Report: Combatting discrimination through enhanced access to justice in Croatia and Bulgaria
The report summarizes the outcomes of the field visits and the legal work conducted in the framework of the ‘Equality for Roma through Enhanced Legal Access’ (ERELA) project funded by the European Union. The project has been running since February 2021, jointly overseen by Minority Rights Group Europe (MRGE), Information Legal Centre (ILC, Croatia) and Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance ‘Amalipe’ (Bulgaria).
In Bulgaria and Croatia, Roma routinely experience discrimination, usually fuelled by negative attitudes and prejudices, in a variety of areas of their lives from an early age. Despite the high number of well documented occurrences, incidents of discrimination typically go unreported. Roma often think that it is not worth reporting their case as it would not change anything, while others fear that the situation would only become worse. Many Roma do not know whom they should turn to, while others consider the procedures too complicated. What is more, there is a serious lack of trust in state institutions. The citizens are in general misinformed about their rights, including their right to free legal aid. Lack of trust in public institutions and the judicial system further hinders Roma from seeking legal remedies. Therefore, the number of cases reported to the national equality bodies (the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, CPD, in Bulgaria and the Ombudswoman’s Office in Croatia) only represent a small proportion of the actual discrimination Roma face. Furthermore, there are serious gaps in the functioning of the equality bodies in both countries which further hinder the efficiency of the system established for the protection of equality.
Key barriers preventing access to justice:
• Roma often accept discrimination as part of their lives; they are reluctant to report it out of fear of retaliation or because they lack faith in the effectiveness of the justice system.
• Roma often lack the knowledge necessary to proceed with a legal case, while others consider the procedures too complicated. Roma citizens are in general misinformed about their rights, including their right to free legal aid.
• Lack of trust in public institutions and the judicial system further hinders Roma from seeking legal remedies.
• Awareness-raising in the Roma community about antidiscrimination legislation and the available legal remedies is crucial to increase their willingness to report discrimination cases to the equality body and to pave way for future empowerment.
• Beyond raising awareness in the community about discrimination, Roma mediators have an important role in resolving more straightforward cases through mediation between the parties or by assisting those who have experienced discrimination in drafting submissions or other documents.
• Encouraging those affected by discrimination to report their case is essential. The more positive decisions the equality body delivers in discrimination cases, the more trust Roma will have in the system and institutions for protection against discrimination.
Recommendations for Bulgaria
• State and municipal/regional bodies should raise awareness of their work related to discrimination and their network of local offices should be expanded.
• The CPD should cooperate with NGOs working with Roma communities to request the Bulgarian government’s support, including financial support, as well as providing opportunities for them to participate in the discussion and implementation of legislation related to the protection of Roma rights.
• There is still racial discrimination and racism within state institutions that governments should not deny. Administrative anti-discrimination regulations for state officials should be adopted. Regular training programmes should be implemented. An independent.
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