I would like to thank the FXB Center and the other sponsoring organizations, and especially Margareta Matache, for the opportunity to speak about U.S. policy to advance human rights for Roma. I hope to frame the issue by presenting some of the key factors that make this a pressing challenge for European governments, and then describe the policies and tools that the U.S. government employs to meet the challenge.
The marginalization and isolation of Roma citizens, preventing them from contributing their talents and participating in their societies, affects millions of men, women, and children across Europe. However, while discrimination against Roma presents a moral and human rights challenge, we also should not ignore the growing socio-economic costs of exclusion. The World Bank has estimated that economic losses to states with significant Roma populations such as Romania, Serbia, and the Czech Republic stemming from Roma exclusion, particularly lack of education and job skills, are in the billions of dollars. Demographic trends will accelerate these losses. For example, in Hungary alone it is estimated that forty percent of the work force will be Roma by 2040. Will they have the skills they need to contribute to a vital 21st century economy? We are also concerned about the prospect of inter-ethnic tensions; we have witnessed unsettling incidents of anti-Roma violence and protests in recent years; in several countries, extremists, as well as mainstream politicians, continue to stoke anti-Roma sentiments.
For all of these reasons, the U.S. Government is seeking to deepen its efforts to promote Roma inclusion. Our own experience in the United States with civil rights has taught us that broad-based activism, wherein members of marginalized communities, non-governmental actors and governments collaborate to develop solutions and share best practices, can help break the cycle of isolation and intolerance. However, we strongly believe that the responsibility to provide all citizens with equal opportunities in education, healthcare, housing, and employment resides first and foremost with governments.
U.S. support to Romani communities is also part of our broader effort to partner with civil society and governments to combat racism and prejudice against all vulnerable groups in Europe. In addition to the Roma, we speak out publicly and privately to condemn discriminatory practices, hate speech, and hate crimes targeting other groups, such as Jews, Muslims, LGBT individuals, persons with disabilities, recent migrants and others.
Through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and programming assistance, the State Department is leading U.S. government efforts to promote the human rights of Roma across Europe. We seek to promote a strong, effective Romani civil society capable of self-advocacy, while encouraging governments to create an environment that fosters opportunity and provides effective protection for victims of violence and discrimination. Our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices details the status of human rights in Romani communities, sending an important signal to governments and Roma citizens alike about U.S. awareness and concern. Through the Human Rights and Democracy Fund, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor manages a range of Roma-focused programs that provide legal services to Romani communities, build and train Romani civil society organizations, and promote inter-ethnic dialogue and civic engagement between Roma and majority national communities. Our work benefits from the interest and actions of the U.S. Congress, particularly the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or Helsinki Commission.
U.S. embassies throughout Europe engage actively with host governments on issues affecting Roma communities, maintain close connections with Romani civil society organizations and communities, sponsor outreach activities and programs to promote tolerance and celebrate Romani culture, and help Romani leaders engage with their governments.
Another critical element of our strategy is cooperation with a range of international and intergovernmental organizations, including the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank and, in particular, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (or OSCE) to support policies and programs for the Roma and other disadvantaged communities.
It’s an honor to be here with Andrzej Mirga, who has served with distinction as the OSCE’s Senior Advisor for Roma and Sinti Issues for the past seven years. As an OSCE participating State, the United States strongly supports the OSCE’s long-term and ground breaking efforts to promote Roma inclusion. We applaud Mr. Mirga’s personal advocacy and positive OSCE activity such as: capacity-building projects for Romani NGOs; expert assistance to governments and civil society on implementation of OSCE commitments; support for civic education, voter education and political participation initiatives; programs to foster greater trust between Roma and law enforcement; assistance in resolving internal displacement and lack of suitable housing; and reviewing and promoting implementation of the OSCE’s “Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti Within the OSCE Area.”
We also engage with the European Union, which has assumed important new coordinating responsibilities with the adoption of the Framework for Roma inclusion. U.S. participation as an official observer in the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative, which we joined last year, is another facet of our broader effort to partner with civil society and governments to promote Roma inclusion and to combat racism and prejudice against Roma in Europe.
Today, Secretary Kerry issued a statement for International Roma Day and observed, “On this day, we should reflect on the obstacles that continue to prevent millions of Roma from realizing their potential.” Then, referring to the importance of this issue, he continued, “The United States reaffirms its determination to meet this challenge together with European governments, civil society, and through international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to achieve equality, opportunity, and inclusion for all Roma.”
Advancing Roma inclusion is and will remain a part of the U.S. goal of promoting human rights and tolerance in Europe and around the globe.