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Europe rights court rules Croatia schools discriminated against Roma

[JURIST] The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment; press release] Tuesday that the practice of segregating Roma [JURIST news archive] minority primary school students in Croatia from other pupils is discriminatory. The court declared the practice to be in contravention of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which prohibits discrimination, and of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, which guarantees the right to an education. The court also found that the plaintiffs, 15 Roma citizens of Croatia, were deprived of their right to a fair trial within a reasonable amount of time, pursuant to Article 6 of the convention. The plaintiffs attended schools in northern Croatia between 1996 and 2000 and reported that they were segregated from other students and taught an inferior curriculum, suffering emotional and psychological harm as a result. Croatia's government countered that the Roma students were put in special classes because they lacked adequate command of the Croatian language. Tuesday's decision differs sharply from the ECHR's unanimous July 2008 decision [text] in this case, which found no violation.

Prior to this decision, the ECHR found segregated classes for Roma to be discriminatory in two other cases: DH and Others v. the Czech Republic [judgment] and Sampanis v. Greece [judgment, in French]. However, discrimination against Roma in schools remains widespread [press release] throughout Europe, according to the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) [advocacy website]. Roma have also faced inequitable treatment in other spheres. The US State Department's 2009 human rights report [JURIST report] noted an increase in the killings of Roma people in Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic [JURIST news archives]. In February of last year, Italian authorities dismantled illegal immigrant camps [JURIST report] heavily populated by members of the Roma minority following the alleged rape of a 14-year old girl by East European immigrants, which led to public outcry and vigilante reprisals. In 2008, then-secretary general of the Council of Europe Terry Davis called on officials to end discrimination [JURIST report] against Europe's Roma minority, after a confrontation between Czech police and far-right protesters attempting to attack a Roma suburb near the town of Litvinov.

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