Europe's Highest Court Rules Roma School Segregation by Language Illegal
BUDAPEST/NEW YORK/STRASBOURG/ZAGREB—The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held today in the case Oršuš and Others v. Croatia that the segregation of Romani children into separate classes based on language is unlawful discrimination, violating the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Oršuš case involved 14 children attending mainstream primary schools in three different Croatian villages who were placed in segregated Roma-only classes due to alleged language difficulties. The applicants argued that actually, placement in these Roma-only classes stemmed from blatant discrimination based on ethnicity. The schools' policies were reinforced by the local majority population's anti-Romani sentiments.
Represented by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Croatian Helsinki Committee, and local attorney Lovorka Kusan, the case went to the European Court in 2004. After a negative judgment in 2008, it reached the Grand Chamber upon appeal.
"The Grand Chamber's decision is of great importance to the applicants and other Romani children in Croatia, as it acknowledges that they have suffered unlawful discrimination," said Ms Kusan. "It is now up to the government to ensure that these illegal practices stop and that remedies are offered to affected Romani children."
The Court awarded the applicants 4,500 euros each in non-pecuniary damages, plus a total of 10,000 euros for costs and expenses.
"Today's judgment rounds out the European Court's jurisprudence concerning the most common grounds of segregation experienced by Romani children in education across Europe," said ERRC managing director Robert Kushen. "National governments must now take decisive action to end segregated education in all its forms and truly integrate their school systems."
The Grand Chamber decision builds on the Court's groundbreaking judgments in D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic and Sampanis v. Greece, which rejected the segregation of Romani students into special schools for children with mental disabilities or within mainstream schools on the basis of ethnicity.
"Oršuš makes clear that language deficiency cannot serve as a pretext for racial segregation," said ERRC board member and Open Society Justice Initiative executive director James A. Goldston, who helped argue the case. "Segregation remains all too common in Europe, and it is time to end this deeply degrading practice."
The positive judgment by the Grand Chamber marks great progress for the advancement of Roma rights in general, as well as the right to quality education on equal terms for Roma and other marginalized groups.