“The time for action is now,” said a group of seven United Nations human rights experts on International Roma Day*. “We should not accept yet another lost generation of Roma girls and boys whose only expectations are lives of poverty, discrimination and exclusion and whose futures are dictated by negative stereotypes which commonly go unchallenged.”
“It is hard for Roma to shake off those negative labels and for wider society to see beyond them,” said the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, as she called on States to intensify their efforts and “identify, share and put into practice what is known to be working for the inclusion and integration of Roma communities.”
Estimates suggest that up to 12 million Roma live in Europe, and other sizeable populations live in Latin America, most of them at the margins of society.
“Effective practices are being employed on the ground every day but must be enhanced and replicated elsewhere,” Ms. Izsák said. “These include inclusive educational methodologies, the hiring of Roma mediators, concentrated investments in the most disadvantaged regions in which Roma often live, training and employment initiatives, and resources allocated for the promotion of Roma culture and media, just to mention a few.”
For the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere, “racism, historical mistrust and persistent prejudices keep Roma and non-Roma communities apart and deepen the gap between them.”
“In these times of financial crisis, Roma are at risk of being made scapegoats for the difficulties in society. We need to prevent and confront racist behaviour that can result in violence against Roma. Legislation against hate speech and hate crimes is important to prevent and tackle the spread of hateful messages, including those on the internet, and to enable prosecution of the perpetrators,” he added.
UN Special Rapporteur on education, Kishore Singh, emphasized that “education can break the cycle of Roma exclusion, yet Roma children are frequently in segregated and poor quality schools, and failing in education compared to others.”
“How do we get every Roma child into a quality school where they are integrated and in a positive learning environment?” asked Mr. Singh. “Successful experiences exist, but to date they only scratch the surface of this long-standing problem and must be more widely understood and implemented with necessary pedagogic and financial support.”
“Roma life expectancy is often lower for Roma by ten years or more,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover. “We must challenge the status quo and ask what needs to be done to tackle discrimination and ensure better realization of Roma’s right to health. We should improve Roma access to health services and essential health information.”
“In some localities, Roma health mediators are successfully working to build bridges between communities, local authorities and health services. Such good examples should be applied in many other places,” stated Mr. Grover.
In the fields of extreme poverty, adequate housing, water and sanitation, the UN Special Rapporteurs, Magdalena Sepúlveda, Raquel Rolnik, and Catarina de Albuquerque expressed their concerns that Roma frequently live in poverty in the worst housing conditions, often under permanent threat of eviction, and with no access to, or inadequate, water and sanitation — an environment that is detrimental to their health and opportunities.
“Recognition and legalization of established Roma housing and settlements and investments in infrastructure and services are essential but often lacking, while many communities face neglect and hostility from authorities,” the experts said.
The seven UN independent experts called for implementation of effective policies and programmes to protect and promote Roma rights in all countries with Roma populations. “Renewed commitment, targeted action and adequate resources should be devoted to resolving the long-standing problems, discrimination and exclusion faced by Roma communities,” they stressed.
“We urge Roma, governments and others to provide examples of policies, practices and programmes that have been demonstrated to work effectively to improve the lives of Roma as well as positive initiatives to improve inter-community relations,” they said in advance of International Roma Day. The experts encouraged governments to build stronger and positive relations with Roma communities and NGOs, and to consult fully with them when shaping sustainable solutions to the problems faced by Roma communities.