The Decade of Roma Inclusion: Addressing Racial Discrimination through Development

By Kirova, Iskra | UN Chronicle, September 2007 | Go to article overview

The Decade of Roma Inclusion: Addressing Racial Discrimination through Development


Kirova, Iskra, UN Chronicle


The Decade of Roma Inclusion is an unprecedented pan-European initiative that channels the efforts of Governments, as well as inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, to eradicate racial discrimination and bring about tangible improvement to the plight of the world's most populous marginalized community. The Decade, which runs from 2005 to 2015, is expected to present a long-term holistic approach to the situation of the Roma (1). The initiative is a prime example of how the creation of human development opportunities can help end racial discrimination. It aims to maximize resources for improving the general economic and social position of the Roma while addressing the racial stereotypes and discrimination they face. The ultimate goal of the Decade is to integrate the Roma as full members of society, enjoying the same opportunities as the majority populations.

The initiative was launched on 2 February 2005 in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Prime Ministers of the participating Governments--Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia--signed the Decade Declaration, with the commitment to "work toward eliminating discrimination and closing the unacceptable gaps between Roma and the rest of society". (2) The founding international partner organizations include the World Bank, the Open Society Institute (OSI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and various Roma organizations. The Decade also benefits from the support of the European Commission, which is a member of the International Steering Committee (ISC).

The Decade grew out of a high-level regional conference--"Roma in an Expanding Europe: Challenges for the Future"--hosted by Hungary in 2003. The Roma collectively constitute one of the largest ethnic minority groups within Europe and represent the largest minority within the enlarged European Union (EU). Experts estimate that between 6.8 million and 8.7 million Roma live in the entire continent today, with nearly 68 per cent of them in the new EU member and candidate States of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. (3) Although they have inhabited these lands for a millennium now, Roma communities continue to face racial discrimination and widespread exclusion on a daily basis. A 2004 European Commission report on their situation placed the treatment of Roma among the most pressing political, social and human rights issues facing Europe. (4)

The socio-economic insecurity and political instability in most countries with large Roma populations have contributed to the marginalization of minorities and thus had an adverse impact on Roma communities. Cultural differences have further led to prejudice against them. The anti-discrimination legal frameworks within the United Nations and the European Union, as well as the strict accession requirements for EU applicant countries--the so-called Copenhagen Criteria demanding, among others, respect and protection of the rights of minorities--have yet to bring tangible results in addressing the marginalization and discrimination of Roma communities. Today, most Roma remain social outcasts within their societies. They live in segregated neighbourhoods, attend segregated schools or classrooms and are the subject of frequent racial profiling by police. (5) In a recent UNDP report, the Roma were described as Europe's most vulnerable group in terms of poverty or the risk of falling into poverty due to lack of educational and employment opportunities, inadequate personal (physical) security, poor housing and poor access to health care. (6) Mutually reinforcing discrimination and failure of development in these sectors form a downward spiral, causing the widespread exclusion of the Roma.

The international legal framework is rich in provisions, strictly prohibiting all forms of direct or indirect racial discrimination. …

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