Harper testifies before U.N. on Status of Hungarian Roma (Gypsies)
Krista Harper, assistant professor of anthropology and public policy, testified in early May before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) in Geneva, Switzerland. Her topic was health, housing, and environmental disparities faced by Hungarian Roma (Gypsies) and governmental failure to address these disparities.
Roma (the term is preferred to the sometimes pejorative “Gypsy”) are the largest ethnic minority in Hungary, constituting over 5 percent of the population. Roma face ongoing discrimination and disadvantages in every area of life. Their unemployment rate is more than triple the Hungarian national average, and life expectancy is ten years shorter than that of non-Roma.
“In Hungarian towns, the Roma settlement is usually located on the wrong side of the railroad tracks or the river,” said Harper. “Many of these neighborhoods have been there for decades, but local governments fail to provide basic public services, such as sewers and indoor water.”
The UNCESCR oversees country compliance with international agreements on human rights, examining everything from wheelchair accessibility of public transportation to the digital divide. The status of ethnic minorities and government efforts to insure equal treatment are top concerns of the Commission.
“Hungarian law is good in terms of its stated commitment to fighting the social exclusion of Roma, but the national government is very poor at monitoring local government for implementation,” said Harper. “Many of these towns, and especially the schools, have become more segregated since the 1989 collapse of state socialism. International attention, mobilized by activists, can bring pressure for change.”
Harper appeared at UNCESCR briefing on Hungary at the invitation of the European Roma Rights Center. She was joined by Judit Berecz Bari, president of the Sajó River Association for Environment and Community Development, a grassroots Roma community organization in northern Hungary. Claude Cahn of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and Larry Olomoofe of the European Roma Rights Center also testified.
Fluent in Hungarian, Harper has studied social movements around the issues of health, environment, and human rights in Hungary since 1994. Her current research is based in a small city of 14,000, including over 2,000 Roma, located in economically depressed northeastern Hungary. Harper is working with Bari's Sajó River Association to document health and environmental inequalities and to study organizing by grassroots activists.
May 3, 2007