Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 17:56 UK

Croatia wins in Roma pupils case

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News

Roma children in Italy. File picture
The ruling could affect Roma children across Europe

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Croatia did not discriminate against Roma pupils by putting them in separate, all-Roma classes at school.

The children, now aged between 14 and 20, said they suffered psychologically and practically, as they were taught only a third of the curriculum.

But the court said they were separated only until their language improved.

A BBC correspondent says the ruling could have an impact on many countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

In Croatia, as in many east European countries, it is common practice for Roma (Gypsies) to be placed in either special classes, or in some cases, in special schools.

The schools argue that the children often do not speak the national language well enough to keep up with their fellow pupils, and that the special classes are designed to help them catch up.

Legal counsel for the pupils argue that the children are simply dumped in substandard classes on the basis of the colour of their skin and that, as a result of lower educational standards in such classes, their future chances of finding work are significantly reduced.

Not set apart

An earlier ruling by the same court, in November last year, found in favour of Roma from the Czech Republic who were placed in Roma schools.

But on this occasion the court in Strasbourg ruled there was no ethnic discrimination.

In Croatia, the pupils were placed in Roma classes within ordinary primary schools, it found.

It said the children had taken part in extra-curricular activities with the other children, and were not set apart simply for being Roma.

Anita Danka of the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, which worked closely on the case, expressed disappointment at the judgement.

It reveals that the Court of Human Rights "was not able to see that segregated education can have a variety of manifestations", she told the BBC, "including segregation within mainstream schools".

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