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CHS Refugee Hearing 368x331

International Roma Day Revisited

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

107th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, on International Roma Day last year, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities released a detailed report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE region. Unfortunately, in the intervening months, relatively little progress has been made by government authorities in addressing the problems he described.

The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, receives so many reports on an almost daily basis which demonstrate the magnitude of the problems Roma face. We receive reports of Roma who are denied access to public places, like the three Roma who were turned away from a Warsaw restaurant last September 29, just before the OSCE convened its annual human rights meeting in that city. We receive reports of discrimination in housing, like the January 27 Hungarian television report that local authorities in Rabakoez, Hungary, have called for prohibiting the sale of real estate to Roma. We receive reports of police abuse, such as the repeated cases of unlawful police raids in Hermanovce, Slovakia. We receive reports of violent attacks, such as the assault on a Romani church in Leskovac, Serbia, at the beginning of this year.

Too often, courts are part of the problem, not the solution. Rather than providing a remedy for victims, they compound the abuse. Take a recent case from the Czech Republic. The Czech Supreme Court issued a ruling that a violent attack on a Romani man in 1999 was premeditated and organized, and then remanded the case back to the district court in Jesenik for sentencing in accordance with that finding. But the district court simply ignored the Supreme Court’s finding and ordered four of the defendants released. I am hopeful that Slovak courts, which are currently weighing the fate of three of the defendants charged in last year’s brutal murder of Anastazia Balazova, will do a better job of bringing her murderers to justice.

In a few places, there are some glimmers of hope. In Viden, Bulgaria, for example, the Romani organization Drom has led a successful effort to bring 400 Romani children, who previously attended segregated schools, into the mainstream school system. In that instance, the cooperation of local and national authorities, governmental and non-governmental bodies, is paying off.

Unfortunately, too few government leaders demonstrate the courage necessary to address these issues. Some pass the buck, looking to the European Union or the Council of Europe to fix problems that must be tackled, first and foremost, through political leadership at home. Moreover, a number of EU countries have little to teach the applicant countries about tolerance towards Roma.

Many OSCE countries, not just the former Communist states, are in need of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, a priority recognized in the 1999 OSCE summit agreement and by the European Commission in the adoption of its “race directive” in June of last year. Regrettably, nearly two years after Bulgaria received praise from many quarters for agreeing to adopt such legislation; the government is not one step closer to fulfilling its commitment.

The Slovak Government’s human rights office, in contrast, has undertaken a serious study of legislative options and may soon have a draft ready for a vote. In addition, it is imperative that political and civic leaders condemn anti-Roma manifestations in clear and unequivocal terms.

Mr. Speaker, when the Mayor of Csor, Hungary, a publicly elected official, said “the Roma of Zamoly have no place among human beings; just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled,” I believe it is the responsibility of Hungary’s political leadership to condemn these outrageous slurs. If more leadership was demonstrated, perhaps confidence would have been strengthened and maybe 5,772 Hungarian Roma would not have applied for asylum in Canada over the past three years. When the Mayor of Usti nad Labem built a wall to segregate Roma from non-Roma, all members of the Czech parliament, not just a paper slim majority of 101 out of 200 MPs, should have voted to condemn it. And when Mayor Sechelariu of Bacau, Romania, announced plans to build a statue of Marshall Antonescu, the World War II dictator who deported 25,000 Roma to Transniestra, where some 19,000 of them perished, Romanian officials, who have pledged to the OSCE community to fight intolerance, should begin at home by ridding their country of every Antonescu statue built on public land.

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