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NGO Roma Together

ROMA GRASROOT ORGANIZATION
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT,†United Nations, New York, March 27, 1958.

Roma Rights on Grassroot Level

NEWS



The Human Rights Council has adopted recommendations as an outcome from the second forum on minority issues, concerning minorities and effective political participation. The major turnout is that the importance of social, economical and cultural rights were recognized, and therefore proclaimed as a State duty, as a major precondition to the effective exercise of political rights. There cannot be any real political participation without promotion of minority rights, civic education and equality I socio-economic position for the members of minority communities. Full text of the recommendations is available at the forum’ web page – link to the document.
Statement was submitted to the UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, Forum on Minority Issues, Geneva, 12-13 November 2009 on behalf of the NGO Roma†- Together. Many of the participants and experts presentations to the forum were emphasizing the importance of the preconditions needed to the effective political participation of minorities, these includes foremost the importance of social, economic and cultural rights. Full list of statements available for download to be found on the official Forum on Minority issues web page.
Complexity and broad share of minority rights related issues are impossible to be fully observed in a NGO web page, they hardly can be addressed in a Blog either, largely due to security concerns (theblogstarter.com/how-to-improve-the-security-of-your-wordpress-blog/)…but the purpose on creating this place is to provide more in deep information and analyses on Roma rights in regard to minority human rights and the case of Bulgaria.
Cases of Roma rights violations
OHCHR workshop; Roma Rights monitoring project;†local Roma from Radanovo village finished literacy course.
Established model for monitoring and legal defense of minority human rights. Project focuses on providing of knowledge and professional assistance to local Roma community and local Roma leaders to empower them in defending their minority rights.

Minority Rights

The core of minority human rights can be summarized as: protection of existence, protection from†discrimination and persecution, protection and promotion of identity and participation in decision making process.††
In our work we are advocating for Roma minority human rights as the rights of most numerous minority in Europe, applying global, regional and local minority human rights standards down the local grassroot level, to improve the situation of local Roma communities. We believe that promotion and protection of Roma minority human rights will results in integration that should create one common place for the minorities and majority,†with relations between them based on cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnical pluralism. This to be understand not only as tolerance and acceptance of one who’s different but moreover as forming of positive non-discrimination environment to minorities – majority relationship. Integration to be created through undertaking †of concrete actions for promotion, understanding and inclusion of minorities’ identity in the mainstream society without† by any means violate the way of life, cultural traditions, language or religion of minorities – all basic cultural and social marks that create minority identity, which minority members are aimed to preserve.

Minority situations differ greatly from country to country and consequently require different approaches. There is no agreed internationally definition of minorities exist. No legal definition exists in UN Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities or European Framework convention for the protection of national minorities. The word “minority” can sometimes be misleading in itself. Outside Europe, and particularly in Africa, countries are often composed of a large number of groups, none of which make up a majority. In the jurisprudence however are elaborated several criteria that serves as a definition of minority:

††††† Objective criteria: Common ethnicity or culture, religion or language, Non-dominant;
††††† Subjective criteria: Self-identification, Will to protect and continue their identity;

Minorities are to be understood as non - dominant groups. In calling for recognition of their identity as a national or ethnic religious or linguistic minority - such recognition of minority identity is exceedingly important but we should recall that many persons have many identities and we should remain aware of politicians and others who might try to abuse identity for political gain. The importance of recognizing minority identity is to ensure the inclusion of previously excluded groups in the life of the country in which they live and protect diversity and pluralism of culture, religion and language. Thus we must consider the situation of those living in minority situations in regions within the country and not just the whole State.

Minorities face common problems in different part of the world:
They are discriminated against within society, have weak political participation and lack equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. They may be harmed by or excluded from development projects and rarely do strategies to meet the MDGs or poverty reduction account for their needs and rights. They have less access to justice and security and are often implicated in conflict. National legislation may result in direct or indirect discrimination against them and where laws to protect and promote their rights exist these are often not implemented in practices. Marginalised groups within minority communities, in particular women, face additional barriers to overcoming exclusion. Testimonies exists that problems can emerge from a country’s history being written by dominant or majority groups with the history of minorities being neglected or denied.† Other grievances expressed by persons belonging to minorities have been caused by the non-recognition of aspects of their identity, including their language or religion. Other grievances have related to the relative disadvantage of persons belonging to minorities as regards access to employment and public service.
Although that human rights standards set for in the UDHM, ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD, CAT and other global, regional and local human rights legal acts are applicable to minority individuals, specifics of minorities situation within the society throughout the world implies a need in setting for minority rights, to ensure that members of a specific group which is in a vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalised position in society, are able to achieve equality, preserve their identity†and are protected from persecution.
General documents aiming specifically at minority rights and minority oriented policies are elaborated and adopted: at the UN level exists Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and on European level there are: Framework convention for protection of national minorities; European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and The Lund recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life;
Minority rights are individual human rights, even if they in most cases can only be enjoyed in community with others. The duties of the State in protecting the minorities identity may, however, include a duty to accept and encourage conditions for a degree of non-territorial autonomy, in regard to religious, linguistic or broader cultural matters. Effective participation by minorities may be facilitated by territorial devolution on democratic, not ethnic, grounds, but the relevant minority instruments do not impose a duty on States to devolve authority on a territorial basis. UN declaration on minorities and other instruments concerning persons belonging to minorities aim at ensuring a space for pluralism in togetherness and not to autonomous development from the larger society of which the minority is a part.

Short overview of the Roma community situation in Bulgaria

Bulgarian Roma have lived on the territory of present day Bulgaria for centuries and have always been at the bottom layers of society. Bulgarian Roma has preserved the Romanes language and culture. Although they are seen as a unified group from the outsiders, Roma are heterogeneous in their identity. They are divided according to various religious, professional, linguistic and family lines. Cooperation among them is not always possible due to different ancient and strict rules. This lack of unity that one can often observe among Roma has affected negatively their ability to find a stable and respectable place in the Bulgarian society. Roma have been subjected to social prejudices, various attempts of assimilation and constant discrimination by various Bulgarian governments because they are less educated and poorer than the rest of society. At the same time one can argue that all Bulgarian governments never proved sincere interest in providing the necessary conditions in order to combat illiteracy and poverty among Roma so that they will cease being vulnerable to discrimination and prejudice.†
The data on the number of Roma in Bulgaria differs according to different sources. According to official census from 2001 Roma in Bulgaria are 370,908 p. (4,8 % of the population). According to the World Bank, UNDP and prominent international scholars they are around 750,000 p. (9 % of the population). The Ministry of the Interior, however, has carried out some secret censuses (Marushiakova). Thus, the demographic data for the Roma over the last few decades give the following numbers:
1959 - 214, 167 (Ministry of the Interior).
1980 - 523, 519 (Ministry of the Interior).
1989 - 576, 927 (Ministry of the Interior).
1992 - 313,396 by ethnicity, 310, 425 by language (official census).
1995 - 577-600,000 (as identified by the surrounding population, Tomova, I., 1995).
1997 -† 700-800,000 (Marushiakova, et al., 1997:1).
Though the above data estimates that the Roma minority makes up only 3.7-10 % of the Bulgarian population, Roma in Bulgaria represent one of the largest Roma minorities in the world (Helsinki Watch, 1991:13). The discrepancies between the official and the unofficial numbers represent partly the tendency among a significant number of Roma in Bulgaria -and elsewhere- to hide their Roma identity whenever possible. (Courthiades, 2000)... Read More
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