Keynote address by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Opening Ceremony of the 2010/2011 Plenary Assembly of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF)
Wednesday, 30 March 2011, 9.30 a.m
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Ladies and gentlemen,
Ten years ago in this same building, the Finnish President Tarja Halonen gave a landmark address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in which she highlighted the need to provide “the Roma population with a voice and with the possibility of participating in decision-making processes at the European level”.
It was this speech that set in motion a dynamic that led to the creation of the European Roma and Travellers Forum in 2004. The Council of Europe was actively involved in this process and very soon a partnership agreement with the Forum was signed.
Under this agreement, the Forum has been given privileged access to a number of intergovernmental committees of the Council of Europe.
This status is an important opportunity for doing what the Finnish President had called for - participating in European decision-making processes – because it allows the Forum to contribute, to comment and to make proposals to those bodies that prepare the decisions, policies and legal instruments adopted by the Committee of Ministers which in turn guide the practices and policies of our 47 member states.
It is no news to you that the situation of most Roma in Europe is still very difficult, both in terms of their social integration and their full enjoyment of fundamental human rights, without discrimination.
Some progress has been made, but mostly at a modest level and at a very slow pace. We all can do better, we must do better to improve the situation. When I say “we”, I mean: the governments, regional and local authorities, international organisations like the Council of Europe, but also the Roma themselves.
From local Roma communities, national Roma organisations, to European organisations, not least the European Roma and Travellers Forum itself.
Six years after your Forum was established, I invite you to ask yourself some critical questions: have we done enough, have we been an effective and dynamic force for change, have we lived up to our ambition to be an example of Roma empowerment by being truly representative, transparent and democratic in our functioning?
Such critical self-analysis is important, not for the sake of criticising, but in order to do better in the future. We all must do better.
For the Forum, doing better means: being more proactive, forward-looking, making proposals to member states and international organisations for policies that will actually improve the situation, ensuring full representativeness of all different Roma groups and strands within your structures, becoming less dependent, in terms of human and financial resources, on Council of Europe support.
I am not alone in encouraging you to engage firmly in these directions: similar points were made by representatives of governments during the exchange of views they had with your President last November and they are also heard within Roma civil society.
This is why I welcome your efforts to develop your interventions and to become financially self-sustainable, notably through a donors conference in the near future.
Today more than ever before, there is political momentum for taking decisive steps forward. At the High Level Meeting of last October, the governments of Council of Europe member states adopted the Strasbourg Declaration on Roma in which they strongly reaffirmed their commitment to work for social inclusion of Roma and to promote, respect and protect their human rights.
They agreed on a list of priorities which should serve to guide more focused and more consistent efforts at pan-European, national, regional and local levels, in close co-operation with Roma communities at all levels.
The Declaration also highlights specific tasks for the Council of Europe itself. Let me say a few words about where we stand with the implementation of the Declaration. Within weeks after the High Level Meeting, a new Roma programme with increased financial resources was adopted by the Committee of Ministers for the budget year 2011. Entitled “Roma: Promoting social inclusion and Respect for Human Rights”, it forms part of the Human Rights pillar of the Programme-Budget.
I decided to re-organise Secretariat resources in a transversal manner and appointed Mr Jeroen Schokkenbroek as my Special Representative for Roma Issues to steer the Secretariat's action.
Our follow-up action to the Strasbourg Declaration concerns three main strands.
The first action aims at building capacity and providing training at a much larger scale than before.
The European Roma Mediators Training Programme (ROMED) is now being launched in 15 countries in the area of the thematic priorities, namely education, health and employment.
More than 9 million Roma live in the 15 countries concerned. A new curriculum for this Training Programme was developed in order to promote real and effective intercultural mediation. At least 400 mediators will be trained by the end of 2011 by a group of experienced trainers, most of the mediators and trainers being Roma.
I should like to thank the ERTF for its support and assistance in providing contacts and spreading information about the mediators’ training programme.
A second aspect of capacity-building is our reinforced training programme for lawyers that will help Roma in seeking remedies in domestic courts for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter.
A European web-based resource tool (database) for collecting and accessing policies and good practices concerning Roma in the member states is being currently developed and will be gradually filled with content thereafter, in close cooperation with member states and other European organisations that have collected relevant information.
This will be a valuable resource for authorities and NGOs alike and I encourage the ERTF to contribute by identifying positive initiatives in the various countries.
The Strasbourg Declaration also places strong emphasis on the need for more exchange and analysis of policies and good practice between member states. In this context, I draw your attention to the important role to be played by the intergovernmental Ad hoc Committee of Experts on Roma Issues (CAHROM) which was set up in February and will report directly to the Committee of Ministers. This Committee holds its first meeting this week.
As was the case for its predecessor, the MG-S-ROM, the ERTF has been given observer status to the CAHROM and I encourage you to make an active use of it.
Last but not least, internal and external coordination play a crucial role in the whole process of reinforcing and refocusing our action regarding Roma. To give you one example, a consultation meeting with partner organisations about the new ROMED Programme, to which the ERTF was also invited, was held in Strasbourg on 25 January 2011.
My Special Representative (SRSG) for Roma issues is actively developing such co-operation and co-ordination, also within the Council of Europe itself, with different institutions and sectors such as the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, several operational directorates and monitoring bodies, the Commissioner for Human Rights, etc.
The Special Representative will explain our ongoing efforts in greater detail in his own statement to you later on.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are at an important juncture: the Strasbourg Declaration is a political commitment from ministers and high governmental representatives of our 47 member states. Roma issues are a priority on the agenda of European Union institutions and the Council of Europe alike. This is why, more than ever before, eyes are also turning to your institution, the Forum, and expect it to rise to the occasion.
I see the role of the Forum as being one of the main actors to encourage and help member states to put in place effective strategies for the implementation of the Strasbourg Declaration on Roma.
The Forum should not only criticise and react where a policy fails, but also act constructively. Without action, nothing is going to change. Your organisation should be a driving force for change.
To conclude let me refer back to one of the points I started my address with: the Forum was created to give a voice to Roma to make them heard at international level. In my view, there is no reason why the Forum could not equally transmit messages from the international level to grassroots Roma communities.
One of the messages I would like you to convey from this Plenary Meeting concerns universal human rights. These are fundamental rights that belong to everyone, young and old, women and men, Roma and non-Roma. I would ask you to explain within your own communities how these rights also apply within the community.
Explain that for a child, education is primarily a right and for parents a responsibility.
Explain that early or forced marriages are not compatible with the personal autonomy and dignity of each human being.
Explain that these human rights demands do not mean that Roma should give up their identities, customs or traditions, as long as such traditions respect the human rights of others, Roma or non-Roma.
Explain that it is in the name of these very same human rights that the Roma are rightfully demanding a better life for themselves and for their children, with a real exercise of social and political rights, preservation of their identity and bringing an end to stigmatisation and discrimination.
If you do explain all this to the members of your communities, I am convinced you will have made an important step towards better respect for human rights of and within Roma communities. I also trust such important questions will find their way unto the Forum's agenda.