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International Roma Day

08 April 2019

States must act to end discrimination and racist rhetoric against Roma, says UN rights expert

GENEVA (8 April 2019) – States must live up to their human rights commitments and take comprehensive anti-racist measures to respond to the rise of intolerance, hate speech and attacks against Roma and other minorities, says a UN expert. The appeal on International Roma Day is being made by the UN Special Rapporteur on minorities, Fernand de Varennes, who says immediate action is needed to combat inflammatory racist rhetoric:

“International Roma Day is an opportunity to challenge States to live up to their international human rights obligations, to implement comprehensive anti-discrimination measures and to undertake legislative and policy initiatives to protect and promote the human rights of Roma minorities, their identity and culture. These must include efforts to strengthen public knowledge about the Romani history and the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.

This commemoration is not only about celebrating Roma culture. It is also about highlighting the still-too-common barriers of prejudice and discrimination that they face too often in all areas of life. There is a need for more action to combat hate speech, intolerance and racially motivated-violence against them.

The Roma people, who are Europe’s largest minority, have a rich history and have made considerable contributions to society. Their artistic and cultural heritage is all too often ignored or unnoticed.

Action must be taken to ensure that conditions are created to ensure they become full members of society whose human rights are fully respected.  Such measures would maximise their participation in society and chances of success, and represent an important step on the path to helping Roma people achieve a better, brighter future.

Strong commitment and resolute action are also needed to effectively combat inflammatory and racist rhetoric and practices that dehumanise, demonise and discriminate against Roma, including in the media, and to ensure equal access to justice and effective remedies.

Recent reported cases of intimidation, aggression and physical violence against Roma people in Europe, and the apparent rise in the number of incidents in recent years, particularly involving social media, are extremely worrying.

I note with grave concern how deeply entrenched social perceptions, bigotry and stereotypes about Roma minorities are used as a means to stir up hatred, leading to the perpetration of heinous acts against them.

Many factors are contributing to a breeding ground for expressions of hatred, exclusion, scapegoating and acts of violence against Roma minorities around the world. These include structural and institutional discrimination, coupled with changing economic and political environments, the exacerbation of socio-economic inequalities and rising populism.

Governments have a special responsibility to ensure that minority communities such as the Roma have the opportunities and respect they need to succeed as productive and responsible members of society.

Engaging with Roma communities and Roma minority organisations and ensuring their meaningful and effective participation in all areas, including in decision-making bodies, should remain a key priority for States worldwide, as part of their commitment to fully implementing the 1992 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.”


Mr. Fernand de Varennes (Canada), was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council with promoting the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things. He is Extraordinary Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Pretoria in South Africa; Cheng Yu Tung Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong; and Visiting Professor at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland-Galway. He is one of the world’s leading experts on minority rights in international law, with more than 200 publications in some 30 languages.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Mr. Damianos Serefidis (+41 22 917 9488 / [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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