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Court rules that school placements for Roma children must not amount to ethnic or racial segregation

May 31st 2013

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Lavida and Others v. Greece (application no. 7973/10) the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously, that there had been: a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention (right to education).

The case was about the education of Roma children in Sofades, a city in the western part of central Greece, who were restricted to attending a primary school in which the only pupils were other Roma children. Half the population of the city of Sofades consists of persons of Roma origin, who live in a district known as the new Roma housing estate in which 84 families live while 300 families continue to live in an older estate. At that time, there were four primary schools in Sofades. The primary school no. 4, had been built on the old estate occupied by the Roma community and near the new estate. Accordingly, the new Roma housing estate was also attached to the school catchment area of this primary school.

On 21 May 2009 a delegation from the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) that visited the new Roma estate and school no. 4. sent a letter to the Ministry of Education, calling his attention to what they perceived as segregation, stating that the children from the new Sofades estate were attending primary school no. 4 in the old Roma estate, which was attended only by Roma pupils, instead of going to the primary school no. 1 which was the closest to their homes. In September 2009 the applicant parents asked the headmaster of primary school no. 1 to agree to enroll their children but he refused. After several attempts by GHM to draw attention to the matter, on 26 January 2012 a meeting brought together the Minister of Education, the Special Secretary for Inter-Cultural Education, the mayor of Sofades, elected representative and the representatives of parents’ associations, and it was decided to take a number of measures.

The Court observed that primary school no. 4 in Sofades was a school attended solely by Roma children and despite the fact that pupils were to be educated in schools situated near their homes, no non-Roma child who lived in the district attached to school no. 4 was educated in that school. The Court further pointed out that school no. 4 had not been set up as a school only for Roma children and did not include preparatory or support classes for Roma children who wished to move to an ordinary state school after having reached a sufficient educational level.
The Court noted that the relevant authorities, in particular the Ministry of Education, had been informed about the existence of ethnic segregation in the education of Roma children in Sofades and the relevant authorities had officially recognized the existence of segregation in the school in question. The Court found that the continuing nature of this situation and the state’s refusal to take anti-segregation measures implied discrimination and a breach of the right to education. Also the court held that Greece was to pay 1,000 euros (EUR) to each of the applicant families in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

You can read the full text of the judgment here}