Serbia: Roma tortured by police win court case

An incredible behaviour of the Serbian police – not only in the recent protests – has thrown a light on the country’s attempts to join the European Union. It must be clear that police reforms have to be undertaken before any further progress is made in accession negotiations.

 

In July 2020, the Belgrade Higher Court has ruled that the Serbian Ministry of Interior discriminated against a Romani couple who were harassed and tortured in a police cell in 2017 after reporting their car stolen. The couple were detained for 13 hours at a police station in Belgrade where officers tortured the husband, racially abused the wife, and threatened to have their children taken by social services. The Court has awarded €4.675 to the husband and €1.700 to the wife in a first instance judgment for the discriminatory treatment, physical pain, and fear they endured.

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) President Đorđe Jovanović said: “What the police have been doing to protesters in the last few weeks is actually how Roma in Serbia are treated most of the time – it’s just that no one is filming when it happens to us and in most cases no one ever hears about it. It is not the job of the police to carry out physical punishments on people who they believe have committed a crime. In this case, these people were actually reporting a crime and still they got accused of lying and abused by racist police officers. This is institutional racism in action, plain for everyone to see.”

The incident occurred on 21st April 2017 when the couple, Marko and Sandra reported their car stolen at Mladenovac police station. They were informed they needed to report the case in Belgrade and police officers drove them there in an unmarked car. When they arrived they were made to undergo a polygraph test before being separated for interrogation.

Marko was made to kneel in a room surrounded by eight officers. The officers slapped his face repeatedly and told him to confess to stealing the car himself and to insurance fraud. They racially abused him and kicked him in the stomach. When he still did not confess, an officer began whipping his outstretched hands with a leather whip. One officer put a plastic bag over his head and squeezed the air out, suffocating him. The same policeman also told him if he did not confess they would electrocute him. Another cocked his gun, pointed it at him, and told him he would shoot him in the hand to give him “a memory that would stay with him for a lifetime”.

When Marko asked to call a lawyer, he was told that he had no right. The officers threatened to take his children away to an orphanage and send him and his wife to prison. He heard one of the officers on the phone talking to social services telling them to get a car ready to take his five year-old and two year-old girls away.

While Marko was being interrogated, Sandra was in a nearby room with the door open so she could hear some of what was happening. An officer harassed her with comments about her religion and her husband’s ethnicity. They continued verbally abusing her while drinking heavily. She was not allowed to use the toilet at all at first, and then only accompanied by a male officer. Her request to see a lawyer was refused.

They were finally released at 10pm and allowed to return home. Marko sought medical treatment and was diagnosed with physical injuries to his face and body, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Court found the Ministry of Interior had violated Article 12 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination – harassment as a form of discrimination. The ERRC expects the Ministry of Interior will launch an Appeal.

Open Letter to the EU about Climate of Racism in Hungary

 

Brussels, 18 February 2020: We  the European Roma Rights Centre – would like to express our deep concern at the recent statements made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán concerning the school segregation case in Gyöngyöspata. We call on the European Parliament to resolutely condemn the rhetoric of the Hungarian government, which exacerbates inter-ethnic tension and anti-Roma racism; delegitimises the work of human rights organisations yet again; and further undermines the rule of law.

In January, Prime Minister Orbán suddenly turned his attention to a four-month-old court decision by the Debrecen Court of Appeal, which awarded criminal damages to Romani families in Gyöngyöspata, whose children were forced to learn in segregated settings for a decade. The Romani children testified that they were educated in separate classes on a separate floor; they were not allowed to take part in celebrations or school trips; and they were denied IT and swimming lessons. The reality of segregation was that many Romani children Gyöngyöspata were unable to graduate, and so poor was the quality of education that many barely learned to read or write.

In a succession of provocative broadcasts to the nation, Orbán stated that the court’s decision “violated the people’s sense of justice”; and stigmatized the local Roma as workshy, their children as violent, unruly and un-educatable. In a radio broadcast, Orbán said,

“I am not from Gyöngyöspata, but if I were to live there, I would be asking how it is that, for some reason, members of an ethnically determined group living in a community with me, in a village, can receive significant sums of money without doing any work, while I toil every day.”

The prime minister described the court’s ruling as deeply unfair and he stated “I don’t yet know exactly what to do now but this cannot remain like this for sure. We need to give justice to the Gyöngyöspata people”.

On February 11th the Prime Minister announced a new ‘national consultation’ on the Gyöngyöspata case, and declared “we take the side of the 80 percent who are decent, working Hungarians.” In a radio broadcast, Orbán dismissed “the whole thing as a provocation”, with Soros organizations everywhere, and stated that “there is a boundary that a Hungarian will never cross, or believes cannot be crossed. That boundary is giving people money for nothing.”

This announcement has prompted widespread protests across Hungary, including nearly 200 psychologists who have signed a declaration that this proposed consultation must not go ahead as it will incite further hatred, reinforce discrimination, and send a message to the nation that segregation is acceptable.

Over the last ten years, the regime has repeatedly resorted to national consultations as part of propaganda campaigns against imagined enemies of the nation, including migrants, refugees and George Soros. These consultations, with their leading and loaded questions, have triggered international criticism for fuelling anti-foreigner hatred; Prime Minister Orbán characterises them as “demonstrating the power of national consensus”.

