Thursday, February 16, 2006

European Court in Strasbourg does not find Czech Roma children victims of discrimination in Education

The European Court of Human Rights on 8 February delivered decision against 18 Roma children who had been forced to attend segregated schools in the Czech Republic. The case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic was brought before the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to put an end to a widespread practice of discrimination throughout Central and South East Europe, where Roma children are routinely placed in schools for the mentally disabled regardless of their actual intellectual abilities. The panel of judges on the case, which included also Czech and Hungarian judges, voted six to one against.

The Court held that the setting and planning of the curriculum fell in principle within the competence of the State concerned. That mainly involved questions of expediency on which it was not for the Court to rule and whose solution might legitimately vary according to the country and the era. The Court continued that given States’ margin of appreciation in the education sphere, they could not be prohibited from setting up different types of school for children with difficulties or implementing special educational programmes to respond to special needs.

The Court suprasingly agreed with the Chech government argument that the system of special schools in the Czech Republic was not introduced solely to cater for Roma children and that considerable efforts are made in these schools to help certain categories of pupils to acquire a basic education. However, the Court disregarded the fact that in most of the special schools Roma pupils made up between 80% and 90% of the total numbers of the pupils. What kind of message is the ECtHr sending with this decision? It seems that message is that is OK to force Roma children to attend segrated schools, which are intended for the mentally disabled regardless of their intelectuall abilities. This decision is absurd and in total non-compliance with international human rights law and also EcHRT's Courts own jurisprudence.

In dissent, Judge Cabral Barreto of Portugal noted that the Czech Government had previously conceded that, at the time relevant to the applications before the Court, "Romany children with average or above-average intellect [we]re often placed in [special] schools on the basis of results of psychological tests"; "[t]he tests [we] reconceived for the majority population and do not take Romany specifics into consideration"; and in some special schools, "Romany pupils made up between 80% and 90% of the total number." Taken together, these concessions amounted to "an express acknowledgement by the Czech State of the discriminatory practices complained of by applicants.

In the light of all of this we are of the opinion that the judgment's narrow conception of discrimination is at odds with developments in much of intertnational community and it is not helpful for the state of human rights in Europe that Strasbourg Court submits that systematic racial segregation in Czech schools is OK.

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