Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action
by Mr. Petru DUMITRIU
Geneva, 26 January 2004
The main challenge of my authorities in their fight against discrimination is related to the Rroma population. That is the reason why a special chapter in the Government's Programme is dedicated to improving the situation of this minority. These same guidelines led to the adoption of a crucial policymaking instrument, namely "Strategy for Improving the Situation of Rroma", adopted by the Government of Romania in 2001.
This document is the result of a fruitful co-operation between the central authorities and the non-governmental organizations of Rroma, based on the firm belief that the partnership between the executive and the civil society was a prerequisite of its effective implementation. Needless to say that in the process of elaborating the Strategy, a major factor was the representation of the Rroma in the Parliament.
The Strategy covers a ten-year period (2001-2010) and has a four-year action plan (2001-2004). Its scope is to prevent discrimination, stimulate the participation of persons belonging to the Rroma minority to the economic, social and cultural life in conditions of equality with all Romanian citizens. It is designed to be specifically applied in the following sectoral fields: public administration, housing, social security, health care, economy, justice and public order, child welfare, education, culture and denominations, communication and civic involvement.
Its core objectives are:
In fact, the overall assumption was that whatever measures may be taken at a central level, if the administration at a local level is not empowered to implement them, success is doubtful.
Therefore, the institutional infrastructure created for the implementation of the strategy involves both central and local Government. At the national level, ministerial committees dealing with Rroma issues were established in relevant ministries or national agencies, each chaired by a deputy minister. In addition to experts from the ministries, these committees also include a member designated by Rroma organizations. A joint committee was also established. It brings together the heads of the ministerial committees and representatives of Rroma NGOs. Individual departments have set their own structures dealing with Rroma affairs. An important innovation was the official establishment of school and health "mediators", in order to improve Rroma access to education and health services in particular. Agreement was also reached with the Ministry of Interior to employ policemen from Rroma communities.
An exceptional contribution to these achievements was brought in by representative non-governmental organizations of the Rroma community, such as Romani Criss, Aven Amenza and others.
In the same vein, Rroma offices have become operational at county level, in the structure of the offices of the Prefect (the highest central Government representative in a county). These offices are chaired by ethnic Rroma. All 42 local Rroma offices have elaborated Action Plans for the 2001-2004 period. This seems to be a major innovation: there are special Rroma advisers in major cities, but also in small areas where the Rroma population is more numerous in order to act as an interface between the authorities and the population.
Romania was the first country in our region to establish an institution that deals specifically with the fight against discrimination, namely the National Council for Combating Discrimination. Its aim is to implement the principle of equality among citizens and to prevent and fight discrimination. The president of the National Council for Combating Discrimination and the members of the board had meetings of information and consultation with representatives of governmental agencies, ministries, non-governmental institutions and associations that deal with human rights protection, in general, and with the protection of those categories covered by Law no. 48/2002, that is the Rroma minority. A National Plan for combating discrimination was set up, which is being implemented in co-operation with the National Alliance against Discrimination - a coalition of non-governmental organizations and public institutions, established in March 2003.
May I also add that, in 2003, Romania signed the Additional Protocol no. 12 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights prohibiting discrimination on any grounds. Moreover, Romania has also formally recognized the competence of CERD to receive and consider communications from individuals in accordance with article 14 of the UN Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
An international dimension in the fight against discrimination was always present. Major European institutions as well as the World Bank and the Open Society Institute, help the Government in designing a coherent, integrated and action oriented policy towards Rroma problems. Likewise, the Project on Ethnic Relations plays an excellent role in assessing the needs and designing solutions.
Our openness in dealing with the issue of discrimination against Rroma stems from our belief that the Rroma situation is, beyond doubt, a European problem that is to be solved at national level. In order to be successful, national policies and actions need be tuned to a wider, integrated European vision and helped strategically and financially by international bodies. National institutions must stay informed on the latest evolutions and tendencies at international level and integrate those elements that can be useful into national policies.
