Strasbourg court begins appeal in case of Roma children sent to special schools

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has begun hearing an appeal in the case of 18 Romany children from Ostrava, whose parents claim their placing in special schools for the mentally retarded amounted to discrimination. Such schools have since been renamed in the Czech Republic, but the problem remains; most Romany children generally receive a sub-standard education. Last year the Court ruled against the applicants; this appeal is the families' last chance. David Strupek is the lawyer representing the 18 families, and earlier he spoke to Radio Prague by telephone.

David Strupek
"The applicants are not of course in a position to prove that there was some racist intention in the head of the psychologists or director of the school who were deciding in the case. But we are claiming that the mere statistical results that show that there is such an overwhelming over-representation of Roma children in special schools - or rather there was at the time in question - is sufficient proof of inferior differential treatment, and that it's up to the government to explain why the system works in a way that it results in such an overwhelming over-representation. It practically means that more than 50 percent of Roma children are mentally deficient, which is a conclusion that cannot be accepted."

How has the placing of these 18 children in special schools affected their lives and their education?

"Of course it has affected their lives, because when they finished special schools, the level of their education was some two or three years behind the normal standard. Those children are practically condemned to the lowest level of training and practically condemned to unemployment."

What would you and the claimants like to see come out of this case if you win?

"The Court itself can only declare that there was a violation of the Convention [on human rights] and it can award the applicants with some amount of compensation, which of course would be problematic in this case because the application is based on the claims regarding the functioning of the whole system. It would be very problematic to determine what the situation would have been if these particular children had not been transferred. So it would be very hard to numerate any real damage. But the decision of the European Court of Human Rights is binding, and the Council of Europe is monitoring how the member states follow the conclusions of the court."

When do you expect the Grand Chamber to rule on your appeal?

"It could be very hard to estimate. The case is complex, and the complex written judgment has to be elaborated. I'm afraid there are still months ahead of us until we will know the decision."