1 December 1997
The European Roma
Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation
which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of
human rights abuse. On the occasion of the Organisation
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Implementation Meeting
on Human Dimension Issues in Warsaw in November 1997, the ERRC offers comment
on the human rights situation of Roma in the OSCE region.
The human rights situation for Roma in many countries is precarious.
Roma remain at risk of racially-motivated violence on the part of law enforcement
authorities, racist skinheads and others. Judicial and investigative responses
to reports of physical abuse are often inadequate; at times, courts and
prosecutors compound and affirmatively abet discriminatory practices. Roma
throughout Europe are threatened with publicly expressed government hostility,
forced and summary eviction from flats and settlements, and discriminatory
treatment by public and private landlords. Finally, inflammatory responses
in Canada, England and Ireland which greeted the arrival this summer of
Eastern European Roma confirmed that anti-Roma prejudice lurks not far
below the surface in the West as in the East.
Police violence against Roma is presently at disturbing
levels in many of the countries of the OSCE region.
According to the Bulgarian press, since the beginning of 1997, 528 acts
of the abuse of state power have been documented in Bulgaria. An overwhelming
number of these incidents have involved Roma victims. A brief and very
incomplete list of recent police abuse is as follows: the Bulgarian daily
Trud reported on June 22 that a police officer had torn the ear off a 25-year-old
Romani man in investigative detention in the town of Blagoevgrad. The Human
Rights Project reported that on June 12 authorities beat a 50-year-old
Romani man named Ilmi Akifov in the mayor's office in the village of Lyatno,
district Varna. Mr. Akifov lost consciousness during the assault. Amnesty
International reported that police beat a Romani woman named Yordanka Borisova
both in public and in detention on May 16. The Bulgarian daily Standart
reported that a police officer had shot and killed a 32-year-old Romani
man named Kolyo Todorov in police custody in Assenovgrad. Judicial sanction
of abuse of state power is close to non-existent in Bulgaria. The first
successful prosecution of a police officer for physical abuse of a Rom
took place in 1996. In most cases, investigators and prosecutors do not
act in response to reports by Roma of police abuse.
There are widespread allegations of police abuse in Hungary. ERRC investigation
in the eastern Hungarian town of Hajdúhadház revealed that
the approximately two thousand Roma living there are presently subjected
to near constant harassment and fines if they fail to carry a personal
identification card with them at all time. Further, four policemen in the
town appear to be subjecting a group of prostitutes who work on the highway
between Hajdúhadház and Debrecen to nearly constant beatings.
The ERRC has documented other recent instances of police abuse in the town
of Dömsöd, near Budapest, and the western Hungarian town of Szombathely.
Police beatings in public and in custody are evidently endemic in Macedonia.
The ERRC documented serious incidents of police abuse of Roma in the towns
of Kocani, Kumanovo, Makedonska Kamenica, Ohrid, Prilep, Skopje, Itip and
Tetovo. None of the cases investigated had resulted in sanctions agaist
the police officers concerned. In August 1996, a Romani woman died as a
result of a police beating in Skopje's Green Bazaar. The Ministry of Interior
did not open an investigation.
The ERRC documented a serious incident of police brutality in Poland.
On November 26, 1996, a police officer in the southern town of Wodzislaw
Slanski, in which a fifteen-year-old Romani boy named Robert Pawlowski
suffered a broken skull and brain damage as a result of injuries inflicted
by an Officer B.S. in the presence of the victim's aunt. Recent police
abuses have also reportedly taken place in the towns of Kielce, Suwalki,
Swiebodzice, Tarnów and Ziebice.
Field missions conducted by the ERRC in Romania indicate a widespread
pattern of police raids on Roma communities, in which whole communities
are turned out of their houses at dawn and subjected to checks of local
residence permits, physical abuse in public and in custody, and unsanctioned
forced labour. The ERRC also documented episodes of the excessive use of
force by police officers, including one shooting death.
ERRC investigation in western Ukraine revealed that Roma living there
are subject to constant physical abuses as well as a specific police regime
targeting only Roma. Police systematically register and monitor Roma, often
waking them at all hours of night to check local residence permits. Physical
abuse of Roma by the police was documented in twelve of fourteen Roma communities
visited, including shootings in public, beatings in public and in custody,
forced labour, and forms of torture such as locking Roma in the trunks
of police cars for long periods of time. Two incidents of sexual assault
of Romani women by police officers were documented. Most lawyers with whom
the ERRC spoke found the idea of a lawsuit against the police unthinkable.
Finally, the ERRC notes that no one has ever been brought to trial in
connection with the 1995 shooting death of a Romani boy named Todor Bogdanovic
by police on the road between Breil-sur-Roya and Sospel in southern France.
Similarly, police officers who shot to death a Romani man named Martin
Cervenak in police custody in the western Czech town of Horlovský
Týn in 1995 remain unpunished. Indeed, the officer whose gun was
implicated in the killing is presently one of the investigators responsible
for the case of Erika Gáborová, described above.
