34358 6/10/2005 7:08 05BUCHAREST1336 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001336
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, SOCI, RO, minority rights SUBJECT: ROMA HUMAN RIGHTS SEMINAR HELD JUNE 1 AT EMBASSY BUCHAREST
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 forward.
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