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Minority Rights, Multiculturalism and the Roma of Europe

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In this article, I review legal initiativaes to improve conditions for the Roma peoples who live in the states of Europe. The question is timely given the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January 2007. Romania contains the largest concentration of the Roma population in Europe. My article uncovers a schism between political theory and international law on the question of minority rights. I distinguish how the conclusions of Will Kymlicka, one of the most prolific writers on the subject of multiculturalism in political theory, differ from the international jurisprudence that protects minority groups. In this essay, I analyse Kymlicka's claim that multicultural policies are contextually dependent, and an inappropriate subject for a common legal regime of international human rights treaties. To determine the implications of human rights jurisprudence for this normative claim, I also research court cases filed by the Roma under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. I contrast the international treaties that protect minority groups from political theorist accounts of multiculturalism in three areas. First, my article discusses jurisdictional issues concerning whether the particular groups defined by minority rights, irrespective of their geographical location or contextual experience, are proper subjects for protection by a common rights regime. Next, I illustrate how cultural rights are distinguishable from traditional civil rights laws. Finally, I examine how the historic persecution of the Roma violates human rights standards that protect minorities. The Roma have a long and unique relationship with the European states, which serves to demonstrate whether or not a common regime of minority rights safeguards the cultural development of the Roma.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute and member of St. Antony's College, Oxford


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