Skip to main content

History, Memory and Justice for Roma people in Europe

High-level opening Panel: Holocaust of Sinti and Roma: What did Europe learn?

Opening remarks delivered by Elena Kountouri Tapiero, Acting Regional Representative for Europe, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Regional Office for Europe

European Parliament Altiero Spinelli.25 April 2023, 09:00 – 10:00 CET.

Good morning, Vice-President of the European Parliament, members of the European Parliament, distinguished panellists, dear participants, thank you very much for inviting me today to the high-level opening panel on the Holocaust of Sinti and Roma: what did Europe learn?

It’s been nearly eight decades after the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands of Roma, who have been victims of massacres and other grave human rights violations. These crimes demonstrate the magnitude of disaster that can result from hatred. The historical injustices perpetrated against the Roma have devastated communities and had totally eroded trust between Roma and non-Roma and often undermined the self-esteem of Roma communities. Unfortunately, hatred, exclusion and segregation still persist today in many parts of the world.

Does it mean that we haven’t learned from our dark history. Yes, we have. We have increasingly recognized truth and reconciliation processes as a crucial component of justice. We do know that there is the need to investigate the past and trace the roots of the structure of oppression experienced by the Roma in order to break it and to rebuild the trust between Roma and non-Roma. Nevertheless, significant work remains to be done.

The UN Human Rights Office has been continuously advocating for recognition and remedy for the Dark Chapters off the Romani Past. Last year, the Office organized in collaboration with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) and its partners in the framework of the CHAHIPEN project an international roundtable on Roma and memoralization. Here, I would like to pay tribute to all partners of the project for their work that paved the way for truth and reconciliation processes to address antigypsyism in Europe.

During the roundtable in Geneva participants focused on the role of transitional justice in restoring the truth, justice and trust of Roma communities.

Today, this event will explicitly focus on transitional justice tools and transitional justice processes and memorialisation efforts in Spain and Romania, as well as, in countries in the Western Balkans, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria. I would like to underline the importance and interconnectivity of all five key principles of transitional justice: truth, justice, reparations, guarantees of nonrecurrence, and memorialization. Namely, justice for the Roma communities relies on full recognition of the past and guarantees of non-recurrence. It is thus crucial that past violations are investigated in order to establish the truth recognize the past and bring cases to court.

Memorialization is an important element of recognizing and assuming responsibility for the past injustices against the Roma community. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence in his report dedicated to the question of mmemorialization in 2020 (A/HRC/45/45, para. 15) stated that: “the work carried out on these past violations serves as a basis for reflection on the present and identification of contemporary issues related to exclusion, discrimination, marginalization and abuses of power, which are often linked to toxic political cultures. He added that the success of memorialization also: “depends on whether the authorities in charge of the public space adopt and implement policies on memory that represent different points of view and foster good collaboration with civil society, whose actions mobilize groups of people, launch initiatives and debates and facilitate the taking of ownership by the public.

Memorialization should not be undertaken in isolation. To increase its impact, memorialization should be adopted in conjunction with other transitional justice methods. Such as court proceedings against perpetrators of forced sterilization programs, reforms of the police force to eradicate intolerance, prejudice and stereotyping, and truth commissions or panels of inquiry to investigate the extent of state involvement in past abuses perpetrated against the Roma.

To conclude, let me recall that we are currently commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated this is an opportunity to re-engage on the universality of human rights embodied in the Declaration, to demonstrate how the Declaration can meet the needs of our times, and to bolster our rights ecosystem. We need to ensure that the horrors that inspired our predecessors to draft the Declaration will never be repeated again.

How can the past inform the future? What have we learned?

I would like to present some recommendations emanating from the roundtable which might contribute to translating our lessons learned from the past into action now and in the future.

1. Adopting measures in the field of truth, justice, reparations, memorialization and guarantees of non-recurrence, as legal obligations under international human rights law, to address the serious human rights violations committed against Roma people and to foster reconciliation, inclusion and the advancement of diversity.

2. Establishing the truth about past violations by collecting data and testimonies of victims.

3. Advancing recognition of the problem of antigypsyism, and addressing its manifestations -- such as anti-Roma hate speech, stigma, discrimination, segregation, racial or ethnic profiling and other forms of exclusion -- through legal, policy and administrative measures.

4. Establishing policies and practices providing reparations to Romani victims of past human rights violations and their descendants, including, compensation, rehabilitation, restitution, and memorialization and guarantees of non-recurrence.

5. Adopting safe spaces where survivors/victims and civil society can actively participate in the process of transitional justice, where the state acknowledges past abuses and takes responsibility for them.The UN Office for Human Rights stands ready to work with you together to address the structural, institutional and historical factors that drive and perpetuate discrimination against Roma.