Belgium, found guilty of mass expulsion of Roma

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ERRC welcomes the February 5, 2002 decision by the European Court of Human Rights, finding that Belgium violated key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights when it collectively expelled, in October 1999, 74 Roma from Slovakia who were seeking asylum in Belgium. In connection with the case, the Court Tuesday awarded 10,000 euros in damages to a Romani family called Conka, who had filed a complaint to the Court in relation to the case.

The ruling is not only the first ever by the Court in a case involving the collective expulsion of Roma, it is actually the first time the Court has ever found a violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention, which bans the collective expulsion of aliens. It is, in addition, the first time the Court has ever found a Western European country in violation of the Convention where Roma rights are involved. The decision also appears to break new ground in terms of burden of proof issues. Commenting on the ruling, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said, "This is a very important decision for the Romani family concerned, and it also has implications for future cases in the context of post-September 11 Fortress Europe policies."

On October 5, 1999, Belgium expelled 74 Slovak Romani asylum seekers after attempts to detain approximately one hundred and fifty Slovak Roma in two Belgian cities. On September 30 and October 1, 1999, local authorities in the city of Ghent ordered a number of Romani asylum seekers to appear before the police. Some came to the police station after receiving written summons, while others were reportedly detained by police during house searches. Many Roma were reportedly lured to the police office under the false pretext that they had to complete additional forms as a part of their asylum application. Once at the police station, the Roma were immediately detained and transferred to a closed detention centre called "127bis Steenokkerzeel" on the outskirts of Brussels. They remained in the centre for four days under heavy police guard until their deportation on October 5. The Belgian government's decision to proceed with the deportation came in the face of a decision earlier the same day by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg expressly requesting that the Belgian government stay deportation for eight days to permit consideration of whether such deportation would violate the European Convention of Human Rights. Detailed information on the case is available on the Internet at:, as well as by contacting the offices of the ERRC.

In connection with the case, Mr Jan Conka, his wife Maria Conkova, and their children Nad'a Conkova and Nikola Conkova, with the assistance of local counsel in Belgium, filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights, asserting that their fundamental rights had been violated. The ERRC assisted in preparing documentation for the submission.

In its February 5 statement, the European Court announced that it had found violations of the following articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (excerpts from the reasoning of the Court in the Conka case follow each Article violated by Belgian authorities):

Article 5(1), guaranteeing the right to liberty and security of person: "[...] a conscious decision by the authorities to facilitate or improve the effectiveness of a planned operation for the expulsion of aliens by misleading them about the purpose of a notice so as to make it easier to deprive them of their liberty was not compatible with Article 5."

Article 5(4), guaranteeing the right to take proceedings by which lawfulness of detention shall be decided: "[...] The Court identified a number of factors which undoubtedly had made an appeal to the committals division less accessible. [...] the authorities had not offered any form of legal assistance at either the poli

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