Commemoration of the Roma Holocaust - a time to learn and look forward

Commemoration of the Roma Holocaust – a time to learn and look forward By Snežana Samardžić-MarkovićDirector General for Democracy, Council of Europe  What is porrajmos? Even in 2016, many people have never heard of the Roma Holocaust, in which, experts agree, at least half a million Roma died under Nazi Germany’s extermination policies. Given the difficulties of collecting reliable data, this figure may even be higher.

Many Roma were killed in gas chambers. Many died of exhaustion from hard labour, disease and starvation in concentration camps and ghettos or on “death marches”.

Children and adults were murdered in brutal experiments. In some countries, there were no Roma left alive by the end of the Second World War.  On the eve of August 2 – commemorated by several countries and NGOs as Roma Genocide Remembrance Day – we should take a moment to ask ourselves, not just how such atrocities could have happened, but why the Roma Holocaust is so rarely acknowledged and whether attitudes towards Roma in Europe have really fundamentally changed.

Today, some 8-12 million Roma live in Europe – the continent’s largest minority and the most disadvantaged, marginalised and abused. Anti-Gypsyism is widespread, on the rise and frequently accompanied by violence.

Such racism is individual – personal abuse and attacks – and institutional: forced evictions, forced sterilisation, segregation in schools, attacks and even murders, including in police custody. As the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights has found time and again, these are serious human rights violations.

And yet, despite the strong human rights laws in place, the abuse of the Roma people continues and is commonly seen as normal or unimportant. It is somehow invisible.



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