Roma and travellers

Making Human Rights for Roma a reality: promoting social integration and respect for human rights

Roma and travellers

During 2010, the European public saw for the first time the reality of life for Roma as television bulletins showed families awaiting expulsion from Western Europe back to their countries of origin. A community that had been invisible were suddenly in the public eye, with the reality of their condition plain for all to see.

Some 10 - 12 million Roma people are estimated to live in Europe, present in each country. They are amongst the most deprived of all communities, facing daily discrimination and racial insults, living in extreme poverty and exclusion from the normal life that other people take for granted – going to school, seeing the doctor, applying for a job or having decent housing. Past efforts to help them have not brought the hoped-for results, and although laws do exist in Europe, they all too often fail to make an impact on the daily lives of Roma families.

The events of 2010 prompted Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland to propose a fresh approach, calling together all those involved – governments, the European Union and the Roma themselves - in a High Level Meeting. It resulted in a joint pledge to cooperate on Roma issues and practical, easy to implement schemes which involve Roma communities in building a better future.

From 2011, a dedicated team is at work in the Council of Europe. Led by Jeroen Schokkenbroek, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues, it acts as a hub that brings together the different projects being undertaken following the high level meeting.

2012 International Roma Day

Congress President calls for constant dialogue at the grassroots level to avoid discrimination and marginalisation

In view of International Roma Day on 8 April that brings attention to challenges Roma people continue to face in Europe, Keith Whitmore, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, underlined the role of territorial self-government bodies for the implementation of inclusive and socially responsible Roma policies:

“Since in many Council of Europe countries, the local and regional authorities are in charge of housing, social care and educational establishments, local politicians do have a specific responsibility in this respect. Through constant dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, it should be possible to achieve pragmatic solutions to provide Roma people equal access to housing, healthcare, education and jobs. At the same time, the readiness to engage in dialogue is fundamental to fight discrimination and marginalisation and to build bridges across different parts of our society. Together with our partners, the Congress is currently establishing a new network for Roma inclusion at the grassroots level, which was conceived at last year’s European Summit of Mayors in Strasbourg and will be launched in September”, Mr Whitmore concluded.

Web Content Display

Cases at the Court of Human Rights  Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner
  • Orsus v. Croatia (2010): the Court stated “as a result of their history, the Roma have become a specific type of disadvantaged group and vulnerable minority...They therefore require special protection…special consideration should be given to their needs and their different lifestyle”.
  • Muñoz Díaz  v. Spain (2009): The case focused on a Roma widow’s pension rights, refused by the authorities as her marriage had taken place according to Roma customs and traditions.
  • DH and others v. the Czech Republic (2007): Schoolchildren of Roma origin won a case based on the fact that they were placed without justification in special schools intended for pupils with learning disabilities, and thus received inferior primary education that robbed them of the chance to continue their studies at secondary or vocational level.
  • Moldovan and others v. Romania (2005): The case concerned an attack on Roma residents of a village in 1993, in which three Roma men were killed and 13 Roma houses destroyed.

Since he took up his function, Thomas Hammarberg has always had a particular attention to the situation of the Roma. Through his visits to member States, he has reported anti-Gypsysim resulting in institutional discrimination, hate speech and social exclusion which hinder a sound integration of the Roma in society. He has also proposed concrete steps to foster inclusion and mutual understanding, such as the promotion of Roma history, an increased representation of Roma in public institutions and the provision of identity papers to the tens of thousand Roma who are still stateless today in Europe.

Protection of Roma social rights

Roma rights are protected by the European Social Charter which covers 43 of the Council’s 47 member countries. These include housing, health, education, employment, social and legal protection and non discrimination, and extend to people who are not in a regular working situation, or do not have papers, which includes many of the Roma.

Fighting racism against the Roma Safeguarding culture of the Roma
Roma rights are a major theme for the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) which reviews their living situation in its regular country visits. Not only does the Commission guard against discrimination, it encourages governments to involve the Roma in decision-making and to fully integrate them into education and working life.  


Web Content Display

ECRI: New policy guidelines on combatting anti-gypsyism

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) launched new policy guidelines on combatting anti-gypsyism. A briefing on the guidelines and an update on Council of Europe work with the Roma took place on 19 September at the Council of Europe Office in Brussels.

Web Content Display

Summit of Mayors on Roma - building mutual trust at the grassroots

As a response to the increasing discrimination against Roma in Europe and their social and economic marginalisation, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is organising a Summit of Mayors on Roma, in Strasbourg (France) on 22 September 2011.

Web Content Display

The Council of Europe and Roma - 40 years of action

New book: "The Council of Europe and Roma - 40 years of action", by Jean-Pierre Liégeois

After forty years of activities addressing Roma, the Council of Europe is intensifying its commitment in order to follow up and improve their situation and to involve their representatives in the drawing up of policies which concern them.

This body of work, a tool of knowledge and reflection, an instrument of reference and analysis, presents the adopted texts and actions taken by the Council of Europe, placing them in the historical context.

European Court of Human Rights

Definition of "Roma"

The term “Roma” used at the Council of Europe refers to Roma, Sinti, Kale and related groups in Europe, including Travellers and the Eastern groups (Dom and Lom), and covers the wide diversity of the groups concerned, including persons who identify themselves as “Gypsies”.