The Long Road: The Roma of Eastern and Central Europe and the Freedom of Movement and Right to Choose a Residence

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Originally from Northern India, the Roma have been present in Europe since the beginning of the fourteenth century.1 Also referred to as gypsies, persecution and hatred are dominant themes in this group's volatile history and anti-Roma sentiments continue to prevail throughout Eastern and Central Europe today. This Note discusses the barriers to the recognition and implementation of the Roma's rights to freedom of movement and choice of residence at the domestic, European, and international levels, and suggests strategies aimed at advocating and securing freedom of movement for the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe. A discussion of the history of the Roma and the problems they have faced in exercising freedom of movement will incorporate an introduction to the various instruments available for protecting such freedom. The effectiveness of those instruments and other efforts undertaken to secure freedom for the Roma will then be analyzed.

Finally, this Note proposes that the European human rights proponents hold the most potential for guaranteeing the freedom of movement to the Roma, offering a more direct enforcement system than the international human rights regime. The political pressure they and their organizations can exert upon non-compliant parties increases the chance that states will incorporate European human rights norms into their domestic systems.

International and regional human rights treaties are self-executing in most of the countries examined here, and are therefore incorporated into domestic law. Unfortunately, in practice, these treaties and any domestic laws securing the freedom of movement protect only citizens of the countries at issue. However, some Roma are not considered citizens or even legal aliens. Restrictive citizenship and naturalization requirements prevent a large number of Romani individuals from legally residing in a country and gaining the protection of its laws. Popular sentiment in most of Eastern and Central Europe supports the denial of citizenship for the Roma. The negative view of Romani culture is largely based on ancient stereotypes of the Roma as an unclean people who make a living from thievery.2 Without the proper papers the Roma cannot travel freely between countries nor can they try to claim citizenship or legal alien status in a particular country.

The Roma struggle to become a recognized minority group. Recognition would afford them some human rights protections, but the Roma do not fit the current definitions of "minority."3 The majority of Roma are stateless, thereby falling outside the scope of modern human rights regimes. They have no one to intervene for them at the international level. Roma rights activists urge the various human rights regimes at all levels to acknowledge the reality of the Romani situation, and strive for changes that will identify the Roma as a unique group entitled to the protections afforded others under various international treaties and domestic laws. The ability to move freely is essential to the Roma. For some, it is a part of their nomadic culture.4 For others, they must travel both within and between countries to escape persecution or to find jobs. The situation of the Roma transcends national boundaries and can best be addressed by a broad European human rights forum.

II. DISCUSSION

A. History of the Roma

The history of the oppression and exclusion of the Roma in Eastern and Central Europe dates back to the fourteenth century when they first arrived in Europe from India.5 Southeastern Europeans enslaved the Roma beginning in the 1350s; other European countries put Romani individuals to death or forbade them from entering the country.6 European rejection of the Roma forced them into a nomadic way of life, though only about a quarter continue to live as nomads today.7 Negative perceptions of the Roma continued into modern times, reaching their peak during the Nazi regime when they fell victim to Hitler's extermination program. …