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MRG hails ‘stunning legal victory’ as European Court of Human Rights finds Czech Republic has discriminated against Roma children

14 November 2007

Minority Rights Group on Tuesday welcomed the landmark decision* by the European Court of Human Rights that found the Czech government had systematically discriminated against Roma children by sending them to special needs schools.

The Grand Chamber, the highest court dealing with human rights in Europe, held – 13 votes to 4 – that the common practice in the Czech educational system of sending Roma children to schools for children with special needs was a violation of European Convention on Human Rights.

“This is a stunning legal victory, setting a strong legal precedent against the remaining obstacles that the Roma and other minorities often face in the realization of their right to education,” Cynthia Morel, MRG’s Legal Cases Officer says.

“Whilst these obstacles may have traditionally been overt, the most pervasive forms of discrimination often faced by these groups today are often the hidden disadvantages promoted through policies that purport to be neutral,” she adds.

Morel says the fact that this judgment fully embraces the use of statistics to show systematic and disproportionate disadvantage marks an important cornerstone for the fight against indirect discrimination in the field of education and beyond.

“The Court’s acceptance that the burden of proof must be shifted upon States once a prima facie case has been made is also instrumental in the protection against discrimination in Europe,” she says.

This latest judgement comes as a result of an appeal made by the Roma organizations against an earlier judgment by the ECHR. In the June 2006 judgment the ECHR held that the applicants of the case had not proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the decision to put the Roma children to special schools was because of their racial origin.

MRG submitted evidence in the case showing the widespread and systematic practice across Europe of sending Roma children to “special schools” where they receive inferior education.

*As of November 2020, the page previously linked to here seems to have been permanently removed.