The Roma/Gypsies form a group of approximately 8-10 million people in Europe. They are to be found in almost all Council of Europe member states and indeed, in some central and east European countries, they represent over 5% of the population.
Yet, although they have been in Europe since the 14th century, very often they are not recognised by the majority society as a fully-fledged European people and they have suffered throughout their history in Europe from rejection and persecution, culminating in the Nazi's attempt to exterminate them. As a result of centuries of rejection many Roma/Gypsy communities today live in very difficult conditions, often on the fringe of the societies in the countries where they live, and their participation in public life is very limited. It is also very difficult for them to ensure that their contribution to European culture is fully acknowledged.
Since 1993, the Roma/Gypsy issue has been at the heart of three of the Council's top priorities: protection of minorities, the fight against racism and intolerance and the fight against social exclusion.
Indeed, the difficult situation facing numerous Roma/Gypsy communities ultimately represents a threat to social cohesion in member states. Moreover, increasingly active Roma/Gypsy associations repeatedly appealed to the Council of Europe to ensure that this minority's fundamental rights were upheld in member states.
Accordingly, the Council of Europe decided to look at Roma/Gypsy issues to help bring about a long-term improvement in their situation. In order to place these issues on an institutional footing, in 1995 the Committee of Ministers set up a Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies, tasked with advising member states on all Roma/Gypsy-related matters and encouraging international authorities to take action where it was needed. Its role complements that of the Secretary General's Co-ordinator of Activities on Roma/Gypsies, responsible for promoting co-operation...