CZECH REPUBLIC: Govt guilty of forcing Roma children into special schools

[14 November 2007] - Roma activists across Europe were celebrating a landmark victory last night as Europe's leading human rights authority ruled that the Czech Republic had practised racial discrimination by wrongly channelling Roma children into remedial education schools.

A legal marathon dating to the 1990s climaxed with a ruling in Strasbourg from the European Court of Human Rights which found the Czech authorities guilty of discrimination against Roma children.

The test case was brought on behalf of 18 Roma, from the Ostrava region of the Czech Republic, who had had their complaints dismissed by the Czech courts in the 90s. "It is now unlawful for Roma students to be forced into substandard schools," said Vera Egenberger, of the European Roma Rights Centre.

The Strasbourg judges found, by 13 to four, that Czech law, which has since been revised, did violate the European convention on human rights. The judges noted that the republic was far from alone in having condemned Roma children to inadequate education. Amnesty International is to unveil a study today on similar discriminatory practices in Slovakia.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance told the Strasbourg hearings that Roma children were "vastly over-represented" in special schools in central Europe and that "the channelling of Roma children to special schools for the mentally retarded was often quasi-automatic".

General education denied

Evidence brought to the court by Roma activists and human rights groups showed that in the Ostrava region more than half the population of Roma children were confined to "special schools" and denied entry to the general education system.

The Roma rights centre said any Roma child in the region was 27 times more likely to be placed in a "special" school for the mentally disabled than a non-Roma, and that the pupils of the special schools were more than 50 per cent Roma.

The Czech Republic abolished the special schools three years ago, but Roma activists continued to argue that the chances of an equal education for the Roma children were remote.

The court awarded symbolic damages of €4,000 (£2,820) per child against the Czech government and costs of €10,000.

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