In this particular context, I would like to refer to two initiatives regarding the Rroma issue launched by Romania within European organizations.
As a direct follow-up to the Durban Conference, during its chairmanship at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in 2001, Romania organized a conference on improving the situation of Rroma and Sinti. Among its conclusions was the need to elaborate an Action Plan on Rroma and Sinti for the OSCE.
The key of success is the involvement of Rroma themselves in whatever project or initiative designed at international or national level. From this perspective, constituting a European Rroma Forum under the auspices of the Council of Europe could offer the Rroma population throughout the continent a means to make their voice heard. We hope that this initiative will come into being and bring its contribution to raising awareness on this important and too long neglected community.
Our work has begun to bear fruit.
Under the process of implementing the Strategy for improving the situation of Rroma minority, the Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family and National Agency for Employment, joined by representatives of Rroma communities, elaborate monthly analyses on the labour market policies that are likely to increase the employment rate of Rroma persons. The objective was to provide them with the chance of becoming professionally and socially integrated.
Under the national action program envisaging the employment of the Rroma minority as a target group, the National Agency for Employment, engaged into positive discrimination and supported the employment of 19,504 Rroma persons during 2001-2003. As for 2004, the national employment program envisages the employment of 6,406 persons.
This action proved the interest of the public institutions in the social integration of the Rroma minority persons and it was a successful attempt to reduce poverty and unemployment among Rroma individuals. On the other hand, it was a well-received signal for the entire Romanian society aiming at changing the mentality over the real causes of a higher rate of unemployment for this category of population.
Through the Law No. 116/2002 on preventing and fighting social exclusion, the National Agency for Employment undertakes a personalized social accompaniment for the young persons aged between 16-25 years old facing difficulties and professional exclusion, in order to facilitate their access to jobs. At the same time, within the Rroma-addressed job-fair, stands for social assistance were organized, providing specialized counselling for the people concerned.
A strong campaign was also engaged in the realm of education. In 2003, 202 Rroma persons were involved in vocational training courses, 91 of the graduates taking up employment. The courses attended by the Rroma persons envisaged the most demanded profession in industry, agriculture and services. In 2004, more than 750 Rroma persons will attend vocational training courses. Other pro-active measures were aiming at facilitating access of Rroma student to the higher education. The Ministry of Education Order (3699/2002) on facilitating the access of Rroma to faculties and colleges raised the opportunity for the allocation of 390 places for Rroma higher education candidates.
The statement you have just heard is not necessarily and exclusively an official governmental statement. Very similar if not identical remarks can be found in the reports of the European Commission on Romania, and the judgement is done in terms of the very exigent standards of various European human rights instruments. So, in all fairness, since implementation of any strategy requires more than political will, I would like to quote from those reports, whose critical observations my Government shares and will take fully into account in future:
On the issue of the "Strategy", the 2003 Report of the European Commission says: "Against this positive background, a weakness with the implementation of the Rroma strategy is that the full levels of funding envisaged in the original document have not been made available. This lack of financial support means that it has been impossible to carry out some of the planned activities and efforts have been restricted to less ambitious, and less costly actions".
On the issue of the National Council for Combating Discrimination the same reports states: "The Council has made significant progress during its first year of activity and the issuing of decisions sanctioning cases of discrimination has been an important demonstration of its authority. Since starting its activities in August 2002, the National Council received over 450 petitions. It carried out 37 investigations and out of these, it applied sanctions in 31 cases. New legal provisions have clarified the responsibilities of the National Council. However, a number of gaps in the legislative framework have not been resolved (i.e. indirect discrimination and the burden of proof). The role of the Council vis-à-vis other public institutions needs also be revised".
In other words, there is yet much to be done, and the Government of Romania, in partnership with Romanian NGOs and international institutions, is committed to do everything within its power, to eliminate all remaining forms of discrimination, in the spirit and letter of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman!
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