Remarks at the International Roma Day Event

Goethe Institute, Washington, D.C.

As part of International Roma Day outreach, Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas O. Melia opened a movie presentation organized by the Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy on April 30.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia at International Roma Day Event

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia at International Roma Day Event

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Romani people and communities have been present in Europe for nearly a millennium. During those years they made tremendous contributions to European, arts, music, literature, and more recently politics. It is enough to mention such names as the Russian-born actor Yul Brynner, or Belgian-born virtuoso of jazz guitar Django Reinhardt. But during the centuries of their habitation in Europe, Roma were also a target of persecution, discrimination, social exclusion, and also slavery and genocide. Even today, the estimated 15 million European Roma continue to be one of Europe’s most vulnerable minorities.

Despite significant effort of governments and civil society, many members of Roma communities continue to experience societal and institutional discrimination; verbal and physical violence, police brutality, and persistent inequality in health, education, employment, and housing. We have seen an increase in incidents of anti-Roma violence and anti-Roma rhetoric. Whether it is violent attacks in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe or outbreaks of hostility against new Romani settlements in Italy or France, or forced, ethnicity-based deportations only run counter to the freedom of movement enjoyed by EU citizens – the need for action on behalf of Roma safety, education, health, and employment are more evident than ever.

The United States is committed to protecting and promoting the rights of Romani people.

The United States is committed to protecting and promoting the rights of Romani people. It is both a political priority of our government and personal commitment of many of us including the Secretary. Our bureau has targeted assistance programs in order to improve the lives of Roma in all the societies that they live in.

In June of this year, we hope to become an observer to the Decade of Roma Inclusion, an effort by European governments to improve opportunities for Roma to participate in the political, social, economic, and cultural lives of their countries. We are also encouraged by the new “European Framework for National Roma Strategies,” which asks all EU member states to develop a national strategy to improve the welfare of Roma.

As a nation, we have learned that discrimination and exclusion have a terrible cost on a society, in stunted human development and wasted human potential. In a speech on Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century the Secretary said in 2009: “The potential within every person to learn, discover and embrace the world around them, the potential to join freely with others to shape their communities and their societies so that every person can find fulfillment and self-sufficiency, the potential to share life’s beauties and tragedies, laughter and tears with the people we love – that potential is sacred.”

As we gather here to witness the strength and courage of Romani people overcome innumerable obstacles and hardships, let us recall our commitment to help members of Romani communities fulfill their potential and continue to build on their long, unique tradition that brightened and enlivened European culture over the centuries. Only through the respect for the human rights and dignity of every individual, irrespective of ethnicity, race, religion, national origin or other protected grounds, can we achieve security, economic prosperity and cultural richness that stems from the embrace of diversity.

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