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Romanian Roma people carry luggage after they and more than 200 others arrived on two special flights from France, in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)
Romanian Roma people carry luggage after they and more than 200 others arrived on two special flights from France, in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Globe editorial

Human rights at home, too Add to ...

The ongoing discrimination towards the Roma in parts of Europe is a black eye for the entire continent. Last week, assailants threw a flaming torch into the home of a family of Roma living in Bychory, Czech Republic -- just the latest example of a persistent pattern of intolerance.

The racism is especially troubling given that respect for human rights is a core value of all European Union countries, embedded in the EU's founding treaty and Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The EU is quick to wag fingers at other countries that fail to respect human rights. It's time they had a look at the ramshackle dwellings and decrepit shacks the Roma inhabit in their own backyard. The Roma have been deported en masse from France; diagnosed as having "light brain disorder" and forced to attend schools for slow learners in parts of Hungary; and made to live behind concrete walls in some towns in Slovakia.

Even though discrimination against ethnic minorities is expressly prohibited in all 27 EU member states, these events still routinely occur.

"I hardly found anyone who didn't insult the Roma," notes Karl Nerenberg, who recently returned from the Czech Republic and Hungary for a documentary on the Roma he is co-producing with Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Ottawa-based Association of Canadian Studies.

While the EU has earmarked funds to improve the plight of the Roma, conditions are actually worsening in some member nations. About nine Roma were killed in Hungary this year; and last March, a patrol of uniformed vigilantes terrorized the town of Gyongyospata.

The Roma must fight for equal rights. This is not a community congenitally incapable of success, after all; Roma immigrants do well in multicultural Canada. For its part, the EU Commission should launch a public education campaign to challenge the pervasive culture of prejudice, and sanction members who violate its human rights code. It needs to reassure the world that Europe, a self-appointed champion of democracy and human rights, is doing all it can to end institutionalized racism against its own citizens.

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