Preventing Laws from Perpetuating Discrimination Against the Roma

By: Meghan Lovett

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.    

Minority rights are a hot topic in politics today, many groups are having their issues brought to light and are seeing progress towards equality, even if it might be in small movements. One minority group in particular seems to be getting more attention, the Roma (also referred to as Romani, Sinti, and Travelers.) The Roma refers to an “ethnic group of traditionally itinerant peoples” who live mainly in the West. This ethnic group has a long history of oppression and now there is a trend of activism pushing for their rights. However, the Roma still face significant hurdles to equality.

Most notable of Roma’s struggles would be the Porajmos, the Romani Genocide. This term encompasses Nazi Germany’s efforts for the ethnic cleansing of the Romani from Europe. It is estimated that up to 500,000 Roma were murdered between 1939 – 1945. After WWII, Germany began providing reparations to those who suffered under the Nazis, most notably to Jewish survivors. However, there was no recognition given at the Nuremberg trials or any other international conference that gave reparations to the Roma.

The Nazi’s hatred of the Roma was not unique to them. The Roma are known for their nomadic lifestyles.  This lifestyle gave them a mysterious persona to Medieval Europeans, and it is from this shroud of mystery that the hate began. They were looked down upon for the way they lived and were stereotyped as thieves. Unfortunately, this stereotype still follows them.

The Roma continue to face struggles today. Antiziganism is still prevalent around the world. In recent years, the alt-right and other extremist groups have advocated for the exclusion of the Roma from society. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new wave of anti-Roma discrimination, under the guise of protecting other communities. For instance, a Bulgarian member of the European parliament “speculated that Romani “ghettos [could] turn out to be the real nests of contagion.””

The discrimination they face today is not formally allowed within the law, rather it tends to be hidden in plain sight. For example, the UK’s  ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ of 2019, amended “police powers and [changed] how the police are supported to do their [jobs]”.  Specifically, Part 4 of clauses 61 to 63 allows police to order people who live in “unauthorized encampments” to leave their homes. This law would allow the government to displace Roma and Travelers of the UK, who often live in caravans. Within the bill there is guidance cited to explaining that the police must consider human rights when forcing people to leave their homes and mentions the Roma directly.  The inclusion of this guidance proves that even in the creation of the bill there were concerns that police will overstep their boundaries and discriminate against Roma and Traveler communities. Police brutality is a large problem facing the Roma and laws like this allow it to continue. Advocating against bills like this, that broaden the police’s power, will help reduce the number of police brutality incidents. In 2010, the Council of Europe published “Human Rights of Roma and Travelers in Europe”, which addressed some of the other larger issues facing the Roma and provides methods to fix them. This shows evidence that modern efforts to reduce discrimination and increase equality for the Roma exist, but countries still need to make a conscious effort to combat these issues through policies that encourage inclusion, not by increasing police powers that allow minorities to be displaced.

As members of the public the best thing we can do is educate ourselves on the issues the Roma face today and encourage lawmakers to be proactive in encouraging integration of the Roma communities both in Europe and the US. There can be no progress without education, so I encourage you to learn more and to encourage others to as well. You can keep up with issues through social media, news outlets, and activist organizations. If you’d like to go a step further and help the activist organizations directly you can reach out to groups like the European Roma Rights Centre, which offers small activist opportunities such as emailing public officials or you can get involved with their larger projects as a Roma Rights Defender.

In all, this is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the Roma’s struggles, I wrote this in hopes of inspiring others to broaden their horizons, encourage others to learn more about the Roma, and to engage in activism to create a more equal and accepting world.

Posted in: Legal Comentary

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