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Monday, 8 October 2012

Public Discussion for the Members of Roma Community Held in Prokuplje

As part of the Project “Equal Opportunity for Better Perspectives, Strengthening Roma People to Combat Discrimination,” implemented by the Office of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality of the Republic of Serbia, in cooperation with Praxis the second public discussion was held for the members of Roma community in Prokuplje. Organization of the discussion is a part of the information and education campaign of the Commissioner aimed at raising awareness and strengthening vulnerable social groups to combat discrimination.

The public discussion gathered Roma activists and representatives of organizations the activities of which are directed at protection and assistance to marginalized and excluded social groups, primarily members of Roma community.

At the beginning, representatives of the Office of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality presented the institution and its competence, as well as the procedure upon filing the complaint for discrimination. They also attempted to bring closer to the participants the general notion of discrimination. Stating that “discrimination is unequal treatment of persons who are in equal position or equal treatment of those who are in unequal position,” they tended to simplify complicated legal formulation of the notion of discrimination. Furthermore, through numerous examples they pointed to the participants that not every making of difference is prohibited, thus clearly drawing a line between treatment and acts that are discriminatory and those that are not. In this part of the presentation, the participants were acquainted with numerous forms of discriminatory behaviour and, at the same time, with certain personal features that most often represent basis and reason for discrimination.

Acquainting participants with the aim of the public discussion, representatives of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality particularly emphasised a worrying fact that, among the filed complaints, a very small number was submitted by the members of Roma community or the associations working on the protection of the rights of Roma, especially bearing in mind that the Roma are one of the most discriminated social groups. They, thus, invited the participants to respond to occurrences of violation of the right to equality by filing complaints to the Commissioner, pointing out that the procedure is free and that the complaint can be filed by mail. Besides, the significance and the effect of the Commissioner’s decisions were pointed out, more precisely the discrediting effect that the decisions establishing discrimination have on individuals, a body or a group practising discrimination. Individual cases in which the discrimination was established and the measures undertaken in order to combat such behaviour in the future were also presented. Representative of the Commissioner also distributed the printed edition of the 2011 Regular Annual Report of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality to the participants, as well as the complaint form in the Romani language.

Representative of Praxis spoke about the mechanisms for access to and protection of basic human rights, but also about the most frequent problems and obstacles in the access to certain rights. She particularly pointed to new legal solutions that prescribe a simplified or facilitated procedures. At the same time, she emphasised the significance of citizens insisting on implementation of the new solutions so that their effect can be felt in practice. In a part of the presentation related to access to rights, Praxis representative also referred to the role and significance of the Ombudsperson of the Republic of Serbia, its competence and authorities.

After the presentation, participants of the discussion had the opportunity to actively participate by giving their observations and experience in relation to exercise of rights. Thus, they pointed to the difficulty and often the impossibility to access the rights at all, which leads to their social exclusion and, to a certain extent, deprivation of rights. As they were not familiar with the institution of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, its role, competence and authorities, the discussion contributed to raising awareness of the members of the Roma ethnic minority about their right to equal treatment and the need to use instruments for protection of the right aimed at combating discrimination.

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