Human Rights: UN expert urges better protection of Roma minority during conflicts

Geneva, 7 April, 2022.- On International Roma Day, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, calls on all States and institutions to fully include Roma people in their efforts to protect civilians during conflicts.

“This year’s celebration of the International Roma Day is saddened by a painful reminder that in times of conflict, minorities such as Roma face specific vulnerabilities and the price for neglecting such vulnerabilities is too high.

The United Nations and its Member States, international and regional organisations must mainstream minority issues in their responses to conflicts and pay particular attention to the situation of the most marginalized such as Roma, but also non-White and non-Christian minorities. It should be acknowledged at all levels that the situation of Roma who are facing multiple forms of discrimination, including women, children, older persons, people with disabilities and LGBTI may be particularly alarming during conflicts.

Roma who are fleeing a conflict and many of whom may be undocumented, should be granted equal protection and safety when seeking refuge inside and outside of the country, regardless of their legal status. Undocumented Roma fleeing a conflict, including children, face additional obstacles and risks crossing the borders. Human trafficking is one of them, as discrimination and racism may increase vulnerability to trafficking during conflicts. Moreover, those Roma who reach neighboring countries risk remaining invisible in the receiving countries, without decent assistance and access to protection. Therefore, States must ensure that all those fleeing a conflict are granted equal access to security and protection, without possible discrimination.


It is of paramount importance to ensure that relief efforts reach extremely excluded Roma people and their families and that specific needs of Roma women, older persons and Roma with disabilities are being addressed. Protection and assistance measures should not be done in segregated arrangements, nor can they be discriminatory or stigmatizing in any way.


While immediate actions are needed in the situations of conflicts happening today, it is also important to address the atrocities experienced by Roma people in the past. The report of last year’s UN Forum on Minority Issues indicates: States should formally recognise, teach the history of and commemorate the Holocaust of the Roma minority that took place during the Second World War.


Let me be clear, Roma people are not only victims of conflicts but also invaluable agents of peace and solidarity. I am asking States and international organisations to join me in honoring the courage of Roma human rights defenders working in conflict environments, often at the risk of their own safety. The international community should do more to amplify their voices, learn from their experience and support their work.


I was particularly touched to learn that these days in Ukraine, Roma civil society mobilises to give out hot meals in the metro stations, streets and other locations in Kharkiv, Odesa and many other places across the country. As a Roma activist from Ukraine said in an interview, they are offering humanitarian assistance to all people in need, both Roma and non-Roma. These acts of solidarity are happening in the context when even before the war, Roma were among the poorest in Ukraine.


Minorities such as Roma, but also non-European and non-White or non-Christian minorities, should be protected during conflicts, but at the same time, States should finally understand that stopping violence once a conflict has erupted is far more difficult (and costly) than preventing one and protection of the rights of minorities, including Roma, is key to conflict prevention.”


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