Czech human rights groups say no action taken to end schools discrimination against Roma three years after landmark ruling

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The Czech Republic has been accused by a number of non-governmental human rights watchdogs and education groups of taking no steps to stop discrimination against Romany children in schools, in spite of a landmark European decision that discrimination was built into the country’s education system. They say promises to take action have gone unfulfilled and they are now threatening to bring the country to book again.

It’s almost three years to the day since the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg gave a landmark ruling on November 13, 2007. The ruling upheld a complaint from 18 families that Roma children were systematically discriminated against in the Czech schools system when they were overwhelmingly sent to so-called special school for the mentally handicapped although there was nothing fundamentally wrong with them. The judgement from Europe’s highest human rights court followed an eight year legal fight by the families.

On Tuesday, 15 Czech non-government groups, loosely united in the ‘Together to School’ organisation, delivered their own damning indictment of Czech government action since the Strasbourg court decision. Stanislav Daniel is a representative of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre which helped bring the original court case.

“We see no evidence that the situation for Romany children in the Czech education system has changed. And the only development we are seeing quite clearly is that currently it is not only non-governmental organisations that are criticising the government but also the Czech school inspectorate, for example, and defender of public rights, the ombudsman, who are confirming that there is discrimination against Romany children in the Czech education system.”

Stanislav Daniel
Mr. Daniel says the old special schools have been re-named basic practical schools but the results are still the same. They are still earmarked for mentally handicapped children with Roma children disproportionately represented. Whereas 2.0 percent of mainstream Czech children are likely to end up in such schools the proportion rises to 30 percent for the Czech Republic’s Roma minority.

Over the last three years, he says politicians have been keen to make promises about meeting the non-segregation demands of the court and programmes to pave the way for all inclusive education have been drawn up. The problem is that the promises are quickly forgotten and programme shelved.

“In June 2010, the then prime minister in waiting said he definitely did not want Romany children to automatically end up in special schools or to be segregated and that this definitely would become part of the programme declaration of the government. But this did not happen. There are many such statements that we welcome but unfortunately most often what we see in the end is that there is no progress, no openness. The proposals are just taken out off the agenda without any justification and without any reasoning.”

With the current centre-right government embarking on public spending cuts, the human rights groups say there is a risk that even the basic steps taken in schools to help the most disadvantaged children, such as extra assistants, will be discontinued. The angry NGOs also say the Ministry of Education wants to freeze any practical programme aimed at addressing Roma discrimination until 2013 or 2014.

In the face of such inaction, the Czech groups are lobbying other European governments to highlight the Czech failure to act following the Strasbourg court decision three years ago. And they say they are weighing up whether to get the gloves off and launch new legal complaints of discrimination to put the European spotlight firmly on the country once again.