In “Case Watch,” staff of the Open Society Justice Initiative provide quick-hit analysis of recent notable court decisions that relate to their work to advance human rights law around the world.
Roma schoolchildren in Greece and their families are returning to the European Court of Human Rights, demanding an end to segregation in Greek schools.
The Court has officially informed the Greek government that it is taking up a new case, Ioanna Sampani and Others v. Greece (text in French), which was filed by Greek Helsinki Monitor, a local human rights group. Unusually, the case repeats the allegations made in a 2008 case brought by the same families, in which the court has already ruled that Greece had discriminated against Roma children in education, and failed to provide an effective remedy for that violation of their rights.
The 2008 judgment found that Roma children living in the Psari settlement of Aspropyrgos, a suburb of Athens, had been excluded from the town’s 10th Elementary School and sent to study in a separate annex, completely segregated from non-Roma children.
But despite the judgment, the conditions at what has become known as the “Aspropyrgos Roma ghetto school” have deteriorated. The annex that had originally housed the Roma children burned down in 2007 and was replaced by a new building, which was declared to be the 12th Elementary School of Aspropyrgos. Rather than use this opportunity to integrate schools in the town, the authorities continued the practice of using the new 12th school for only Roma students. It was damaged in early 2008, and by December 2008 it was considered dangerous for teachers and students. The school fence was broken, the playground destroyed, the toilets did not function, and there was no cooling or heating system. Chairs, lighting, cabinets, and other fixtures had been stolen.
The Roma claimants in the new case argue that they are still discriminated against, that they lack an effective legal remedy, and that Greece has failed to execute the earlier judgment.
The case also follows D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, which addressed a similar situation of discrimination against Roma children in Czech schools, and where there has also been a systematic failure to implement the judgment of the Court. These cases illustrate the detrimental impact that widespread bias against Roma in Europe is having on Roma children.
It is unusual for the Strasbourg Court to take up a case involving a defendant State while the implementation—or lack of it—of a nearly identical case is still being considered by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Court may be doing so in order to highlight the systemic nature of the problem, including the apparent failure of Greece to implement the prior case. In its communication to Greece, the Court noted that the situation at the Aspropyrgos school appears to be a long-term problem, despite the Greek government’s argument that it was a temporary issue caused by lack of space.
Implementation is an issue that the Open Society Justice Initiative has explored in detail in its report From Judgment to Justice. The failure, so far, to implement D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic illustrates the challenges of executing a judgment of discrimination against Roma schoolchildren. The recognition that there is a systemic problem in Aspropyrgos and Greece will hopefully lead to the structural reforms that are necessary to bring about integrated schooling.