WARSAW, 21 June 2011 – Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said more must to be done to end the persisting segregation and discrimination of Roma children in the Czech school system following the release of a United Nations report today.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its concluding observations on the human rights situation of children in the Czech Republic, expressed concern about the continued serious and widespread discrimination against Roma children, and their “systemic and unlawful” segregation from mainstream education.
“We strongly encourage the Czech authorities to live up to their international commitments and step up efforts to integrate Roma schoolchildren into mainstream education,” Lenarčič said.
The practice of segregating Roma children in separate schools or classes intended for children with mental disabilities based on their ethnicity is not only discriminatory but in effect ruins prospects for their successful integration into mainstream society, he stressed.
Lenarčič welcomed the adoption in 2010 of a National Action Plan on Inclusive Education in the Czech Republic, but expressed concern over the lack of concrete timelines for the desegregation of Czech schools.
“Ensuring equal access of children to quality education is fundamental for the integration of Roma and Sinti. It is therefore in the best interest of the Czech Republic to desegregate schools without delay and not waste another school year,” he added.
The European Court of Human Rights found in 2007 that the segregation of Roma schoolchildren in special schools constituted a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the Czech Republic to end the practice.
As a participating State of the OSCE, the Czech Republic has committed itself to integrating Roma and Sinti into mainstream education, to ensuring that national legislation includes adequate provisions banning racial segregation and discrimination in education systems, and to developing and implementing comprehensive school desegregation programmes.
Lenarčič also expressed concern about widespread anti-Roma rhetoric from public figures at the national and local levels in the Czech Republic, and numerous recent incidents involving extremist groups intimidating and harassing Roma communities. He stressed that such manifestations of intolerance contribute to a hostile environment and have a negative impact on integration efforts.
ODIHR hosts the OSCE’s Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues and assists participating States in implementing the 2003 Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.