4 October 2011 The United Nations human rights office today voiced deep concern about the anti-Roma demonstrations and accompanying hate speech that have been occurring in Bulgaria, and called on authorities to combat discrimination and protect minority groups.
The demonstrations began on 23 September, when an ethnic Bulgarian youth was run over and killed in the village of Katunitsa by a van reportedly belonging to a local Roma, said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The protests continued into this past weekend, spreading to some 14 towns across the country.
“We hope that if the driver of the van is culpable, he will be brought to justice in accordance with the law, and that through such a judicial process, the facts surrounding the young man’s death will be clearly established,” Rupert Colville, the OHCHR spokesperson in Geneva, told reporters.
“The hate speech that has been fuelling the anti-Roma protests in Bulgaria is of great concern,” he said, adding that it is unacceptable for an entire community to be targeted for an offence allegedly committed by an individual.
“We call on Bulgarian authorities at the highest political level to publicly restate this principle of individual criminal responsibility,” said Mr. Colville.
“The political leadership must take a strong stance against hate speech and ensure that police officers continue to be deployed in sufficient numbers to protect Roma neighbourhoods from threats of retribution and harassment,” he added.
According to OHCHR, anti-Roma demonstrations have also taken place recently in Hungary and the Czech Republic.
In all three countries, political parties with extreme nationalist views have reportedly “seized the opportunity to stoke up anti-Roma prejudice,” said Mr. Colville. “In such an atmosphere, inter-ethnic tensions rise, and Roma risk becoming scapegoats of broader dissatisfaction.”
OHCHR encouraged countries in Europe and the European Union to adopt and implement socially inclusive policies to end the long-standing discrimination against Roma communities, which face numerous challenges in realizing their economic, social and cultural rights.
In July the independent UN expert on minority issues called on Bulgaria to turn its policies on Roma integration into concrete action by dedicating the financial resources necessary to improve the living conditions of this group.
Gay McDougall found during her visit to Bulgaria that the Roma “experience discrimination in all walks of life that leaves them totally marginalized and in persistent poverty.”
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