By Elsa Stamatopoulou (1)
International Roma Day (8 April) is a day to celebrate Romani culture, history and language, and to raise awareness of the issues Romani people still face. It was officially declared in 1990 during the 4th World Romani Congress, in honour of the first major international meeting of Roma representatives, 7-12 April 1971, in Orpington near London, UK.
Many of the 10-12 million Roma in Europe still suffer from poverty and exclusion. The existence of widespread anti-Gypsyism reinforces and aggravates their economic and social deprivation. These inequalities persist despite ongoing efforts at national, European, and international level to tackle anti-Roma and anti-Traveller prejudice, discrimination and crimes.(2) The new Council of Europe Strategic Action Plan for Roma and Traveller Inclusion (2020-2025) and the EU’s post-2020 Roma Strategy aim to promote and protect the human rights of Roma and Travellers in Europe, to combat anti-Gypsyism and discrimination, and to foster their social inclusion.(3)
Around one million Romani are estimated to live in the USA, often living in social invisibility.
The human rights approach to any issue, including the situation of Roma people: a) Underlines that human rights (civil, cultural, economic, political, social) are intercomplementary, interdependent and interrelated. For example, Roma people’s freedom of expression is intimately linked to their right to education and to health, including or especially in Covid-19 times. b) Provides specificity based on international human rights law, namely the various global treaties that are in fact quasi-universally ratified by states; for example the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on the Rights of the Child are extremely relevant for Roma people. c) Brings in the fundamental norm of non-discrimination and equality in all circumstances. For example, it begs the question whether Roma issues are given adequate attention in a specific educational context, such as the university? d) Places emphasis on participation, in this case, the participation of Roma people, in decision-making regarding relevant laws, policies and projects concerning them.
Roma Day is also a celebration of the Roma’s multiple contributions to our culture and diversity, their extraordinary artistic expressions in music, design, other arts and elsewhere. I am proud that our University has embraced the Roma Peoples Project in the Center for Justice
. I have been privileged to accompany the Project and its extraordinary Founder and Coordinator, Cristiana Grigore, from the beginning. The Roma Peoples Project spotlights Roma peoples and expands Roma studies by examining topics such as identity and stigma, mobility and displacement, and archival research and digital scholarship.
Within the context of our efforts for diversity in academia in recent times, International Roma Day 2021 reminds us again that we, at Columbia University, should also follow the human rights approach and not only continue, but strengthen our efforts and create positive spaces of support, solidarity, research and learning for the Roma and others about Roma issues. The Roma are, after all, our fellow travelers in the struggles for human rights.
The International Roma Conference for the 50th anniversary since the first major international meeting of Roma representatives, in 1971 in England, will take place in Greece, under the aegis of the President of Greece (8-9 April, 20-21 June and 14-15 September 2021).(4)
(1) The author is Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights and Advisor to the Roma Peoples Project at Columbia University.
(2) April 2020, Joint Statement by Marija Pejčinović Burić, Council of Europe Secretary General, and Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality