Roma Rights: An Overview

Publication type: Guide, Resource Library

Author: Other

Themes: Criminal Justice, Discrimination

There are now an estimated 10-12 million Roma living in Europe. Roma make up the largest ethnic minority and evidence has clearly shown that they are more likely to face discrimination and social exclusion than other groups living in Europe. Roma can challenge the discriminatory treatment they face by using the conventions and treaties adopted by the Council of Europe and the EU.

Discrimination faced by Roma in Europe

The extensive discrimination faced by Roma was formally recognised by the Council of Europe as long ago as 1969. Since then there has been no shortage of commitments, declarations and expressions of good intentions by member states aimed at improving the lives of Roma in Europe. However, progress has all too often been thwarted at the stage where policies are to be implemented at a national or local level and, as a consequence, there has been little real improvement.

A report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that many Roma experience poor housing conditions, face the highest levels of discrimination in access to housing, education, employment and health care; and that, as a result, their chances in the labour market are diminished. Faced with high levels of discrimination in their countries of origin, many Roma from the newer members of the EU decide to exercise their right to freedom of movement within the EU and head towards other member states. However, another report by FRA found that Roma encounter problems registering their residence and, as a result, they face similar difficulties in accessing health care, public housing and work in their new countries of residence.

Meanwhile, as far-right groups have gained political ground in recent years across Europe, hate speech against Roma has increased markedly, to the extent that it has been adopted by mainstream political parties. This worrying trend was highlighted in July 2010, when controversially the French government used Roma migrants from Eastern Europe as scapegoats for a rise in criminality and civil unrest in the country. President Sarkozy said that Roma camps were a source of ‘illicit trafficking, profoundly unfit living conditions, the exploitation of children for the purposes of begging, prostitution or crime’ and announced that the government would dismantle Roma camps and repatriate irregular migrants from Eastern Europe.

It was against this backdrop that, on 20th October 2010, the Council of Europe issued “The Strasbourg Declaration on Roma”, which recognised the fact that Roma across Europe continued to be “socially and economically marginalised”, and indicated that its member states had adopted a list of priorities and steps aimed at securing non-discrimination, social inclusion and the empowerment of Roma.

In April 2011, the European Commission followed suit by publishing an EU framework for national Roma integration strategies up to 2020, which set goals for Roma inclusion in education, employment, health and housing.

In addition, each EU member state has been asked to submit a national Roma inclusion strategy to the European Commission explaining how it will reach the goals set out in the framework.

Roma people and convention rights
Members of the Roma community have been able to use the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in order to secure their rights. Complaints have most frequently involved alleged violations of the following:

  • right to life (article 2);
  • prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (article 3);
  • right to liberty (article 5);
  • right to a fair trial (article 6);
  • right to respect for private and family life (article 8);
  • right to education (article 2 of Protocol No 1);
  • prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens (article 4 of Protocol No 4) (see Conka v Belgium App No 51564/99, 5 February 2002; (2002) 34 EHRR 54); and
  • the right not to be discriminated against with respect to the enjoyment of the other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the convention (article 14).

Of course, on occasions Roma have also brought cases before the ECtHR in which they have alleged the violation of other rights protected by the convention, such as freedom of speech (article 10) and freedom of association (article 11) (see, for example, Gypsy Council and others v UK App No 66336/01, 14 May 2002)

Extracted from: Using EU law to tackle anti-Roma discrimination by Marc Willers and Siobhan Lloyd.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Scroll to Top