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“Unity in diversity” – International Roma Day, 8 April 2013

GENEVA (8 April 2013) – “It is a positive development that the fate of Europe’s largest and most marginalized minority group, the Roma, is more and more on the international human rights agenda,” said today the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, on International Roma Day.

“However, political and legislative commitments must be implemented in reality to bring the so much needed changes into the lives of Roma,” she warned, while recalling that the UN Human Rights Council has made nearly 250 recommendations to almost 30 countries concerning the situation of Roma communities.

Estimates suggest that up to 12 million Roma live in Europe, and other sizeable populations live in Latin America, most of them at the margins of society. Roma people regardless of whether they are young or old, boys or girls, residing in urban or rural areas, in Europe or elsewhere have their daily struggles to enjoy their basic human rights:

Ferlando, 16, is receiving a personal identity document for the first time in his life this year, so that the authorities can prosecute him for theft. No effort was ever made to provide him with a personal identity document so that he might attend school.

Elena, 44, is one of 87 women who sent their complaints to their country’s ombudsman, reporting forced sterilization. She tirelessly continues raising awareness and maintains the movement she started by founding the Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. “I decided to come out with my story so that it doesn’t happen to other women, to our children, to our grandchildren.”

Sorina, 30, was fired from her job taking care of an elderly woman because her employers found out she is Romani. Sorina holds a Masters degree in Political Science, but has been unable to find work other than cleaning or taking care of the elderly in her host country.

Vesvije,45, and her five sons were deported back to their country of origin after 16 years. Her three youngest children were born in their host country, where they also attended school. Where the family home once stood in their home country, now only a few rocks are left. “We have nothing here. For us there is no future, no life.” They barely speak the local language.

Sava, 32, was refused to be hired as a driver in his community, because he is of Roma ethnicity. The mayor preferred to hire a non-Roma driver because, as he claimed “these are not potatoes to be transported but children.”

Dervana, 18, had her two-month old baby violently ripped from her arms by the police when she was reading the palms of by-passers.

István and András, 18 and 21, were placed in so-called special schools maintained for children with mental disabilities at age 10 and 12. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights found that they were discriminated against and isolated from mainstream education, hindering their prospects of higher education and employment.

Sevdija, 18, was abandoned by her parents and was, therefore, denied the right to obtain an ID card. This prevented her to register her newborn baby in the birth registry and benefit from health insurance.

Miguel (45) has been bullied after a local bank has published a warning notice which advised to "be careful with people who look like gypsies and read fortune, they can rob you".

Malin, 59, one of the candidates in local elections, went to remove a suspicious package left in front of the building of the country’s largest pro-Roma political party in 2012. A bomb exploded tearing off his arm. He died of his injuries a few days later

“These are a few real people we remember today. They live in this world, in countries like yours and mine, where they are subjected to the same kind of marginalisation,” the UN Independent Expert said. “We must not forget however the millions of other Roma who need our attention, commitment and efforts today so that they can enjoy all their basic human rights. We must go beyond words and take action.”

“Everyone of us can play a part and reach out to seek the views and visions of Roma people on how and what they want to see as a change in their societies,” Ms. Izsák stressed. “And then work together for that change, so that we can all live together in peace, dignity and truly achieve unity in diversity.”

Rita Izsák was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and took up her functions on 01 August 2011. As Independent Expert, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Under her UN mandate, the Independent Expert is required to promote implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2012. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx

(*) International Roma Day, a day dedicated to celebrating Romani culture and raising awareness of the issues facing Romani people, was declared in 1990 in Poland during the fourth World Romani Congress.

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Ms Kim Turcotte (+41 22 917 9697 / kturcotte@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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