UN Experts Call for Strong Government Response to Anti-Roma Violence in Europe
21 November 2008 – Two United Nations human rights experts today expressed grave concern over the recent rise in anti-Roma sentiment and violent incidents in several European countries, calling for a stronger response from governments.
“Effective action is required to stem the growing tide of hostility, anti-Roma sentiment and violence across Europe,” UN Independent Expert on minority issues Gay McDougall said in a statement.
“Where a hard core of extremism exists in society and is willing to perpetrate violence, the full force of the criminal justice system must be used to protect targeted populations.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, Githu Muigai, said such actions “reveal serious and deep-rooted problems of racism and discrimination against Roma at the heart of modern Europe that must be addressed in the most vigorous manner and through the rule of law.”
In the latest incident on 17 November, far-right supporters armed with stones and petrol bombs besieged a Roma community in the Czech town of Litvinov and were prevented from attacking the community only by a concerted police response.
“Extremists may feel they have licence for their attacks when the message they receive from government activities in other spheres is also that the Roma are a problem,” Ms. McDougall said.
“Governments must strongly condemn such actions. Moreover they must be committed to finding ways to create safe environments for all by carefully monitoring and strengthening their own anti-racism activities, through leadership and public education, by swiftly denouncing hate speech and prosecuting the racist and violent actions of others in society.”
Both experts consider the policies and actions of numerous States have been inadequate, at best, to resolve intolerable conditions of poverty, marginalization and exclusion experienced by the Roma. Policies such as fingerprinting Roma, abuse by police, and racist statements by senior public officials contribute to creating a climate in which societal discrimination and racism are sustained and enhanced.
The experts said the growing number of incidents requires both a national and Europe-wide response. “A strong message must be sent by the European Union and acted upon by Member States. It is unacceptable for any sector of society to be vilified, threatened and attacked,” Mr. Muigai said.
While welcoming the actions of the Czech authorities and police to protect the Roma community in the most recent incident, the experts noted that solutions must address the root causes of problems as well as their violent symptoms. International law, European directives and national policies must be strongly enforced by national governments and at the level of local government where “the message of anti-racism is simply not getting through,” Ms. McDougall said.