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In late February, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held the first of four regional meetings for leaders of Roma communities in the Balkans. More than 40 Roma leaders and advocates from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Serbiagathered in Sofia, Bulgaria, to explore advocacy techniques and to develop anetwork for future cooperation.
During the opening session, United States Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick said that the regional meeting would provide a support system for advocates struggling to advance Roma rights. The Bulgarian ombudsman and the Bulgarian representative to the European Commission spoke about the discrimination and ethnic-based violence many Roma people face.
The meeting is part of ABA ROLI’s U.S. Department of State-supported Roma Rights Program, which also works with one non-governmental organization in eachparticipating country to operate legal clinics that serve Roma communities andto conduct educational events known as community law schools that teach lawyers, police, health workers, social workers and community members about common legal problems facing the Roma and about available resources. Sincetheir launch in November 2010, the legal clinics have held 525 consultationsand conducted several community law schools.
Simonida Sladojevic, a pro bono attorney for the ABA ROLI-supported legal clinic in Novi Sad, Serbia, said that she has had consultations withabout 50 Roma clients, most of whom needed help with replacing missing identification documents, such as birth certificates, certificates ofnationality and identity cards. Sladojevic said that without these documents, her clients are “legally invisible,” with no access to health care, welfare andother social services.
Sladojevic said that the meeting provided her with some concrete advocacymethods that will enhance her efforts for better Roma inclusion and protection.She said the training will help her overcome some of the challenges she facesin providing legal assistance to her clients. The discussions at the conference, she said, “brought me hope that we can change our society.”
To learn more about our work in the Balkans, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.