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Defining Roma Identity in the European Court of Human Rights

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image of International Journal on Minority and Group Rights

This article is an evaluation based on a selection of the European Court of Human Rights’ case law concerning Roma people, namely the three main decisions dealing with the right to a Gypsy way of life. In those cases, the Court interpreted the right to respect for private and family life as giving rise to a ‘positive obligation to facilitate the Gypsy way of life’. This obligation involves a definition of Roma identity and reveals that the Court’s position, founded on specific perceptions of Romanity is restrictive, distorted and stereotyped. Indeed, regarding this European legal protection, I wonder whether the legal conception of Roma identity conveyed by the Court is relevant, since it does not always accord with sociological or anthropological studies on that topic, taking into account a constructivist approach of identity, nor with the description of a wide range of members of that people. First, this article aims at underlying which stereotypes dealing with Roma identity are involved in the Court’s discourse. Second, it shows how these ‘manipulated conceptions’ are fed by the arguments of Roma applicants and those of the respondent State.

Affiliations: 1: Section de droit civil, Faculté de droit, Université d’Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada


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