The victims of school segregation must speak out!

Last evening at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Legal Studies Department organized a debate on Roma school segregation. The CEU Rector and President Professor John Shattuck, a former US diplomat and a civil rights lawyer, delivered the opening speech. The panel moderated by Professor Uitz included Orsi Szendrey, Lilla Farkas and myself.

Rector Shattuck offered a brief description of the tools used by the Civil Rights Movement to overcome racial segregation in US making remarks and comparisons with the current situation of Roma in Europe. Orsi presented the policy developments in Hungary and the efforts until 2011 in promoting school desegregation through policy underlining that no predictions could be done regarding the results due to the new reforms introduced by the current government. Lilla talked about the issue of data protection and the lack of official data in arguing segregation cases in courts, showed the difference between US and European anti-discrimination law and practice and emphasized that the most important aspect of litigation is to impose a positive duty on the state to desegregate the education system. Lilla did not see the lack of a definition of segregation as an important impediment in promoting desegregation as segregation is covered by the Race Equality Directive and the challenge remains to define properly the Roma.

As the first speaker, I had to say few words about Ten Years After and then I presented my view on the challenges in arguing segregation cases before courts. In my view, the most important challenge is the lack of an internationally agreed definition of racial segregation which impedes application of law to particular cases. Judges as well as activists work will be eased by such a definition. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in spite of the efforts to unify the European legal standards as regards discrimination (European Convention of Human Rights, Race Equality Directive and soft laws) does not bring clarity to the issue. Is segregation of direct or indirect form of discrimination? What is the most effective way to argue? In my opinion segregation is a special form of discrimination and should be specifically defined (like harassment, victimization or incitement to discriminate) as it could be both direct and indirect discrimination. What standards should be applied when deciding such cases? Again, ECtHR jurisprudence is ambiguous as the standards applied in different cases are inconsistent. The provisions of the international law as regards parental choice and best interest of the child is another source of ambiguity in understanding the litigation in segregation cases. The remedies provided to the victims of segregation are rather symbolic and thus, litigation failed to bring justice to the victims.

One question raised during the debate was if there is any chance that the ECtHR would regard segregation as an inhuman and degrading treatment. Lilla was more skeptical than Rector Shattuck and I was. I indicated that there is such a possibility but additional studies have to be conducted so cases could be argued also on the bases of sufferings of the victims. Rector Shattuck reminded us that in US, in the Brown case, the US Supreme Court took into consideration such studies when it ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed” in Brown II. He supported the idea to conduct such research and to make the voice of the victims heard.

As a follow up to the debate, today I found out about the open letter of Roma children addressed to the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and to the Education Minister calling for equal access to education for all.  I believe their voice must be heard as they are the ones to talk about their feelings and sufferings in segregated education. By exposing their thoughts and experiences to the public, they will make others understand that segregation inflicts a trauma on the victims that dehumanizes people and that such practices are unacceptable in a democratic society.

Below is the open letter…

Open letter to the Prime Minister and Education Minister

STOP the indirect discrimination of Romani children in the Czech schools! Let’s make equal access to education real

Dear Mr Prime Minister, Dear Mr Minister,

As civically active young members of the Romani national minority living in the Czech Republic, we would like to express our support for inclusive education and the necessary measures which the Government of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of the Czech Republic should adopt to ensure equal access to education for all citizens in this country. Here we are primarily referring to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Czech Republic, Article 22 (1), section IV, where it says everyone has the right to education, and the Education Code, Section 2, which sets forth the aims and principles of education, i.e., equal access to education and consideration for the educational needs of the individual.

The Anti-Discrimination Act of the Czech Republic, adopted in 2009, defines the right to equal treatment and the prohibition on discrimination in access to education and its provision in Section 1 (i), first part. Many international treaties also declare the right to equal access to education:  The Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 28), the Additional Protocol to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (Article 2), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 13). The Czech Republic is also a party to the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes the right to education and access to professional and other education in Article 14, section II.

The Czech Republic was condemned in 2007 by the European Court of Human Rights for its indirect discrimination of Romani children in education through their incorrect placement into what were once called “special schools”. Five years have passed since that judgment and the existing Czech legal order continues to involve the inappropriate distribution of pupils into several categories. Assigning a pupil with special educational needs into a particularly legislated category of disability is a significant determinant of his or her future educational career and restricts his or her equal opportunity.

Currently Romani children continue to be disproportionately enrolled into ‘practical primary schools’ educating pupils according to the primary education program’s appendix for pupils with light mental disability. One proof of this is the thematic report entitled “Process of transforming the former special schools in the 2011/2012 academic year – Czech School Inspectorate” (Postup transformace bývalých zvláštních škol České školní inspekce za rok 2011/2012), which found that 26.4 % of Romani pupils are educated according to such an educational program,  a disproportionate number considering that the Romani minority constitutes only 2 % of the entire population in the Czech Republic.

As young citizens of this country, we want the state to prosper. According to research by the World Bank, better-educated Romani people can expect to make 110 % more money than their less-educated counterparts and thereby contribute more to the state. Joost de Laat, a World Bank economist who studies human development in Europe and Central Asia, presented the study to the International Steering Committee of the Decade of Roma Inclusion in Prague and said the following: “If Romani people of productive age (16-64) enjoyed equal opportunity in access to work and to salaries equivalent to those of their non-Romani counterparts, the country would have billions of euros more annually in its budget. If this were to occur in all of the countries of Central Europe and the Balkans, equal opportunity on the labor market would general a total of EUR 10 billion annually.”

Let us therefore make it possible for the Romani people living in this country to become equal citizens on the labor market. The Government and the relevant bodies of the Czech Republic should ensure equal access to education in mainstream elementary schools for all.

With respect,

David Tišer, member of the Crisis Committee

Crisis Committee open letter translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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One Response to “The victims of school segregation must speak out!”

  1. peter Says:

    Segregation ALWAYS leads to degradation.

    Whether THEY admit it or not!

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