On October 15-18, 2019, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) organized “Countering Distortion through Governmental Action: Building the Capacity of Government Actors for Promoting and Protecting the Civil and Human Rights of Roma” with the support of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The four-day regional training seminar was held in Bucharest, Romania and welcomed 20 participants. In addition to government officials, attendees included representatives of NGOs and academia with expertise on topics related to the Roma community from across Southeastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.
The seminar was based on the premise that a better understanding of Roma history in the region, contextualized within an atrocity prevention perspective and framework, will enhance the necessary knowledge and skills needed for recognizing and preventing identity-based discrimination. An international team of instructors with a deep understanding of Roma subjects included academics, Roma activists, peace workers, representatives of the European Council, and policy advisers. The seminar included an array of modules covering the fundamental concepts involved in genocide and mass atrocity prevention, the role of identity in atrocities, and historical segments on Holocaust and the Porajmos (also commonly known as “The Roma Genocide”).
As a whole, the event looked to foster the knowledge and practical competencies among participants that is required to: i) understand genocide and other mass atrocities, as well as the processes by which they occur; ii) recognize and end identity-based violence; iii) counter distortion and protect the civil and human rights of Roma; and iv) identify the role of government actors and members of civil society in ending identity-based discrimination and violence against Roma, through actions taken at national and regional level.
The seminar created a common baseline level of knowledge among attendees that facilitates a productive exchange of ideas and best practices, as well as an acknowledgement of the shared features of Roma history in the region, especially regarding the atrocities committed against them and contemporary approaches for confronting the legacies that have arisen as a result. In particular, the participants discussed the challenges that societies still face when dealing with discrimination against Roma communities and deliberated over effective solutions to these challenges, identifying possibilities for the development of common projects.
AIPR’s Director of Mediterranean Basin Programs, Dr. Gabriela Ghindea, explains:
The success of this regional seminar, organized by AIPR with the support of the IHRA, has produced several significant results. First and foremost, it worked to bring together participants from across Southeastern Europe, all of whom have different areas of expertise and different approaches to Roma issues. By giving them a place to share experiences and integrating their work into the broader genocide and mass atrocity prevention framework, participants were able to identify common patterns of discrimination faced by Roma in their respective countries, revaluate their own role and capacity to prevent identity-based violence, and exchange ideas and best practices for improving national-level strategies for protecting Roma communities.
The seminar was also a welcome signal that numerous stakeholders in the Mediterranean Basin Region are interested in a sustained international exchange of concepts and best practices. This would be established through the incorporation of these items into the working agenda of the future Mediterranean Basin Network for Atrocity Crimes Prevention, an emerging informal network of states throughout Southeastern Europe who are dedicated to regional cooperation on atrocity prevention issues.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.