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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 4 to 8 October 2010

Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly debate on the recent rise in national security discourse in Europe: the case of Roma

Strasbourg, 7 October 2010

Mr President, members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

I should like to thank you for the opportunity to participate in a very important and very timely debate. I should also like to congratulate the Rapporteur for the report, Anne Brasseur, and the rapporteurs on the two opinions, for providing such a substantial basis for this debate on a subject which goes to the very core of the Council of Europe’s mandate.

Allow me to say a few words about the Secretary General’s initiative to hold a High Level Meeting on Roma on 20 October in Strasbourg.

Although the situation of Roma varies significantly from country to country, recent events have again demonstrated that the challenges we face have cross-border implications and therefore require a pan-European response. The Roma issue is not and should not be somebody else’s problem.

Yet the ultimate responsibility for a successful social and economic inclusion lies with the governments and with local authorities. The role of international organisations should therefore concentrate on supporting, facilitating and assisting the efforts carried out at national, regional and especially local level.

The High Level Meeting is based on two key considerations. First, that the way to overcome the challenges is through social and economic inclusion. And second, that there cannot be any genuine and meaningful inclusion without a full protection of human rights.

We expect the meeting to adopt clear principles and identify key priorities for our future action, at all levels.

To conclude, I should like to add something I feel personally very strongly about, because I believe it is a crucial issue. When Roma and Travellers issues are being discussed, reference is often made to the relationship between rights and responsibilities. This is a delicate subject. On the one hand, human rights are absolute; they do not need to be deserved. On the other hand, we all – Roma and non Roma - have responsibilities. This is an integral part of being a citizen.

I hope that the High Level Meeting will be able to reconcile these two notions. The task of governments cannot stop at merely expecting that these responsibilities are met, or sanctioning when they are not. A government, first and foremost, has the positive obligation to create the conditions in which these responsibilities can be meaningfully exercised. Let me give you an example. We all agree that it is the duty of all parents to send their children to school. But as parents, we should ask ourselves how we would feel if our child was put in a class for children with special needs without any objective justification? How would we feel if the presence of our child in the classroom would prompt other parents to move their children to another school? How would we feel if, as it happened only this week in one of our member states, the minibus used to take our child to school was set on fire?

These are the things, I believe, we all should think about before making any final judgment on the rights and on the responsibilities of people living among us.