Commemoration ceremony to mark the International Remembrance Day of the Pharrajimos
Strasbourg, 2 August 2013
Statement by Mr Jeroen Schokkenbroek, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma Issues
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, regrets that he was unable to take part in this solemn ceremony and has asked me to represent him.
69 years ago, on 2 August 1944, 3000 Roma men, women and children were exterminated at the Auschwitz concentration camp. They were not executed because they were guilty of some criminal offence or because they were a threat to the security of the state. They were executed simply because they were Roma. They were executed because they did not conform to the Nazi model of the super race.
We are gathered here today, together with the representatives of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, to pay homage to these innocent victims and to the hundreds of thousands of Roma who perished at the same time for the same evil reasons. But we are also here to keep fresh the memory of these atrocities and to reflect on how their repetition can be avoided. Primo Levi, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, believed that if it happened once it could happen again.
The Pharrajimos - the Roma genocide – would have passed into oblivion if the Roma themselves had not struggled to keep the memory alive. Other Europeans first turned a blind eye to what was happening and then tried to forget all about it. Not only did we forget their past suffering but proceeded unperturbed to heap persecution and humiliation: constant evictions, deportations, ghettoisation and segregation.
Extremist and xenophobic movements are mushrooming throughout Europe. The Roma are under threat in many of our member states, and serious physical aggressions against them have become a frequent occurrence. Anti-gypsyism is rampant, even in political circles. Only recently, in some of our member states, people with political responsibilities have made shocking statements which totally dishonor their mission. Even more disturbing, large sections of the population share their views. Shall we wait calmly for Primo Levi's prophecy to come true?
We must not wait and the Council of Europe, an organisation dedicated to the defence of human rights, cannot and will not wait. Combating anti-gypsyism and fighting for the social inclusion of the Roma are amongst our top priorities.
We, all Europeans, young and old, need most of all to take cognisance of the Roma genocide and realise what it means for this community to continue to be persecuted after having hundreds of thousands Roma exterminated. The Council of Europe is examining a proposal of the European Roma and Travellers Forum to encourage all member States to officially recognise and commemorate the Roma Genocide.
This is crucial to end the silence that has lasted for nearly seven decades. Recognition of this Genocide and giving the history of the Roma its rightful place in history teaching in Europe is crucial for building the confidence and trust between Roma and non-Roma, an essential factor for success in our struggle to achieve a life in dignity for all Roma, in full equality with other citizens.
Ladies and gentlemen, this commemoration would lose its meaning if it were limited to remembering the past. It acquires all its significance as a stark reminder of our duty to work for a better future. A future where Roma across Europe enjoy their human rights in freedom, security and equality.