Discrimination against the Roma minority in Serbia is an issue bound to be discussed during the ongoing 78th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, when Serbia’s official report to the Committee will be scrutinised. While Serbia is only one among many European countries where Roma suffer from discrimination, a possibly distinct feature is the first hand experience of the European public banks in the matter.
Bankwatch’s Serbian member group Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development (CEKOR) has worked together with three Serbian human rights organisations on a shadow report (pdf) complementing the country’s official statement. Analysing the legal and factual status of Roma in Serbia in general, the shadow report draws heavily on examples from the Gazela bridge rehabilitation project in Belgrade.
Both the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are involved in the project and thus at least indirectly in a resettlement process that includes the discrimination of 178 Roma families who have been threatened, evicted without proper consultation and in many cases resettled to remote places, usually without access to work, and some without sufficient hygienic installations. (Details can be witnessed on Bankwatch’s video blog Out of Sight.)
The shadow report’s examples illustrate how existing regulations and compensation measures have been either ignored or fulfilled merely on paper by the Belgrade authorities. And while the EIB and EBRD may have only limited influence on domestic legislation, their failure to take a pro-active stance in properly working with the Serbian authorities early on in the Gazela project has resulted in grave problems later including apparent human rights violations connected to the resettlement.
CEKOR’s and Bankwatch’s hope is that the outcome of the UN review process not only leads to improvements in the Serbian legal and institutional framework, but that an acknowledgement of the shadow report by one of the United Nation’s core human rights instruments can at the very least support what we’ve been telling the EIB and EBRD for more than four years now.
Not least we hope that both institutions learn from the farce in Gazela and pay much more attention to situations this sensitive and controversial. The Serbian authorities are in danger of repeating the mistakes from Gazela in a new project bearing an uncanny resemblance to Gazela. And they are again set to receive funding from the EIB and EBRD.
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