Czech Roma Still Face “Educational Apartheid,” Despite Court Ruling Five Years Ago

PRAGUE—The Open Society Foundations is urging the Czech government to end the institutionalized segregation of Roma children within its schools, five years after it was ordered to do so by the European Court of Human Rights.

On November 13, 2007, the court ruled that the practice of funneling Roma children into inferior schools constituted discrimination on the basis of ethnicity—in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Since then, the Czech government has made a series of empty pledges to end discriminatory practices. But it has failed to undertake substantive reforms.

“It is time for the Czech government to put an end to a system that condemns thousands of young children each year to educational apartheid,” said James A. Goldston, head of the Open Society Justice Initiative, and the lead lawyer in the 2007 case. “The law, and basic human decency, demand no less.”

Goldston represented 18 Romani children in their legal challenge to the disproportionate placement of Romani children in “special schools” where they, and children with disabilities, were segregated from their mainstream peers and taught to a limited curriculum. The children won the case: the European Court of Human Rights decided that this practice amounted to illegal discrimination in respect of the Romani children’s right to education. In its decision, D.H. and Others v Czech Republic, the court told the Czech government to end the violation and redress its effects. 

Julius Mika, one of the original applicants in the case, and now a father himself, said: “Officially the special schools have been renamed to practical schools but the sad thing is that in reality, nothing has changed and Roma children are still being segregated from mainstream education.”

This week, Romani families from the D.H. case along with other civil society members, government officials and European intergovernmental representatives, will together participate in events in both Prague and Ostrava marking the passage of five years since the judgment. These events will include a roundtable with Czech Ministry of Education officials, conferences on inclusive education and the launch of a photo exhibition telling the stories of the children—now adults—who brought their segregation to court.

The Open Society Foundations hopes these events will provide an opportunity to discuss the importance of implementing this judgment not only for the children who won the case, but for all Roma families and Czech society as a whole. “The Ministry of Education and the government must realize that sending Roma children, or any children, to sub-standard schools destroys their future,” Robert Basch, executive director of the Open Society Fund–Prague said.

Zeljko Jovanovic, head of the Open Society’s Roma Initiatives Office, added: “Desegregating these schools is about much more than implementing a court judgment—it is about realizing a vision of the future in which all children have the chance to make the best of their lives. After all, that’s what we all want for our kids. It’s time for it to happen here in the Czech Republic.”