The Roma Justice Project

Overcoming Antigypsyism in the Criminal Legal System

About the project:

The Roma Justice Project explores Romani people’s interactions with the criminal legal systems of Europe. By linking our lived experiences of discrimination as Romani individuals with a body of evidence that includes research reports, legal judgments, and quantitative data, the project exposes a criminal legal system that is deeply embedded with institutional racism and unable to function in a way that provides equality or justice for Roma.

This platform tells a story, the strands of which are woven together in a novel format to make a compelling argument against a corrupt system which was built on a lie that all people are equal before the law. Starting with widespread ethnic profiling and police misconduct, the platform illuminates racism in investigative bodies, prosecution services, and judiciaries, and links these with the ultimate overrepresentation and mistreatment of Romani individuals in prisons.

The Roma Justice Project is a long-term, evolving initiative by the European Roma Rights Centre to argue for a restructuring of Europe’s criminal legal systems to provide better accountability and fairer representation before the law for Roma.

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The first interaction Roma usually have with the criminal legal system is through the police.

Across Europe law enforcement profile, harass, beat, torture, and sometimes kill Roma with impunity.

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Most cases involve multiple police officers.

Most of the time they do not face criminal prosecution.

Black coloured pin Deaths resulting from police action
Purple coloured pin Police Harassment
Red coloured pin Disproportionate use of police force
Orange coloured pin Torture in police custody
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    Image of a Roma family experiencing hardship

    The police are often the only contact that segregated Romani communities have with the State.

    Racist policing creates long-lasting trauma for those who experience it.

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    Image of Helena Horváthová
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    Racist policing is the most widespread form of institutional antigypsyism across Europe today.

    Almost 50% of all the ERRC's active legal cases concern police violence against Roma.

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    Piece of paper Legal Cases
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    Velikova v Bulgaria (2000)
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    Čonka v Belgium (2002)
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    Stoica v Romania (2008)
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    R.R. and R.D. v Slovakia (2020)
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    Lingurar v Romania (2019)
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    Tomášova v Czech Republic (2023)
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    Karagiannopoulos v. Greece (2007)
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    Marko Stalović & Sandra Stalović v Serbia
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    Memedov v North Macedonia (2021)
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    Borbála Kiss v Hungary (2012)

    Police brutality is not a case of one or two bad apples in law enforcement.

    It is a structural problem of racism which exists in virtually every police force and country in Europe.

    Brutal and Bigoted: Policing Roma in the EU
    Belgium’s Police Raids on Romani Travellers Deemed Discriminatory by European Committee
    How Racist and Incompetent Policing Cost Romani Lives in Hungary
    Policing Travellers in Ireland: New Study Finds Little Trust in the System and Calls for Explicit Ban on Racial Profiling
    Policing Travellers: Ireland’s Deeply Ingrained Racial Divide
    Report Exposes Police Brutality and Racism Against Roma During COVID-19 Lockdowns
    Submission to the UN CERD on Bulgaria including Police Violence
    Submission to the UN CERD on Slovakia including Police Violence (page 5)
    Submission to the UN CAT on Serbiat
    Submission to ECRI on France
    Submission to the European Commission on the Race Equality Directive and the Policing Gap

    Institutional racism in Europe's law enforcement agencies is only one part of a much larger, institutionally racist criminal legal system.

    Find out more
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    Romani people usually enter the criminal legal system as plaintiffs (as victims of a crime) or as defendants (accused of a crime).

    In both cases, they are often assumed to be guilty from the very beginning.

    Aleksandar Olenik
    Lawyer, Serbia
    “The fact that someone is educated, for example a law graduate, [someone who] has experience as a judge, as a prosecutor, absolutely does not mean that they have changed an attitude which they formed during their earliest childhood, in their family or in society…People don’t recognise that it’s racism. They don’t recognise it from the beginning and when it’s explained to them, they have a hard time accepting it. But they accept it in the end.”
    Michal Zalesak
    Lawyer, Slovakia
    “The victims, as has happened in other similar cases, ended up before the European Court of Human Rights. Only in the proceedings before this court could they receive justice.”
    Miroslav Brož
    Activist, Czech Republic
    “As far as a repressive justice system, police system, and their effect on Roma issues, we know that there’s a difference in how they treat Roma, how they are discriminated and brutalised. I think it’s now the final hour for emancipation of the Romani community.”
    Mustafa Asanovski
    Activist, North Macedonia
    “The evidence confirms that at every stage of a criminal procedure, from arrest to sentencing, accused Roma face discriminatory attitudes and prejudices that lead to altered decisions and unfair judicial verdicts.”
    Senada Sali
    Lawyer, North Macedonia
    “Defence attorneys stated that in most cases Roma end up in prison without evidence. Romani suspects are treated as the accused in advance and judicial authorities take advantage of the fear and ignorance of this part of the population.”

    Romani people's rights to a fair trial and access to justice are rarely respected.

    Many ERRC cases before appellate and international courts concern the failure to treat Roma fairly before the law.

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    Piece of paper Legal Cases
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    Assenov v Bulgaria (1998)
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    Nachova and Others v Bulgaria (2005)
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    Moldovan and Others v Romania (2005)
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    Bekos and Koutropoulos v Greece (2005)
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    M.H. and Others v Slovakia (2022)
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    X and Y v North Macedonia (2021)
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    Death of Daniel Jiménez Jiménez, Spain (2020)
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    M.F. v. Hungary (2018)
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    Eremiášová and Pechová v. the Czech Republic (2012)
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    Fedorchenko & Lozenko v Ukraine (2012)
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    The European Roma Rights Centre and Fair Trials have carried out research across Europe on how criminal legal systems are biased against Roma.