Racially motivated violence against Roma remains
a primary concern of the ERRC. The ERRC has watched the growth of an anti-Roma
"skinhead movement" in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with alarm. Roma
organisations in Yugoslavia report that attacks have taken place with increasing
frequency. On Friday, October 17, press reported that a group of skinheads
had beaten to death a 14-year-old Romani boy named Dulan Jovanovic with
lead pipes. Further attacks were recorded on October 27, when skinheads
severely beat two Roma in Belgrade.
Further, racially motivated violence continues to be a serious problem
in those countries in which it has been seen previously. Bulgaria, the
Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia have all recently witnessed serious
attacks against Roma and in all of these countries a skinhead movement
organises around anti-Roma sentiment. In Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and
Slovakia these attacks have led to recent deaths.
In Bulgaria, on July 20, 1997, four racist skinheads attacked a 41-year-old
Romani woman in the presence of her 12-year-old son in the eastern Bulgarian
town of Sliven. According to the Sofia-based non-governmental organisation
the Human Rights Project, in broad daylight, the four youths knocked Mrs.
Tsoneva to the ground and kicked her repeatedly. She lost consciousness
during the attack and died the following day. The police reportedly detained
the four youths but released them following questioning. The Bulgarian
press also reported that a medical examiner had stated that Mrs. Tsoneva
died as a result of her fall to the pavement and not due to the actions
of the youths. The ERRC has written to the Bulgarian General Prosecutor,
appealing for thorough investigation of the crime, but to date has received
On September 20, 1997, a 36-year-old Romani woman named Erika Gáborová
died during a racially-motivated attack in the western Czech town of Domazlice.
According to reports in the Czech press, a group of eleven or twelve skinheads
twice passed a house known to be inhabited by Roma, shouting menacing anti-Roma
slogans, firing off an air gun and shooting lead bullets from a catapult.
Mrs. Gáborová died sometime during the attack and a medical
examiner stated that she had suffered an epileptic fit while fleeing into
the house from a park across the street. The house in question had been
attacked previously and Roma living there had been forced to fortify the
doors and windows of the house. Independent monitors in the Czech Republic
have documented over 1250 racially-motivated incidents since 1991, including
the killings of nine Roma, one Turk mistaken for a Rom and one Sudanese
student. Government figures based on individuals charged record over 800
ethnically motivated attacks since 1991, and document that the number of
such attacks has increased in every year since 1991. This figure includes
the worrying phenomenon of Roma charged with racially-motivated crimes
Similar events have been recorded in Slovakia: on August 12 of this
year, skinheads broke into the home of a Romani family in the central Slovak
town of Banská Bystrica and, in the presence of his wife and twelve-year-old
daughter, kicked a Romani man, Mr. S.K., sprayed him in the face with tear
gas, and beat him with a baseball bat. The skinheads also beat the wife
of S.K. during the attack. Mr. S.K. died in hospital on September 4. The
victim's wife reported that when she and her family went to the police,
they were mocked. Roma in Slovakia report that skinhead attacks against
them now occur daily. In the last two years, at least three Roma have been
killed in racially-motivated attacks. Government response to racially-motivated
violence in Slovakia has been weak and there are numerous reports of local
corruption leading to non-prosecution of ethnically motivated crimes. Further,
when such crimes are prosecuted, the racially-motivated crimes provisions
of the Slovak Penal Code, which qualify the crime as more dangerous to
society, are often not applied.
Abuses of Roma by municipal authorities take place
with depressing regularity around the OSCE region. The ERRC is monitoring
the following situations with particular concern:
During flooding this Summer in the Czech Republic, Roma from the Hrulov
neighbourhood of Ostrava were shifted to the suburb of Hermanice. When
Roma already living in Hermanice became concerned that their neighbourhood
was being made into a Romani ghetto, Ostrava Deputy Mayor Radoslav Itedron
reacted by saying, "Most Roma don't know how to behave and town hall must
find some way to deal with them." A similar incident occurred earlier in
the year when a Prague district mayor called publicly for the ghettoisation
Greek authorities earlier this year decided that in response to inflammatory
reports in the local press about drug dealing Roma, they would resettle
the Roma of the Ano Liosia in a restrictive camp, surrounded by a wire
fence and guarded by a 24-hour armed guard. In several other places in
Greece, authorities have resorted to summary expulsion and the promotion
of unsanitary conditions to force Roma to leave.
