- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

Focusing on Roma

A congressional human rights committee has scheduled a hearing on accusations of widespread discrimination against the minority Roma population in Central Europe.

The Roma, commonly called Gypsies, face prejudice in public places, education, housing and employment. Police brutality is also reported in several countries.

"Romani human rights issues have taken on increasing prominence in post-communist countries," the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement announcing its hearing at 2 p.m. next Thursday in Room 485 of the Russell Senate Office Building.

The commission noted that the European Union has told Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and the Slovak Republic to improve the situations of Roma before they can join the organization.

The Roma population is estimated at about 10 million worldwide, with most concentrated in Central Europe. However they represent a small percentage of the population in those countries, ranging from a high of 4 percent in Hungary to 0.3 percent in the Czech Republic.

The State Department's human rights report notes discrimination against Roma in all of those countries, citing "sporadic" violence from neo-Nazis, or "skinhead" thugs, in the Czech Republic to police abuse in the Slovak Republic.

Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora said his country is trying to eliminate discrimination against Roma and cited a new government initiative to improve human rights, education, housing and health care and protect Roma language and culture.

"The conviction and determination of this government is to tolerate no discrimination against Roma," Mr. Butora told Embassy Row Thursday. "We are not saying there are not problems."

The ambassador said he welcomes the congressional hearing.

"I think it is good that they care about the Roma situation. The more people entering into the dialogue, the better," he said.

Witnesses at the commission hearing will include Ina Zoon, former vice president of the Romanian League for Human Rights; Monika Horakova, a member of the Czech parliament who also serves on the European Roma Rights Center; Rumyan Russinov, director Roma Participation Project in Bulgaria; Angela Kocze of the European Roma Rights Center; Karolina Banomova, a Czech Roma who sought political asylum in Canada; and Diane Orentlicher, a law professor at American University.

Good job

President Clinton Thursday praised the American diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Portugal, adding the Foreign Service personnel are too often taken for granted.

"The people who represent the United States around the world, both the people of our Foreign Service, our Commerce Department, our military, the others who are associated with our missions, and the foreign nationals who work with us, almost never get any publicity," he told the embassy staff as he ended his visit in Lisbon.

"And usually, once in a rare blue moon when they do get any publicity, it's because something bad happened. And all the rest of the time you never get the credit you deserve, day in and day out, for making the United States a good partner, a good friend, a good neighbor, for doing all the work that has to be done."

The relationship between the United States and Portugal is strong "thanks in no small measure to the work you do day in and day out," he said.

Abrams heads panel

Elliott Abrams, a State Department official in the Reagan administration, Thursday was elected chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Mr. Abrams and new Vice Chairman Firuz Kazemzadeh replace Rabbi David Saperstein and Michael Young, who served as chairman and vice chairman during the commission's inaugural year. The commission, which met first in June 1999, was created by Congress to report on religious freedom around the world.

Mr. Abrams praised Rabbi Saperstein and Mr. Young for the success of the commission in its first year.

"We will be looking at a larger number of countries in the coming year, seeking to have an even broader impact," he said.

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