Roma Regional Programs

Access to Justice and Human Rights

Partnership for Roma protection, prevention and promotion

With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in October 2010, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) launched a regional program in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia to increase access to justice and support advocacy initiatives among Roma communities. As part of this program, ABA ROLI is partnering with local advocacy groups and legal non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives, the Roma Woman Organization in Macedonia (DAJA), Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies (or Romani CRISS) in Romania and Novi Sad Humanitarian Center in Serbia.

The Roma are the most marginalized group in Europe. They face widespread, deeply ingrained institutional and social discrimination. Furthermore, lack of information leaves many Roma unaware of existing mechanisms to protect their rights or report incidents of discrimination or violence. Compounding this problem is the lack of trust between Roma communities and government authorities. To alleviate this situation, in 2005, 12 European countries launched the Decade of Roma Inclusion, a political commitment by European governments to fight discrimination and to increase Roma access to housing, health care, education and jobs. ABA ROLI’s regional Roma program supports this initiative and pushes for continued progress toward its goals.

Our Roma program has four components. First, our NGO partners operate legal clinics in their respective countries, providing much needed consultations to Roma clients on issues of housing, labor law, employment law, health care and education. The clinics work with Roma communities to determine how best to provide legal services. Second, each legal clinic selects cases for strategic litigation to highlight the need for the enforcement of existing anti-discrimination legislation. Third, local partners conduct community law schools and outreach campaigns to increase the Roma’s awareness of their legal rights and available protection mechanisms. Finally, ABA ROLI sponsors regional meetings to bring together leaders from our NGO partners and the broader Roma communities in the four countries to strengthen their ability to engage in advocacy at a national and international level.

Since the program’s start, we have:

  • provided legal consultations to more than 3,400 Roma on various issues, including social benefits, human rights abuses, land law and employment law.
  • identified four cases for strategic litigation, including a case of systematic violations of freedom of travel currently under investigation in Macedonia.
  • piloted sensitivity training for law enforcement and government officials in Bulgaria, with plans to train in the other three countries.
  • brought together Roma leaders from each of the four program counties on four occasions for regional capacity-building meetings on leadership, networking and effective program management.