Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 10:50 GMT

Governments urged to end segregation of Roma in schools after the European Court rules against Hungary

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 30 January 2013
Cite as Amnesty International, Governments urged to end segregation of Roma in schools after the European Court rules against Hungary, 30 January 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/510ba1e42.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

European governments must end segregation and discrimination against Romani children in schools, Amnesty International said today after two Roma men won a case against Hungary in the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) over their education at a special school.

The Court ruled on Tuesday that Hungary had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by segregating Romani children in a special school. The judgment brought to an end a legal struggle that began in 2006. The applicants in the case were represented by the Hungarian organization Chance for Children Foundation and the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre,

"You'd hope educating children in special schools simply because of their ethnicity would be unthinkable in Europe in 2013," said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International's Regional Campaign Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia.

"But the reality is it does happen all too often and this is yet another example of that. Special education is a dead-end for Romani children. Governments must stand up and take notice because as long as parallel education based on race systems exist, Romani children are denied opportunities.

"All children, including Roma children, must be able to enjoy quality education in inclusive mainstream schools with all the necessary support they need."

In the case of Horváth and Kiss v Hungary the European Court of Human Rights found that both men had been wrongly placed in a school designed for pupils with "mental disabilities".

The Court said the men were "isolated from pupils, from the wider population", and that the education they received "compounded their difficulties and compromised their subsequent personal development instead of helping them to integrate into the ordinary schools and develop the skills that would facilitate life among the majority population".

The Court noted that Roma children had been over-represented in the past in special schools due to the systematic misdiagnosis of mental disability as a result of the use of outdated and culturally-biased tests.

It also highlighted Hungary's "specific positive obligations to avoid the perpetuation of past discrimination or discriminative practices disguised in allegedly neutral tests" and the need for Hungary to change this practice.

The Court noted that the misplacement of Roma children in special schools has a long history across Europe and shared "the disquiet of the other Council of Europe institutions which have expressed concerns about the more basic curriculum followed in these schools and, in particular, the segregation which the system causes".

A series of judgments across Europe by regional and domestic courts – against the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia and Slovakia, among others - point to need for urgent action.

In December 2012 in the case of Sampanis and Others v. Greece the Court found that the Greek authorities' failure to integrate Romani children in Psarri area of Aspropyrgos into ordinary education amounted to discrimination.

The ruling was the second time that the Court had condemned Greece for segregating Romani children in primary education in Aspropyrgos. The first judgment in a the case of Sampanis and Others v. Greece was made in 2008. 

In the Czech Republic, the 2007 judgement in the case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic has yet to be effectively implemented by the government five years on.

As a result Romani pupils in the Czech Republic can still all too easily be placed in "practical" schools and classes for children with "mild mental disabilities", which offer lower quality education, while thousands other Romani children remain effectively segregated in Roma-only mainstream schools and classes.

"School segregation is the result of widespread prejudice and historic discrimination; this educational apartheid not only has a disastrous effect on Romani children's future – but also fuels back into a cycle of racism and intolerance against Roma. It is bad for all society," added Fotis Filippou.

"European governments are warned once again – there is no more time to waste; it's now time to stop condemning thousands of Romani children into a life of poverty, marginalization and exclusion."

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