press release Europe should learn from the US experience of desegregation Segregated education for Romani children is still a widespread practice in many European countries. The European Roma Rights Centre’s (ERRC) consultant Stanislav Daniel compared the US experience in desegregation with the European practice in his opening address delivered today on behalf of the civil society at the meeting of the International Steering Committee of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, noting that, “52 years ago the US president called troops to support desegregation of schools, in many Decade countries the practice of segregation is still very common.” Spisska Nova Ves, 22 September 2009: Focusing on the case of “Little Rock Nine” and the desegregation process in the United States, the need for strong political will to change the status quo was highlighted in terms of the contemporary situation of Roma in Europe. Following the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court decision in the case “Brown v. Board of Education”, in which the court conﬁrmed that separate education yields inequality, desegregation processes started at many schools in the US. In the capital city of Arkansas, Little Rock, a plan of gradual desegregation was to be implemented during the 1957 school year. Nine black students, later nicknamed the “Little Rock Nine”, started attending the exclusively “white” Little Rock Central High. Segregationists, opposing the federal court decision, held protests aided by the local authorities and barred the entrance of the black students to the school. A so-called “Constitutional Crisis” ensued for about a month until then President Eisenhower used his Executive power to support the integration of black students. On the occasion of 68th birthday of Ernest Green, the oldest of the Little Rock Nine, Mr Daniel pointed out that Mr Green and the Little Rock Nine are the living symbols of how important it is to stand up to segregation; symbols of how important political will is when ﬁghting segregation. As Daniel underlined today, the segregation of Romani children in many Roma-only segregated classes or schools is still very common. Romani children are automatically sidetracked into a parallel system of education, often special schools ostensibly for children with mental disabilities. Policy makers need to display courage as in the Little Rock Nine case and make sure that the Romani children are not coerced into education in special schools or otherwise segregated environments. contact: Stanislav Daniel tel.: +421 903 257 390 firstname.lastname@example.org www.errc.org speech After the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case Brown v. Board of Education, in which the court conﬁrmed that separate is not equal, desegregation processes started at many schools in the United States. In the capital city of Arkansas, Little Rock, a plan of gradual integration was to be implemented during the school year starting in September 1957. Within the program nine black students, later nicknamed the “Little Rock Nine”, started attending the previously white-only Little Rock Central High. This plan was deﬁnitely not something the local white people supported. Segregationists, opposing the federal court decision, held protests in front of the school, supported by local authorities, preventing the nine black students from entering the school. What followed is known as the Constitutional Crisis, which took about a month to be resolved until President Eisenhower decided to use his Executive power and support integration of black students. On 25 September 1957, the U.S. Army was called in to escort the nine students to school and protect them. Threats were still there and the Little Rock Nine continued to face physical and verbal abuse from their white classmates. But they stayed and they graduated! Today is the 68th birthday of, Ernest Green, the oldest of the group. After ﬁnishing schools he became an important person in the civil rights movement, later a respected ﬁnance manager, but probably most people will always remember him as the ﬁrst black student to graduate from Little Rock Central High. Ernest Green and the Little Rock Nine are the living symbols of how important it is to stand up to segregation; symbols of how important political will is when ﬁghting segregation. They showed us that there is no justiﬁcation for segregation; no justiﬁcation for a dual system of education. Today, the practice in many Decade countries is different. Roma-only segregated classes or schools are still very common and civil society is publishing one report after another pointing at how Romani children are automatically sidetracked into a parallel system of education, often special schools ostensibly for children with mental disabilities. Instead of signiﬁcant action to desegregate, excuses are made about why Romani children need special education, giving Romani children all kinds of labels from social disadvantage, language barrier to cultural differences, only to keep them separate. “Separate is never equal,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in its decision in 1954. “Boarding schools for Roma, 1” the Slovak politicians say in 2009. A year ago the Prime Minister of Canada made his apology for boarding schools for Aboriginal children.2 In April this year a similar apology was made by the Pope for Catholic boarding schools in Canada that were also used to warehouse Aboriginal children.3 For more than 10 years, since 1998, Australia has the National Sorry Day, in commemoration of those who were taken from their parents to boarding schools for Aboriginal children. Ignoring history, boarding schools for Romani children still remain an option in the eyes of Slovak politicians. Slovakia included integrated education among its priorities of its presidency in the Decade of Roma Inclusion. In three days, exactly ﬁfty-two years will have passed since the decision of President Eisenhower to support desegregation by any means necessary. Fifty-two years ago, he made this unpopular decision to defend higher moral principles. Integration was enforced in fact, not by creating segregated boarding schools for black children, not by putting them into special schools or classes because of their social disadvantage, cultural or other differences. The political will enforced an initially unpopular change that the law and morality demanded. Popular opinion adjusted to this change, and a bedrock principle of equality permeated American culture. The stories of Ernest Green and the Little Rock Nine have shown to the world how important political decisions are in the process of desegregation. How important it is that the politicians stand for higher moral principles. We want to believe, that after so many years of segregation of Romani children, our politicians will display similar courage and issue an immediate moratorium on the further tracking of Romani children into special schools or otherwise segregated environments. Let’s give Ernest Green a birthday present, let’s not forget his legacy. 1 http://www.sktoday.com/content/1954_slovak-government-looking-solutions-stop-high-roma-criminality http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7438079.stm http://www.hufﬁngtonpost.com/2009/04/29/pope-apologizes-for-canad_n_192754.html 2 3 The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation engaging in a range of activities aimed at combating antiRomani racism and human rights abuse of Roma. The approach of the ERRC involves, in particular, strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and policy development, and human rights training of Romani activists. Since its establishment in 1996, the ERRC has endeavoured to give Roma the tools necessary to combat discrimination and win equal access to government, education, employment, health care, housing and public services. The ERRC works to combat prejudice and discrimination against Roma, and to promote genuine equality of treatment and equality of respect. In 2000, 18 Romani children from Ostrava, represented by the ERRC and the local counsel turned to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for children with learning disabilities contravened the European Convention. In a momentous decision for Roma across Europe, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled on 14 November 2007 that segregating Roma students into special schools is a form of unlawful discrimination. Almost two years later segregated education of Romani children remains to be a common practice throughout Europe.