Council of Europe critical of Slovenia from moving Romany family


The story of a Romany family expelled from the central Slovenian town of Ambrus has had media attention around the world. It also prompted a visit by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg.

After the Slovenian government got involved in a small-town dispute and temporarily moved a family of Roma out of the town of Ambrus and to the city of Postojna, ministers found themselves facing a great deal of criticism from groups such as Amnesty International and the country's Human Rights Ombudsman Matjaz Hanzek. And when Mr. Hanzek reported the case to the Council of Europe, the government lashed back, saying that he had "denigrated Slovenia's name."

This prompted a visit to the country by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, who was quick to defend Slovenia's ombudsman:

"The independence and integrity of the ombudsman's office is absolutely essential. The ombudsman is mentioned in the constitution. Every politician should accept that he or she sometimes acts critically against authorities. And if he's criticized for informing me or being in contact with me I must react. That is not fair, and it is destructive. I do cooperate with ombudsmen all over Europe and is to our mutual benefit because we learn from one another and we can transfer ideas from one country to the next. So I hope that it will not happen again."

Hammarberg held meetings with top Slovenian officials, including Education Minister Milan Zver, who heads the government commission for the Roma. He also visited with the Roma family at the center of the controversy and other officials. Despite declaring his respect for the government's "serious and sincere efforts", he nevertheless voiced strong criticism of the affair:

"I find it unacceptable that the whole family, including innocent children, have to move away out of fear for their lives and physical security. It has been said that the did move voluntarily, but they were so afraid, and they were under threats. It wasn't, in reality, a voluntary move. This cannot happen, because it might spread to other cities or villages in the country as well. We have to stop that. They have the right to choose where to live. They have the right to freedom of movement. They have the right, in this case, to move back and they have the right to have protection from physical threats in the future."

He reminded officials that Slovenia was a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and appealed for disputes to be turned over to the police:

"If anyone has any complaint about any individual member of the family, they have to deal with that by going to the police and the process will start. But for God's sake, don't make children victims of such sentiments."