We deplore violence and other manifestations of racism and discrimination against minorities, including the Roma and Sinti. We commit ourselves to ensure that laws and policies fully respect the rights of Roma and Sinti and, where necessary, to promote anti-discrimination legislation to this effect. We underline the importance of careful attention to the problems of the social exclusion of Roma and Sinti. These issues are primarily a responsibility of the participating States concerned. We emphasize the important role that the ODIHR Contact Point for Roma and Sinti issues can play in providing support. A further helpful step might be the elaboration by the Contact Point of an action plan of targeted activities, drawn up in co-operation with the High Commissioner on National Minorities and others active in this field, notably the Council of Europe.” (Para. 31, Istanbul Summit Declaration)

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