24th Oct 2016

Roma ruling highlights segregation problem in Central Europe

The Strasbourg-based European human rights court has ruled against the Czech Republic in a case involving Roma students who had been placed in special schools, with possible implications for other central European countries accused of similar segregation practices.

In a verdict delivered on Tuesday (13 November), the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights confirmed Prague had violated the non-discrimination principles by sending 18 persons to special schools for pupils with learning difficulties due to their Roma origin.

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In the explanation of its decision - adopted by judges by 13 to 4 votes - the court said that "the Czech authorities had accepted that in 1999 Roma pupils made up between 80 percent and 90 percent of the total number of pupils in some special schools and that in 2004 'large numbers' of Roma children were still being placed in special schools."

It added that the statistical evidence "could be regarded as sufficiently reliable and significant to give rise to a strong presumption of indirect discrimination," as well as "concerns" over the segregation that the Czech system caused.

"In view of the fundamental importance of the prohibition of racial discrimination, the Grand Chamber considered that no waiver of the right not to be subjected to racial discrimination could be accepted, as it would be counter to an important public interest."

The judges asked the Czech Republic to pay each Roma applicant €4,000 for moral damage plus €10,000 jointly for eight-year-long court proceedings costs, while openly pointing out that Prague is not alone in showing "difficulties" with the problem among European countries.

NGOs welcomed the court's decision, pointing out that the practice of racial segregation in education is widespread in Central and Eastern Europe.

"The court has made clear that racial discrimination has no place in 21st century Europe," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

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