Segregation of Roma School Children in Croatia Found Discriminatory Due to Failure to Address Special Needs

On 16 March 2010, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court), in the case of Oršuš and Others v. Croatia (Application no.15766/03), ruled that Croatia discriminated against 15 Roma children who were segregated into separate school classes.

The case concerned 15 primary school children who had been segregated into Roma-only classes as a result of alleged failures to adequately acquire command of the Croatian language. The applicants, represented by the European Roma Rights Centre, the Croatian Helsinki Committee and Croatian attorney Lovorka Kusan, argued that they had not been provided with satisfactory measures to address their language difficulties and that their segregation was the result of racial discrimination.

The Court held that there had been a clear differentiation in treatment of Roma children and that this had not been satisfactorily justified by the state, thereby violating Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (the right to education). The Court noted that “as a result of their history, the Roma have become a specific type of disadvantaged and vulnerable minority. They therefore require special protection.” The Court found that no adequate measures had been put in place to ensure sufficient care for the children’s special needs as members of a disadvantaged group. Furthermore, responding to the claim that the applicants’ parents had not used all available opportunities to complain, it held that there could be no waiver to the right not to be subjected to racial discrimination as this would be counter to the public interest.

The Court awarded each of the applicants 4,500 Euros and jointly 10,000 Euros for costs and expenses.

Speaking about the recent decision, ERT’s Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said:

“By recognising the vulnerability of the Roma community and asserting that positive action must be taken to facilitate their integration into society, the Court has made it clear that governments cannot flout their legal obligations by putting in place sub-standard and meaningless safeguards.

“The European Court of Human Rights is steadily building a rich body of jurisprudence on Article 14 and the significance of this particular case is that it adds to the understanding of racial segregation as a form of discrimination. While the Roma are the obvious beneficiaries of this decision, it has implications for other disadvantaged minorities across Europe in the realisation of their equal rights in the area of education."

To read the ERT case summary, click here.

To read the full case, click here.