roma, gypsies, Europe, Italy
Vadim Ghirda/AP
A Romanian Roma child wipes her face during celebrations on April 8, 2008, of
the International Roma Day in Bucharest, Romania.

Police Abuse Case Illustrates Widespread Mistreatment of Roma

April 09, 2009 04:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A video of Slovakian police abusing Romani boys was released a day before International Roma Day, a day to raise awareness of anti-Roma discrimination.

Roma Boys Abused by Slovakian Police Officers

Slovak daily SME released a video Tuesday of police in the eastern city of Kosice abusing a group of six Roma boys aged 11 to 16. The boys, who had been arrested on suspicion of robbery, were forced to punch each other in the face, kiss each other and strip naked as they were surrounded by officers and unmuzzled dogs.

The video has outraged the Roma community and human rights activists. It was released one day before International Roma Day, which calls attention to international discrimination against the Romani people.

“It’s sad that on International Roma Day we find out that Slovak authorities show serious shortcomings when dealing with racially-motivated discrimination,” said Branislav Tichy, head of Amnesty International Slovakia.

Nine police officers have been dismissed as Slovakian officials have called for strict punishment of the offenders. Last year, two policemen were sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for beating a handcuffed Roma man to death in 2001.

The Roma, who make up approximately 6 percent of Slovakia’s population, are targets for abuse in many Eastern and Central European countries where they are a substantial minority.

The Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe,” writes the Dzeno Association, a Roma advocacy group. “Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment. Living predominantly on the margins of society, Roma are among the most deprived communities in Europe.”

The Roma have historically been targets for violence and discrimination, but there has been an increase in anti-Roma hostility over the past year. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is waging a campaign that “has a strong whiff of Mussolini and Hitler about it,” remarked The Independent’s Peter Popham.

On Tuesday, three human rights agencies—the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe—released a statement declaring that the international economic downturn has increased anti-Roma discrimination.

“Scapegoat has already resulted in damaging inter-ethnic relations and increased incidents of violent hate crime in some countries,” the statement said. “As the economic crisis deepens, political leaders need to unequivocally and publicly condemn any form of violence targeting Roma.”

Background: The Roma people

While genetic evidence points to the Roma originating from the north of India centuries ago, they have been present across Europe since the 14th century, with a concentration in what is now known as Eastern Europe.

Although no written history of the Roma exists, linguistic and genetic evidence suggest that the Roma emerged from the Punjab peoples of Northern India, but were forced out of the area for unknown reasons.

In the centuries since, the Roma people have moved west across Europe, often adapting their language and religion to accommodate the local region, while retaining a shared level of tradition.

This time has also been marked by long periods of exclusion and persecution including institutional efforts to eradicate or enslave the Roma population or separate them from society. These latter efforts have left many living in “apartheid-like” communities without electricity, running water or education.

More extreme measures came in the form of forced sterilization programs and a systematic effort to remove the Roma population from Nazi-controlled lands during World War II, resulting in the deaths of 1.6 million people.

Today, the official population of Roma in Europe stands around 7 million, though estimates put it closer to 15 million with reports that many Roma avoid reporting their ethnicity for fear of discrimination.

Living conditions and access to basic public services, such as education, have been cited as being beyond a point of crisis.

This most recent spate of anti-Roma activity comes, ironically, halfway through the Decade for Roma Inclusion—a multinational effort to improve the living conditions and increase opportunities for Romani across the continent.

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