Equality for Roma through Enhanced Legal Access (ERELA): Increasing Roma access to justice in Bulgaria and Croatia
Duration: February 2021 – January 2023
What was this programme about?
The aim of the ERELA programme was to promote and protect the rights of Roma victims of human rights violations and discrimination by raising society’s and stakeholders’ awareness, enhancing the implementation of non-discrimination legislation and empowering Roma to seek legal remedies, in Bulgaria and Croatia. The programme aimed to create a virtuous circle whereby increased Roma involvement in access to justice mechanisms leads to more and better cases being filed, which leads to benefits to Roma communities, which in turn increases trust in legal remedies and lawyers and encourages yet more cases to come forward.
Why did we deliver this programme?
In both target countries of the project, Bulgaria and Croatia, Roma have been discriminated historically, and despite improvements in legal protection, there are still systematic patterns of discrimination preventing Roma population from the full realisation of their rights to employment, education, health care and housing. Roma communities tend to live in segregated neighbourhoods with limited access to public services and sub-standard general infrastructure. Similarly, many Roma face discrimination when looking for employment in relation to their ethnicity and negative stereotypes imposed on their community. When it comes to education, Roma school-aged children tend to be victims of severe segregation, placed in classes and schools with only Roma pupils or disproportionately placed in special schools for children with disabilities. Overall, one of the reasons behind these problems is that in Bulgaria and Croatia, anti-discrimination legislation and measures to make mainstream education, employment and social policies more inclusive, are not being systematically applied.
In contrast to the high levels of continuing discrimination and recent small improvements regarding awareness, there is a low number of complaints relating to discrimination affecting Roma persons. The main reasons behind the lack of reporting and direct access to legal remedies are a lack of trust towards the judiciary and public institutions and a widespread belief that reporting discrimination will only worsen the situation and/or cause open confrontation with the perpetrator/s. Likewise, there is an overwhelming lack of awareness and understanding of non-discrimination legislation and inclusion policies among professionals and public officials, leading to poor case identification and a lack of protection of the rights of Roma victims of human rights violations and discrimination.
What did we do?
- We conducted research in Bulgaria and Croatia and published a baseline report on discrimination against Roma and the obstacles in their access to justice in English, Croatian and Bulgarianas a result.
- 32 lawyers were trained on national and international anti-discrimination law and the available legal remedies to strengthen their capacities and enable them to provide legal aid for Roma victims of discrimination and to assist them with litigation in discrimination cases.
- 21 CSO representatives were trained on anti-discrimination law and the available legal remedies, including on how to identify discrimination cases, where to refer Roma victims of discrimination and how to conduct advocacy activities.
- 60 Roma activists and mediators were trained on anti-discrimination law and the available legal remedies to strengthen their capacities on how to provide advice to Roma victims of discrimination who may be considering accessing a legal remedy in discrimination cases.
- 387 field visits were conducted to the local Roma communities in Bulgaria and Croatia in 21 settlements by 13 Roma mediators to raise awareness about the non-discrimination legislation and the available legal remedies
- 579 Roma community members were reached during the field work by mediators
- 147 Roma community members were reached through 8 community meetings
- Free legal counselling was provided in 52 cases during the project.
- 11 cases of discrimination were reported to the national equality bodies, 6 in Croatia and 5 in Bulgaria.
- 12 advocacy meetings were organised at the local and national level to address various issued related to discrimination against Roma
Who were our partners?
Our partners were:
- Amalipe Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance is a leading Roma organization, working for the equal integration of Roma in Bulgarian society. The organization plays a central role in organizing a Roma civic movement and advocating for Roma integration within the state institutions.
- Information Legal Center is a CSO established with the aim of providing free legal assistance to socially vulnerable groups of population in exercising their human and civil rights, and to strengthen civil society and active citizenship on the territory of the local community and the wider region.
Who funded this programme?
This programme was funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020).
What did the external evaluation say?
Strengths which ensured the successful implementation of the programme included: good context and needs analysis; evidence-based and ‘evaluative learning’ approaches integrated into project design and applied from the very beginning; and strong baseline reports and comparative studies.
Added value was created through an empowerment approach towards beneficiaries. By facilitating cooperation between programme partners, communities and primary beneficiaries were able to learn from this dynamic and improve their capacities to participate in and contribute to the defence of their own rights. They no longer depend exclusively on the good will and discretion of the state officials and local authorities.
New awareness regarding the existing support to seek legal remedies was raised by emphasising outreach, which greatly influenced the perceptions, beliefs, motivation, skills and competencies of beneficiaries, so they could take greater control of their own lives and become agents of their own well-being.
Local ownership of programme activities ensured and achieved national coverage. The national partners played the most important roles and were recognised as the main bearers of the activities in their countries. They assured the participation of other local activists and CSOs forming the national network, thus assuring regular contact with beneficiaries throughout both countries.
Research efforts incorporated into the programme further strengthened the focus on discrimination as a root cause of the situation of Roma people in Hungary and Serbia, a neglected issue in both countries.
Coherence of programme activities with key national strategies in Bulgaria and Croatia and complementarity with similar projects and programmes implemented in the region, notably in Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia, ensured that the initiative has and will continue to contribute consistently to the protection of the rights of Roma in the region.
Operating the same project across different countries with Roma populations resulted in stronger inter-country connections between partners including legal and Roma-led organisations.
The evaluators’ recommendations included having the manual for the protection of the Roma population created in the programme more widely published and distributed to improve its sustainability. They further recommended to prioritise the visibility of anti-discrimination programme messages by introducing them to regular civic education and on social media. Measures to ensure deeper cooperation between partners across similar MRGE programmes at the design level were also recommended, as was further applied education for Roma mediators. The evaluators also found that many of the recommendations made for the REILA project also apply to ERELA.
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