    The evidence shows that Roma face unfair outcomes at every single stage of the system.

    In cases where the police are responsible for carrying out an investigation into hate crimes, they often neglect to investigate racist motivation.
    When it is the police themselves who are being investigated, the chances of any officers being found guilty is close to zero. Since the ERRC was founded in 1996, there have been only 9 cases across all of Europe where police officers have faced a criminal sentence for racist misconduct against Roma.
    When awaiting trial, Roma are significantly more likely to be held in pre-trial detention for minor, low flight-risk crimes.
    The charges against Roma are generally more severe than is warranted.
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    Research in several countries has found that the presumption that Romani defendants are guilty is a widespread bias amongst judges, juries, and prosecutors.
    In sentencing, Romani defendants feel the full force of the criminal legal system. They are much more likely to receive sentences on the higher end of the sentencing guidelines and are more likely to serve longer parts of those sentences before (or if) they get parole.
    Roma in the Criminal Justice System of Serbia
    Roma in the Criminal Justice System of North Macedonia
    Roma in the Criminal Justice System of the Czech Republic
    Roma in the Criminal Justice System of Slovakia
    UN Condemns Anti-Roma Racism, Lack of Access to Justice, and Hate Speech in Slovakia
    Romania: Romani Woman Publicly Beaten by Bus Driver Gets Fined for Disturbing the Peace
    Anti-Roma Racism in the Criminal Justice System: ‘Enhancing the Training Strategies of Law Enforcement’ Just Won’t Suffice
    New EU Roma Framework Falls Short on Police Brutality, Justice, & Segregation
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    Biases in investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing result in an over-representation of Romani people in prisons in virtually every country in Europe.
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    In many countries, Roma face racist treatment and poor conditions inside penal institutions.
    In 2017, gross medical negligence and suspected abuse by prison guards killed four Roma in North Macedonia.

    When Roma finally exit the criminal legal system, they must contend with the double stigma of being both Romani and an ex-convict.

    Find out more
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    "The police and investigators, prosecutors, it is all just one gang. You cannot trust anyone here. Whatever you claim, she [police investigator] will refute it as if she was present, standing there with us. They want to turn everything against us."
    (Romani Interviewee, Slovakia)

    "without our lawyer, we would be convicted already."
    (Romani Interviewee, Slovakia)
    "[The two of us] have been jailed here for 5 months and seven months because we allegedly stole wood from a forest under the criminal offence of theft. One of us received an extra two months because they said we stole electricity as well (all Roma are illegally connected in my neighbourhood). These allegations were confirmed without any evidence. The court made its decision on the sole basis of the forest police's testimony."
    (Romani Interviewee, North Macedonia)
    "I am aware of 30 cases that are similar to mine, all involving non-Roma who were jailed for the same criminal offence (theft) but who only got three years (compared to the respondent's 11 years). It is only Roma who get harsher or longer sentences."
    (Romani Interviewee, North Macedonia)
    "Police and judges see us as criminals here in Shtip. On one occasion, the police came to our house to take my brother to the police station. They forcibly took us there. I told them to wait for us to get dressed because it was morning and they replied that we Roma were liars."
    (Romani Interviewee, North Macedonia)
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    "If you refuse to admit guilt, you will end in a pre-trial detention."
    (Romani Interviewee, North Macedonia)
    "It was not easy, everyone was astonished that they had me imprisoned. It was the hardest thing for the family, and I still feel anger over the injustice, it still affects my mental health."
    (Romani Interviewee, Serbia)
    "When boys get into a fight, only we (Roma) go to prison."
    (Romani Interviewee, Czech Republic)

    "In prison 'B' here, most of the inmates are young Roma men."
    (Romani Interviewee, Czech Republic)
    "[It has been] very hard. [It's a] shame, my wife just gave birth and I'm in jail. I admit that I stole 100kg of iron, [but] I did it to feed my family. Now that's why everyone looks at me like I'm a criminal."
    (Romani Interviewee, Serbia)
    We must acknowledge that the system is not broken

    Europe’s criminal legal systems are not broken. They are functioning exactly as they were designed to.

    They just weren’t designed to serve Roma and other racialized minorities.

    We must address antigypsyism throughout the system as a root cause of discrimination.

    Our criminal legal system cannot be fixed in isolation without tackling antigypsyism throughout society. Before we can have an equitably functioning criminal legal system, we must:
    Ensure full provision of adequate legal aid.
    Dismantle many existing law enforcement structures and replace them with community policing working in tandem with well-funded and well-trained social services, mental health provision, drug rehabilitation, and community infrastructure.
    Advocate for policies to overcome segregation and associated over-policing. That means building social housing and providing basic infrastructure to segregated Romani communities.
    We must demand better

    A better criminal legal system will not happen unless we demand it. Either through direct action, litigation, brave journalism, or demanding public inquiries into rights abuses; holding those responsible accountable is the most important thing we can do.

    Europe’s criminal legal systems were not designed to deliver justice for racialized minorities. They were created under the illusion that all people are equal before the law. For Roma, this is simply not true.

    We demand an alternative to this unjust system.

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