Brussels Takes Action against Czech Republic over Roma School Discrimination

LONDON—The Open Society Foundations today welcomed a decision by the European Commission to take action against the Czech Republic over continuing discrimination against Roma children in its school system.

The Commission will ask the Czech government to respond to complaints that it is breaching European Union law by continuing to allow Roma children to be funneled into separate schools, in breach of both the EU’s anti-discrimination law and its charter of fundamental rights.

Violeta Naydenova, policy analyst on Roma and social inclusion at the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels, welcomed the move, saying:

“This is a success for Roma families in the Czech Republic who have challenged the persistent discrimination they face not only in schools, but in their daily lives. Ensuring that Roma children have a fair shot at a decent education is a fundamental part of the struggle to overcome that discrimination. Much more work remains ahead.”

The process, known as an infringement proceeding, is a precursor to possible legal action by the Commission before the European Court of Justice.

The decision to begin infringement proceedings follows a complaint to the Commission 18 months ago by the Open Society Justice Initiative, Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre. James Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said:

“The European Commission’s decision is a wake-up call to officials in Prague and other European capitals that discrimination must end. Absent substantial changes in policy and practice, referral of this case to the Court of Justice will be essential to show that the EU and its member states take seriously their commitment to the rule of law and equal justice for all.”

The Justice Initiative has been spearheading legal efforts to enforce a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that found the Czech Republic’s treatment of Roma children was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered an end to discrimination.

Štěpán Drahokoupil, who works on education and youth policy at the Prague-based Open Society Fund, noted that the move comes as the Czech Parliament is discussing an amendment to the education law, which could have impact on so-called “practical” schools, where Roma and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented. He added:

“Despite the fact that the amendment aims to improve situation of children with special educational needs, it contains some parts, which allow various interpretations, including increase of pupils in practical and special schools. The Ministry of Education must make absolutely clear, that the amendment will improve the situation of Roma children and will not result in further discrimination and segregation.”

A report in February 2012 from the European Commissioner of Human Rights pointed out that an estimated 30 percent of Roma children in the Czech Republic are still placed in the special practical schools compared to two percent of their non-Roma counterparts.

The infringement proceedings call into question the Czech Republic’s compliance with: Article 21 (1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which prohibits discrimination based on any ground such as race or ethnic origin; and the Race Equality Directive (2000/43/EC (RED)) Articles 2.2a, 2.2b, 2.3, 3.1.g, which prohibit discrimination in access to education on the grounds of race or ethnicity.

The Open Society Foundations advocates an inclusive approach to education, under which children are not segregated into separate schools, but rely on additional support in mainstream classrooms to provide equal educational opportunities to all.  

The foundations are the largest private funder of Roma advocacy and community groups in Europe, and also support the promotion of inclusive educational policies.

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The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.