European human rights watchdog slams Roma segregation in Slovakia, Czech Republic

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Europe’s human rights watchdog slammed Slovakia and the Czech Republic on Wednesday for lack of progress in eliminating segregation of Roma children in schools and hate speech in political discourse directed at Europe’s poorest minority.

In a report on Slovakia, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, criticized what he called chronic, pervasive segregation of Roma children in schools and their high drop-out rates.

“Although Slovakia’s anti-discrimination framework is comprehensive, it provides a differing degree of protection for various vulnerable social groups and must be reformed to close all protection gaps,” Muiznieks said.

“The placement of Roma children in special schools, the spatial segregation of Roma, and their substandard housing situation must also be addressed as a matter of priority,” he added.

Almost one in five Slovak Romas did not finish primary education and only 17 percent continued into secondary studies, according to the 2010 United Nations Development Programme household survey, the latest data available.

The same survey showed 43 percent of Roma children enrolled in mainstream schools were in practice attending ethnically segregated classes.

In a 2011 census, only two percent of Slovakia’s 5.4 million citizens said they were Roma, but experts estimate the Roma population at about 7.5 percent. Most are integrated with the majority population, but many still live in illegal settlements without electricity, sewage and water.

In a separate report released on Wednesday, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said strategies for Roma integration in the Czech Republic and for combating social exclusion have failed. That has resulted in many ‘only-Roma’ schools providing a reduced curriculum and lower quality education.

“Continued discrimination of Roma, in particular of Roma children, is a serious concern,” Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said in a press release.

The Roma population in the country of 10.5 million is estimated at around 300,000.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, editing by Larry King