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Reviewed by:
  • Minority rights protection in international law. The Roma of Europe, and: Who speaks for Roma? Political representation of a transnational minority community
  • Yaron Matras (bio)
Minority rights protection in international law. The Roma of Europe. Helen O'Nions. 2007. Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, Hampshire. isbn 978-0-7546-0921-6. (Hardcover). 331 pp.
Who speaks for Roma? Political representation of a transnational minority community. Aidan McGarry. 2010. Continuum, New York & London. isbn 978-0-8264-2880-6 (Hardcover). 202 pp.

Complementing the appearance in recent years of several monographs examining the Romani political movement in the theoretical context of political science and international relations, among them Klimova-Alexander (2005) and Vermeersch (2006), Helen O'Nions's monograph is perhaps the first comprehensive academic study that examines the contemporary Romani situation from a legal perspective (an isolated predecessor being Marcia Rooker's unpublished PhD dissertation from 2004 on Roma and international law). The outcome is one of the most inspiring and well-informed works on the political situation of Roma that has appeared over the past decade, by far overtaking in its thoroughness, accuracy, and quality of analysis all other titles cited in its extended bibliography. Apart from providing a rich source of reference to events, actors, statements, and legal provisions of various kinds, it highlights what has, since 1990, become the key dilemma in Romani politics: How are the specific interests of the Roma – as a dispersed and deprived minority suffering from extreme prejudice and marginalisation – best protected within a legal and political framework? Although the discussion itself takes on a much more subtle and differentiated course, put in a simplified manner the choice is between reliance on global mechanisms for the protection of individual and human rights, and striving towards a unique mechanism that would enshrine rights and privileges designed specifically for the Roma (and would hence have to narrowly define and identify those individuals who would fall under the protection of such a provision).

One of the most impressive features of the book is just how thoroughly the material has been researched, and how transparent the author makes her research to the reader. A wealth of footnotes documents the sources for each factual statement. In addition to a comprehensive bibliography of academic works these sources also cover newspaper articles, official communications and statements by NGOs, reports, conference agendas and minutes of meetings, and in some cases personal correspondence and other archive material.

The main idea put forward by the author is that individual rights as anchored [End Page 206] in contemporary legal frameworks, both country-specific and in European and international law, do not provide sufficient guarantee for the protection of Roma, who are targeted as individuals due to their affiliation with a collective that is subject to negative stereotyping and wholesale exclusion and marginalisation. The problem of exclusion can therefore be tackled only by recognising the particular needs of the collective. At the same time, the author considers 'separatist' visions such as autonomous institutions and schools as unrealistic, for various reasons, not least due to the dispersion and diversity of Romani communities. The book examines whether there is an alternative way forward, by recognising the collective and deriving from this recognition specific individual rights.

Following a brief introduction, which describes the present-day state of Roma in Europe concisely but with great accuracy (Chapter 1), the author introduces two theoretical chapters in which she reviews the frameworks for protection of minorities within what is called the Human Rights Discourse (Chapter 2) and as protection of Individual Rights (Chapter 3). Having outlined the mechanisms, with an emphasis on their potential relevance to Roma, O'Nions then goes on to a detailed discussion of two case studies: The 1994 citizenship law of the Czech Republic and its effect on Roma (Chapter 4), and the education system in the United Kingdom and its treatment of Gypsies and Travellers (Chapter 5). In the first case, the conclusion is that a framework that fails to take into consideration the particular historical and social situation of the Roma as a collective is in effect discriminatory of individuals of Romani background, depriving, potentially, those Roma of citizenship who were born and raised in...


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pp. 206-212
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