How do Romani people experience police misconduct?
(Briefing developed by European Roma Right Centre)
Failure to conduct an effective investigation: by far the most common form of misconduct which Romani people experience. The norm for Romani people who have been the victims of a crime is that the police will fail to perform an effective investigation. This is all the more problematic when Roma are the victims of hate crimes (where police fail to take racist motivation into account), or when they are the victims of police violence (when the investigation is usually carried out by a police investigative body which is not independent of the Ministry of Interior).
Police Harassment: this can include arbitrary checks, vehicle stops, ethnic profiling, raids on Roma-majority neighbourhoods, surveillance, arrests without probable cause, and unequal treatment during routine policing. Since the pandemic this would also include the creation of police checkpoints to control Romani neighbourhoods, and quarantines of Roma-majority areas.
Police Brutality: violence against Romani people can be indiscriminate and affect women, children and vulnerable people such as those with disabilities or the elderly (as in raids on Roma-majority neighbourhoods). Usually however, violent police misconduct targets Romani men. Often this is in the form of disproportionate force being used (for example the use of batons and tear gas to subdue an unarmed, non-violent suspect). While violence against Roma who are not suspects or criminals is not uncommon, frequently violence involves large numbers of armed officers being unnecessarily deployed against people who have committed minor offences.
Torture in police custody: frequently Roma who are arrested and violently assaulted in the course of the arrest will experience further violence while in police custody. This can be in the back of a police car, in a remote area of the countryside, or most often back at the police station. The ERRC has documented countless cases of Romani people being beaten in custody as well as more severe forms of torture such as death threats with firearms, whipping, asphyxiation, torture using electricity, and racial abuse with psychological torture.
Death resulting from police actions: whether through negligence, professional malpractice, or intentional murder – Romani people die at the hands of European police officers with some regularity across the continent. The use of disproportionate force by police forces, the lack of due care towards Romani people in police custody, and the negligent practices towards Romani people with medical conditions leads to largely preventable deaths occurring.
ERRC Actions to Combat Police Misconduct
- The ERRC currently have 171 active legal cases ongoing in different European countries, with 49% of this case load relating to cases of police brutality or harassment. We take cases before national bodies (such as equality bodies, ombudsperson’s offices, anti-discrimination bodies), domestic courts, international treaty bodies, and the European Court of Human Rights.
- The ERRC works through a network of human rights monitors, lawyers, activists, partner organisations, and volunteers based in countries where we are active. This apparatus gives us the ability to respond quickly to changing human rights situations in different communities in different countries. When something like the death of Stanislav Tomáš in the Czech Republic happens, we are able to quickly provide legal support. Frequently, in cases where public attention is not so great – our monitors provide the information necessary for us to publicise human rights violations which would otherwise go unnoticed, and usually uninvestigated. Our network of experts, having dealt with cases of police violence against Romani people for years, are also able to provide analysis coloured by this experience and our knowledge of antigypsyism in Europe. This is an analysis that few, if any, are willing or able to provide in Europe.
- These incidents and cases are only from the past year of work relating to police misconduct. The ERRC have a history of challenging police misconduct which goes back 25 years. This has provided us with the experience and in-depth knowledge of how police forces mistreat Romani communities throughout Europe.
- Our 25 year experience has meant that, aside from our litigation and our media work to expose rights violations, we are also engaged in advocacy actions to address police misconduct. At a local level this means sometimes meeting with the police (for example, as in 2018 during the far-right attacks on Roma in Ukraine), meeting with representatives of Ministries of Interior (in Slovakia, for example), or sometimes it means us bringing very local cases of police brutality to a European setting before the European Commission or European Parliament.
Issues which desperately need to be addressed
- Where is the EU’s anti-racist stance on racist policing?
Despite the widespread and endemic nature of police violence against Roma, the European Union’s institutions have been reluctant to take a strong anti-racist stance on the issue which goes beyond conferences and capacity building trainings for racist police forces.
- From our experience, training to improve the skill-set of law enforcement in different countries has historically had little effect on reducing racially biased police misconduct. Actions which seek to treat the symptoms (misconduct) rather than the cause (institutional racism in law enforcement) are rarely successful.
- It is necessary to have a strong refutation from the EU when specific instances of police racism towards Roma are brought up by CSOs, as well as a wider recognition of the problem of institutional racism against Romani people, in order to rebuild trust for Europe’s Roma who feel they have been repeatedly been let down by the justice system.
- A clear message that ethnic profiling of Roma is illegal
Recent action plans (Roma inclusion & anti-Racism) have either neglected to address police misconduct altogether, or have actually used language which suggests that ethnic profiling is an acceptable practice under certain circumstances. Ethnic profiling is unacceptable under any circumstances, and the recent language which has been used could easily give member states and enlargement countries an excuse to continue illegal practices which target Roma based on racist stereotypes of inherent criminality.
- A critical review of the Racial Equality Directive
The recent review of the RED by the European Commission failed to take the most serious critiques of the directive from civil society into account; namely that the RED in its current setup is unfit for purpose when it comes to protecting Roma from the most severe and most widespread human rights abuses they face across Europe. Forced evictions are not explicitly covered by the RED, and neither is racially motivated police misconduct. These two human rights issues are the most widespread and most visible forms of antigypsyism in Europe.
- The scope of the RED should be widened to include these issues in order to better protect Romani citizens of the EU and enlargement countries.