The leading question on Gyöngyöspata will concern “whether it is helpful if the compensation awarded disturbs the peace of a given community.” The government stated that it already has clear answers to this and other questions that have provoked social debates, “however, it needs a robust social mandate in order to represent them in the international arena as well as within Hungary.”

We maintain that the prime minister’s statements display not only contempt for the rule of law, but amount to a drive to scapegoat Roma for political gain. The proposed consultation is designed to discredit the rule of law, polarise the nation and further stigmatise the Roma community.

We commend the European Parliament and the European Commission for its recent condemnations of antigypsyism in general; we now call on the institutions to condemn this latest manifestation of antigypsyism in particular.

Viktor Orbán has crossed yet another ‘red line’ with seeming impunity. We believe that there should be no room in the European Union for hate speech targeting ethnic minorities; and that the rule of law must prevail within member states. We call for a prompt and proportionate response from the Parliament, and urge the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, to act on this issue in a manner that is consistent with ‘European Values‘.

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at: http://www.errc.org

Salvini’s Italy Sentenced by ECHR to Provide Housing for Evicted Roma

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has decided to apply an urgent measure in the case P.H. and Others v. Italy (application no. 25838/19) concerning three Bosnian citizens of Roma ethnicity who were evicted with their minor children from a settlement in Ponte Riccio in April 2019. The applicants are three Bosnian citizens of Roma ethnicity who were living with their families in a settlement in Ponte Riccio (Giugliano). Two of them are mothers with 10 children altogether, who are minors aged between two and 16.

The Court has ordered the Italian Government to provide suitable accommodation for Romani families who were forcibly evicted from Giugliano last week. The court recognised the right to family unity and the need to provide adequate housing to Romani families. The emergency case was brought before the court by Associazione 21 luglio and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).

Background

On 5 April 2019 the Mayor of Giugliano issued Decree no. 29, ordering that all the settlement’s inhabitants (around 450 Romani People) residing in the Via del Vaticale camp in the Municipality of Giugliano be evicted for reasons of public health and safety. The municipality issued a resolution for alternative housing solutions for Roma, but no proposal was ever made to the families.

On the morning of 10 May 2019, law enforcement arrived and forced the families to leave the settlement on Via del Vaticale. According to numerous testimonies gathered, both before and during the eviction, the Roma had been verbally ordered to leave the Giugliano area and threatened that if they refused, their residence would be cancelled and their children taken into state care (!). The 450 Roma ended up occupying an abandoned area in the Giugliano industrial area, where they remain today.

The new location is totally inadequate

The 73 families currently camped in that area have no shelter, and are forced to sleep inside cars or outdoors, despite the difficult weather conditions. They have no access to electricity and are without clean water or toilets. The 105 children who were attending school were forced to interrupt their school attendance.

Associazione 21 luglio called an immediate press conference at the Chamber’s Press Room and an online appeal to denounce the rights violated by the authorities during the forced eviction, including the rights of these children to an education. They called on the Municipality of Giugliano for an urgent intervention offering adequate solutions and dignified housing for all persons, guaranteeing them access to basic services, and the re-establishment of school attendance for school-age children and, alongside the ERRC, promoted recourse to the European Court of Human Rights.

On 17 May, the decision came from the European Court in Strasbourg which forces the Italian Government to guarantee adequate housing for minors and their families who were evicted from Via del Viaticale.

Organisations‘ comments

Carlo Stasolla from Associazione 21 luglio, who had who had been on hunger strike since 12.5.2019, ended his protest on receiving the court’s decision. He said „This is a victory for marginalised communities all across Italy who, especially in the last year, have had their basic human rights repeatedly attacked. In the situation of Giugliano, Associazione 21 luglio was the first to report the systematic violation of rights and support the families who proposed the appeal to the European Court. For the last 30 years, Roma in Giugliano have been trapped in a vicious cycle of forced evictions, black mail, and fear. Today, Europe has lit a lighthouse that illuminates the whole of Italy and which we all have a duty to keep on: the lighthouse of anti-discrimination and of equal rights guaranteed in articles 2 and 3 of the Italian Constitution that no one, in any capacity, can claim the presumption of extinguishing.“

Jonathan Lee of the European Roma Rights Centre said: „This decision breaks a long-standing cycle of forced evictions which have long plagued this community, and Roma as a whole in Italy. When authorities uproot Romani families, they know it means kids will have to drop out of school, that know that parents will lose work, that the family will be forced to start from scratch, but they do it anyway. The Court has shown today that Italy is not above the law, and cannot indiscriminately make Roma homeless. These people have won a great victory against discrimination, and against the politics of hate, which perpetuates the exclusion of Roma in Italy.“

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Measures under Rule 39 of the ECHR Rules of Court are decided in connection with proceedings before the Court, without prejudging any subsequent decisions on the admissibility or merits of the case. The Court grants such requests only on an exceptional basis, when the applicants would otherwise face a real risk of irreversible harm. For further information, see the factsheet on interim measures.