Segregation, as a form of discrimination on the basis of racial, national, class or religious difference, is a specific social problem delicacy of which is particularly evident in relation to protection of human rights of Roma population in Serbia. Despite the intentions of certain social structures and coordinated efforts of state institutions to help the Roma population approach the living standards of dominating social groups through inclusion processes, this population group is often exposed to various forms of direct or indirect discrimination as a result of a series of social, economic, cultural and other factors, but also the illegitimate unequal proceeding. The stated occurrences are manifested in different ways but all have the same outcome: by preventing the members of the Roma population group to access regular models of social, economic, cultural, educational and other forms of connecting to the environment they live in, achievement of the goal to bring closer and make equal this vulnerable minority group with the dominating social groups is at risk. This certainly prevents formation of a harmonious demographic picture within the state.
NGO Praxis reacted to one of the more evident forms of segregation in the region of Southern Serbia by filing a complaint to the Commissioner for Protection of Equality against the Nis City Administration, Department of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, and against the Primary School “Vuk Karadzic” from Nis, that is, against the School Principal as the responsible person.
Referring to domestic legislation and ratified international conventions, in its complaint, Praxis pointed to the problem of segregation of Roma children which becomes apparent if one observes the fact that, in the last twenty years, 90% of children enrolled in the Primary School “Vuk Karadzic” in Nis were members of Roma ethnic minority, while only two to three children per generation belong to non-Roma population. Through absence of a reaction from the competent social structures – groups, institutions and bodies (despite certain attempts of interested parties to point to this problem), and by relying on insufficiently precise legal formulations, primarily the Law on the Fundamentals of the Education System, an atmosphere has been created in which the dominant population avoids enrolling their children in the school where the majority of pupils belong to Roma population. Among other things, it directly confronts one of the goals of the Strategy for Improvement of the Status of Roma in the Republic of Serbia – prevention of labeling schools with the majority Roma pupils as “gipsy schools.” Since this case has been active for years and is a result of years of absence of reaction from the competent authorities, while at the same time it represents an example of a widespread problem, the opinion of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality is significant not only with respect to resolving the actual situation, but also for formulating a model for a more engaged solving of the problem of segregation of the kind and for distribution of funds for general prevention of discrimination of minority groups in this or other ways.
The Commissioner for Protection of Equality gave a decision upon the submitted complaint. In addition to the course of procedure explained in detail and statements of persons the complaint refers to (Head of the Department for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the Nis City Administration, Principal of the Primary School “Vuk Karadzic,” but also the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development), the decision of the Commissioner established the factual state of affairs: not denying existence of segregation, the Commissioner estimated that it was a multidisciplinary problem the resolving of which requested articulated action by the socially responsible entities. In this actual case, the Commissioner gave a recommendation referring to formulating and implementing the plan of measures the realization of which should overcome the problem of segregation, i.e. high number of Roma children in the Primary School “Vuk Karadzic” in Nis. Department for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the Nis City Administration should assume responsibility for realization of these measures.
However, the opinion and the recommendation in this actual case do not essentially solve the problem of segregation. The fact is that the afore-mentioned school is located near a large Roma settlement in Nis. Relying on the fluctuating provisions of the Law on the Fundamentals of the Education System (which enables the citizens to enroll their children in schools at their own discretion, without limitations as regards the choice of the institution), circumstances have been created which allow the competent services to be passive in responding to discrimination the occurrence of which is becoming more and more evident every year, and to do so within the legal framework. Mechanisms for protection of human rights fail selectively (e.g. during the procedure in this case the competent authority failed to hold a hearing of the witness – Director of the Association of Roma Women “Osvit,” suggested by the submitter of the complaint; despite the suggestion of the proceeding body – the Commissioner for Protection of Equality - the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development did not deliver the statement that should have followed the inspection that was carried out). Precisely such minor omissions create conditions that further intensify the problem of discrimination. Roma population is marginalized and, observed as a whole, often treated as the “social ulcer,” by direct or indirect actions of individuals or a group, spontaneous actions or procedures that often find false support in legislation and the legal system of the state. It is significant to point to abuses in interpretation of certain legal acts, abuses which are aimed at protecting secular interests of certain entities, primarily socially responsible ones – bodies, organizations, institutions or individuals, that would, in an actual case, be held responsible for obvious discrimination. The term abuse refers to each selective and tendentious interpretation of imprecise provisions of legal acts, that is aimed at creating a distorted picture of the failure to proceed in certain cases which is opposite to basic principles of human rights protection. Raising awareness among the dominating population about the importance of inclusion, bringing together and truly making equal all social layers is a process that demands a committed approach and articulated and uncompromising proceeding of all responsible structures. In order to take actual steps in practice, legal framework must first be coordinated and harmonized, as well as the mechanisms for implementation of legal norms, which, at this moment and in this region, still represents an unfulfilled goal.
Hoping that significant steps will be taken in the future, aimed at improving general living conditions of Roma and other minority groups in the Republic of Serbia, we emphasize that we are all born equal, with equal opportunities, rights and obligations and that each attempt to neglect that is intolerable, inhuman and unacceptable.