Following political ping-pong in the central Hungarian city of Székesfehérvár,
70 persons, most of whom are Roma, are now threatened either with being
made homeless or with being moved into pre-fabricated containers previously
used to house individual SFOR soldiers. Fifteen such containers are being
provided as living units for the seventy individuals, with an additional
four containers as toilet and shower facilities. According to an umbrella
grouping of Hungarian organizations called the Anti-Ghetto Committee, the
money being spent on the containers is sufficient to provide all of the
people concerned with proper housing, but landlords in Székesfehérvár
will not rent to Roma. According to Éva Orsós of the Office
for national and Ethnic Minorities, 70,000 Roma in Hungary live in slum-like
conditions and Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minorities Jeno Kaltenbach
has stated that 3.8 percent of Roma in Hungary have experienced expulsion
of some kind. Roma organisations in Hungary have decried the paradox whereby,
under the 1993 Housing Act, municipalities are both obliged to provide
housing to those in need, and have an interest in selling off flats for
Italian authorities have responded to an influx of Roma from Yugoslavia
over the past several decades by inventing the category "nomads" and locating
all Roma under it. This effectively absolves them of the responsibility
for providing housing or, in fact, any infrastructure whatsoever. It also
allows authorities the luxury of the creation (and dissolution) of large
unsanitary camps, as well as of periodic expulsions from municipalities.
One such expulsion took place in Florence on September 4, when police and
municipal officials liquidated a camp where approximately fifty Bosnian
Roma were living.
Following a 1992 to fire in a row of barrack houses in Itip, Macedonia,
150-180 Roma were rendered homeless. Local authorities subsequently both
refused to provide them with alternate accommodation and refused to allow
them to rebuild. As a result, many of the families made homeless by the
fire now squat abandoned buildings around the city. They are subject to
eviction and threat of a eviction and have little to no access to proper
plumbing, running water or electricity. In Prilep, a Roma neighbourhood
of ten thousand has no sewage, so excrement runs in the streets, with accompanying
outbreaks of disease. In Tetovo, the entire Dolna Mala neighbourhood is
presently threatened with destruction because a businessman wants to build
a block of flats on the site. Although the Roma living there have been
promised flats, their legal status is unclear and Roma report pressure
by the businessman as well as by municipal authorities.
Following a meeting of local authorities from villages in the area of
the northeastern Slovak town of Medzilaborce, two municipalities issued
settlement bans on Roma and a Roma settlement in a neighbouring village
burned to the ground in unclear circumstances. The Roma affected had been
made homeless following the loss of accommodation related to their place
of employment in 1990, and have lived as forced nomads since.
According to articles appearing in the Slovene press, relations between
Roma and non-Roma have deteriorated considerably in recent weeks due to
vocal racist opposition by non-Roma to a series of local government decisions
aimed at the integration of Roma. In one incident, non-Roma in the town
of Malina prevented a Romani family from moving into a house in the village,
in acts described by locals as "defending the territory". In a similar
event, attempts by local authorities to legalise two of five local Roma
settlements met with open protest, with local non-Roma bearing signs with
slogans such as, "Roma get rights, workers get taxes!" The settlements
concerned presently lack running water and electricity. One area mayor,
Mr. Joze Tanko, told the Slovene daily Vecer that although there are many
locations where adequate housing possibilities exist for proper housing
for Roma, all efforts have been blocked because local authorities do not
want to fight "the will of the people" for the rights of Roma. Local Roma
reportedly now fear recrimination if they attempt to claim housing which
has been legitimately allocated to them. The ERRC is also monitoring cases
in which Roma are ghettoised or face community expulsion in the towns of
Brezice, Krlko, Mala Gora, Ribnica and Semic.
Roma in the OSCE region came to the forefront of
the international imagination this Summer when Roma began attempting to
flee Eastern Europe and find refuge in first Canada and then Britain and
In response to the arrival of several hundred Roma in Britain, articles
in such otherwise respectable newspapers as the Independent began publishing
articles with racist headlines such as "Gypsies Invade Dover, Hoping for
a Handout". Recent reports from Britain indicate that a sped-up procedure
to handle what British Home Secretary Jack Straw called "abusive asylum
seekers" has been put into place, and there are allegations that government
officials are putting pressure on ferry companies not to accept Roma on
board to make the crossing.
Similarly unsettling reports have come from Canada; in response to the
"exodus", visa requirements were reimposed for Czech citizens on October
8. Border authorities additionally imposed a special delay only upon Czech
Roma, making them wait three weeks for initial interviews to allow checks
of potential applicants' criminal records. Passengers arriving in Canada
from Frankfurt, Germany report that they had their passports checked in
Toronto before they left the plane because, according to immigration officials,
Frankfurt was a possible departure point for Czech Roma and it was easier
to prevent them from entering the country if they were found before they
deplaned. Similar bureaucratic tricks have taken place against a background
of demonstrations in Canada featuring slogans such as "Hoot if you hate
Gypsies" and inflammatory articles in the national press.
In all societies in which they live, the position of Roma remains tenuous.
Recent events in Canada indicate that even in countries where gross violations
of the rights of Roma are not regularly documented, the potential for sudden
outbreaks of racist anti-Roma hysteria is never more than a media event
away. The ERRC welcomes efforts by the OSCE to address the issue at an
international level, as well as its efforts to hold member states accountable
to their obligations under international law.