Cablegate: Roma Human Rights Seminar Held June 1 at Embassy
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001336
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI RO
SUBJECT: ROMA HUMAN RIGHTS SEMINAR HELD JUNE 1 AT EMBASSY
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY.
1. (U) Summary: Representatives from the Government of
Romania, NGOs, international institutions, and academia met
in the Embassy Public Diplomacy auditorium June 1 for a half-
day seminar on the progress of Roma human rights issues.
Some seventy attendees interacted with panels addressing a
wide range of Roma concerns, including health, education,
and under-employment. GOR representatives highlighted the
early progress the center-right government has made towards
addressing ROMA concerns. Civil society representatives,
however, asserted that these efforts generally look much
better on paper than in reality -- good laws, but
inconsistent implementation. Visiting Congressman Chris
Smith (R-NJ) also addressed the conference, noting the
strong interest of the U.S. Congress in ensuring full
respect for the rights of Roma and securing their full
inclusion in society. End Summary.
2. (U) Embassy Bucharest June 1 hosted a half-day seminar
titled "Promoting Human Rights for the Roma." The event was
organized by resident Fulbright scholar and Roma expert
Elena Roemer with the support of the Embassy.
USAID Director of Democracy and Social Sector Reform and CAO
jointly gave opening remarks, emphasizing the significance
of the recently inaugurated "Decade of Roma Inclusion" (DRI)
initiated by eight Central and Eastern Europe governments
and signed in Sophia in February 2005. Romania will be the
first to chair the International Steering Committee of the
DRI starting this July.
International Institutions: Big Goals, Tight Budgets
3. (U) The first panel included local representatives of
the World Bank and the Council of Europe's Commission
against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). World Bank
operations officer Ana Maria Sandi cited a number of
programs funded by the Bank for Roma, most notably a USD 41
million "Roma Education Fund" aimed to integrate Roma in
mainstream schools. The World Bank also has in place four
"social inclusion" programs focused on emergency
intervention and poverty alleviation, co-financing of
domestic social projects with NGOs and host governments,
leveraging EU funds for social projects working with Roma,
and capacity-building. Sandi lamented that this last goal
is admittedly the most difficult, as strengthening local
institutions and improving human capabilities requires a
long-term commitment and "the process has just begun." ECRI
representative Raluca Besteliu focused on the reporting
carried out by ECRI, including a special report on Romania
due out in June 2006. She noted that ECRI also makes policy
recommendations based on its findings, and it works closely
with local civil society. More information on ECRI on Roma
programs is available at www.coe.int/t/E/human_rights/ecri/.
Government Officials: "We're doing a lot"
4. (U) The panel of Romanian national institutions included
Presidential Counselor Renate Weber, and officials from the
Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Labor (MOL), National
Agency for Roma (NAR), and National Council for Combating
Discrimination (NCCD). Panelists emphasized that the
Bacescu-led government is making a concerted effort for Roma
integration into mainstream society, at both the policy and
program level. They acknowledged a lack of funding for some
efforts but conveyed an overall sense that Romania is
providing ample and readily-available services. They
specifically noted improvements since the new government
came to power in late 2004, facilitated by passage in 2000
of Romania's anti-discrimination law. Weber cited
unspecified opinion polling noting "an openness of the
Romanian people to affirmative action" programs. NCCD
Director Csaba Asztalos also stated that until 6 months ago,
NCCD had no minority representation; now they are "better
equipped" to investigate discriminations and take action.
MOL representative cited a Roma job fair held last month.
MOH discussed the 170 health mediators hired nationally to
tackle with healthcare issues.
Civil Society: "Poor Execution, Minimal Progress"
5. (U) During the Q&A session following, Civil Society
representatives challenged the validity of many GOR
programs. They noted that the Roma job fair mentioned by
the Ministry of Labor representative was almost cancelled
due to poor attendance by Roma and employers as a result of
poor advertising of the event. Despite the 170 health
mediators in place, one Rom participant in the audience
noted multiple examples when Roma were denied fair treatment
by health care facilities. She said that she, herself, had
encountered difficulty with multiple institutions in
registering the birth of her baby born outside a hospital.
No help was provided and no hospital staff was willing to
recognize her baby or provide initial medical care. The GOR
representatives maintained their position that there are
conduits for Roma to obtain assistance, through the health
mediators and other programs.
6. (SBU) Separately, on the margins of the conference, one
senior Roma leader lamented that until recently the National
Agency for Roma (NAR) had been "understaffed and
ineffective," sometimes even damaging to Roma interests.
Nonetheless, he expressed hope that the NAR might have
reached a turning point with an upcoming leadership change.
He informed PolOff that Maria Ionescu, the up-and-coming
Roma leader and Head of the Phare Implementation program,
has been nominated to be the next head of the NAR. Ionescu
receives high marks from the Roma community. Hope is that
under her leadership the NAR will have more muscle going
But Some Improvements at the Local Level
7. (U) The third and last panel of NGOs and academia
indicated that civil society organizations are gaining
respect within the Roma community and have made some
progress in addressing social problems. Lesley Hawke of
Ovidiu Rom (www.ovid.ro) stated that her organization is
getting the funding and cooperation needed from local
governments to provide education to the disenfranchised in
areas in which the NGO works. The representative of Romani
CRISS, one of the top ROMA NGOs in Romania, expressed
satisfaction with a recently negotiated cooperative
partnership with the Health Ministry. Through the project,
Romani CRISS and the ministry will jointly provide and
support 170 mediators to improve access to healthcare for
Roma communities. Fulbright scholar Michelle Kelso showed
to the audience a trailer of her film documentary "Hidden
Sorrows: the Persecution of Romanian Gypsies During WWII."
The documentary depicts the Roma-holocaust, a subject rarely
researched and still unacknowledged by the GOR. She has
already shown the film throughout Romania to heighten
awareness of Roma persecution during the Holocaust and seeks
to do more.
Congressman Smith: "U.S. Committed to Ethnic Rights"
8. (U) Visiting Congressman and Helsinki Commission Co-
Chair Chris Smith (R-NJ) also addressed the conference and
met briefly with reporters. He reaffirmed a U.S. commitment
to ethnic rights in Balkans and globally, noting that Roma
and "travelers" are particularly vulnerable. He
congratulated the civil society groups for the work achieved
thus far. He urged the Romanian government to give full
support to and expedite its current programs in order to
achieve the same standards as in the U.S. Roma participants
expressed solid appreciation for his interest and
engagement, with multiple invitations to visit local Roma
communities and see programs in action.
9. (U) Comment: All in all, participants expressed the
conference was a success, achieving the goal of bringing
government together with civil society to discuss progress
thus far under the center-right government, as well as many
continued concerns. The Embassy -- including PD, USAID, and
POL -- is discussing potential follow-up events with groups
concerned. We are also examining ways to support Romania as
it assumes its year-long leadership of the international
"Decade of Roma Inclusion." End comment.
10. (U) AmEmbassy Bucharest's Reporting telegrams, as well
as daily press summaries, are available on the Bucharest
SIPRNet website: www.state.sgov/gov/p/eur/bucharest