On International Day, UN rights expert urges greater inclusion for Roma

Roma asylum-seekers being housed in Schaerbeek, Belgium. Photo: UNHCR/E. de Grunne

8 April 2013 – European Member States must do more to ensure that Roma peoples receive the support necessary to fully enjoy all their basic human rights, an independent United Nations expert said today while acknowledging that States were already headed in the right direction on the issue.

“It is a positive development that the fate of Europe’s largest and most marginalized minority group, the Roma, is more and more on the international human rights agenda,” Rita Izsák, the UN expert on minority rights, said in a news release marking International Roma Day.

“However, political and legislative commitments must be implemented in reality to bring the so much needed changes into the lives of Roma,” she added.

In many cases, she said, serious abuses were suffered by Roma, whom the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has estimated number some 12 million Roma throughout Europe, with other sizeable populations residing in Latin America, often on the margins of society.

Ms. Izsák cited the example of a Roma woman named Elena who reported that she, along with 87 other women, had been subjected to a forced sterilization campaign by authorities. Others, such as 30 year old Sorina, are exposed to discrimination in the work place and face limited opportunities for employment.

“We must not forget the millions of other Roma who need our attention, commitment and efforts today so that they can enjoy all their basic human rights,” the UN expert continued, urging the international community to “go beyond words and take action.”

She acknowledged that a number of Governments have stepped up their efforts in addressing the pervasive human rights abuses and reached out to local Romani communities in an effort to provide them with better access to social benefits.

In Moldova, for instance, the Romani settlement of Schinoasa, housing almost 300 people, lacked access to drinking water, requiring the population to walk to a distant well providing water of poor quality.

In 2012, however, a pump station started providing a centralized water supply for villagers from Schinoasa in the framework of a joint project led by two UN programmes and the local administration, according to OHCHR.

“Every one of us can play a part and reach out to seek the views and visions of Roma people on how and what they want to see as a change in their societies,” Ms. Izsák stressed. “And then work together for that change, so that we can all live together in peace, dignity and truly achieve unity in diversity.”


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