The Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council meeting met from Dec. 2-3, 1998, in
Oslo and concluded with the adoption of a declaration, a statement on Kosovo,
and nine separate decisions. One of those decisions dealt with the OSCE's
"Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues" (the Contact Point).
The Contact Point was established by the OSCE 1994 Summit of Heads of
State and Government in Budapest and was mandated to, inter alia, act as
a "clearing-house for the exchange of information on Roma and Sinti (Gypsies)
issues, including information on the implementation of commitments pertaining
to Roma and Sinti (Gypsies)." The 1994 decision, however, did not
allocate any additional funds to the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights (the location of the Contact Point) for this
purpose, hampering the implementation of the Budapest mandate.
In advance of the Oslo meeting, the Czech Republic
circulated a proposal to upgrade the status of this post to that of a "High
Commissioner for Roma." The Czech delegation argued that issues relating
to the Roma, as a transnational people, had to be addressed in a pan-European
context such as the OSCE. Ultimately, it became clear that agreement
on the Czech proposal as originally conceived would not be reached in time
for the Oslo meeting, and the idea was recast as a decision to "strengthen"
the Contact Point. (By way of contrast, it took roughly a year to negotiate
the mandate for the OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media.
During that time, there were extensive consultations with interested governments,
journalists, and non-governmental human rights organizations. Those
kinds of consultations did not take place during the negotiations on the
The Czech idea echoes language adopted in the 1998 OSCE Parliamentary
Assembly (PA) resolution, adopted in Copenhagen in July 1998:
100. Underlining the need to give greater attention to the
human rights of Roma and Sinti, taking into account the action undertaken
by the Council of Europe; [. . . ]
(Paras. 100 and 116 were amendments proposed by the U.S. delegation.)
In addition, during the Oct. 26-Nov. 6, 1998 OSCE Implementation Meeting
on Human Dimension Issues, several participants in the Roundtable on Roma
and Sinti Issues argued in favor of strengthening the Contact Point in
order to enhance his or her ability to address Romani human rights issues.
116. [The Parliamentary Assembly] Calls on the OSCE participating
States to devote greater attention and resources, including at the ODIHR
[Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] and the Permanent
Council, to ensure that the human rights of the Roma and Sinti are fully
117. Emphasizes the importance of increased efforts to improve the situation
of Roma and Sinti populations by means of a senior appointee in the ODIHR
to concentrate solely on this issue.
In fact, the human rights focus reflected in the U.S. amendments to
the OSCE PA resolution were completely omitted in the version of the Czech
proposal adopted in Oslo. As a consequence, the motivations of the
Czech delegation in advancing this proposal remain opaque.
On the one hand, the Czech Republic was identified
by witnesses at a recent Counsel for International Law on the Commission
on Security (CSCE) hearing as having one of the worst records with regard
to respect for the human rights of Roma. Some of the formulations
used by the Czech delegation in advancing this proposal-asserting that
Roma issues must be addressed at a pan-European level, for example-also
cast doubt on the real intentions behind the Czech proposal. The
Czech initiative might be seen as an effort by a state with one of the
worst records on Romani human rights to deflect international attention
from its own inaction and toward a bureaucratic mechanism at the international
level that will lack the power to implement action at the national level.
On the other hand, after last year's elections brought a new government
to office, a handful of Czech officials have begun to speak more openly
about the serious problems faced by the Czech Republic's Roma minority.
On July 23, Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky announced that one of
the new government's priorities would be to amend the law on citizenship
to resolve the problems of statelessness for Roma associated with the breakup
up of the Czechoslovak Federation. (The Czech Government is currently
reviewing draft amendments.) Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin
Palous also gave a strong statement at the OSCE Implementation Meeting
on Human Dimension Issues-a statement which gave frank recognition of his
country's shortcomings respect to Romani human rights. The Czech
proposal, then, may have reflected the efforts of pro-human rights officials
in the Czech Government who are searching for vehicles to support them
in their efforts to advance human rights reform.
In any case, following the adoption of the Oslo
decision on the Contact Point, Ambassador David Johnson, Head of the U.S.
Mission to the OSCE in Vienna, made the following statement at the December
17 meeting of the Permanent Council:
"The United States supports the decision taken at Oslo, and hopes that
it will enhance the OSCE's capabilities regarding Roma and Sinti issues
by strengthening the existing Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues in
"We hope that this decision will help ensure that the OSCE - and the
participating States - adequately address the human rights concerns of
Roma and Sinti. In this regard, we welcome the initiative of the
High Commissioner on National Minorities on Roma issues.
"Since the Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues was established at
the Budapest Summit in 1994, its work has been constrained due to a lack
of funding. We therefore also welcome the inclusion of funds for
the Contact Point in the 1999 budget.
"We look forward to recommendations from ODIHR and the High Commissioner
on National Minorities as to how the OSCE can better protect the human
rights of Roma and Sinti.
"We should remember, however, that ultimately it is up to us, the participating
States, to take appropriate steps to address problems.
"In this regard, we would like to welcome the announcement made by the
Slovak delegation at the Warsaw Human Dimension Review Meeting regarding
Slovakia's intention to give heightened attention to Roma concerns.
"We also are aware that the Czech Government has recently decreed that
those Czechoslovaks who opted for Slovak permanent citizenship when the
country split in 1993, but remained permanent residents in the Czech republic,
can now gain Czech citizenship as well. It would be helpful if this
decree could address the citizenship problems that still face many Czech
Roma. If this is not the case, we would urge the Czech Government
to rededicate itself to finding a solution to this ongoing problem.
"Concerning the future work of the Contact Point, we believe there are
two areas that might benefit most from OSCE engagement.
"First, the Contact Point could help ODIHR provide to those participating
States which request it assistance with drafting comprehensive anti-discrimination
statutes to address more effectively discriminatory practices still prevalent
against Roma and Sinti, and other ethnic minorities.
"Second, the Contact Point should work with the Secretariat to ensure
that missions and other field presences, where appropriate, receive training
regarding issues and OSCE commitments relating to Roma.
"The U.S. looks forward to following the work of the contact point on
Roma and Sinti issues.
"We strongly urge participating States to redouble their efforts, not
only through this office but in their national policies and practices,
to combat intolerance of Roma and Sinti.
"We urge States to speak out against violence and discrimination and
embrace measures - political and legal - that address the serious problems
that still face the Roma and Sinti communities."