- Published on Sunday, 13 June 2010 12:46
Supreme Court Victory For Segregated Roma Children In Miskolc, Hungary
For the first time, a Hungarian court of law awarded compensation to victims of anti-Roma school segregation. Five Roma children were awarded compensation on 2 June 2010 for enduring segregation during their primary schooling in Miskolc in northeastern Hungary. Their hard-fought case in the Hungarian Supreme Court was taken on pro bono by the Budapest office of Allen & Overy for the non-profit organization, Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF), which has been fighting on behalf of Roma children for years. The case highlights the vast potential for law firms to make a real impact on everyday lives through their pro bono work and to advance human rights.
CFCF (http://www.cfcf.hu/) benefited from Allen & Overy's legal assistance through the Public Interest Law Institute's Hungarian Pro Bono Clearinghouse, a "matchmaking" service that links up law firms seeking to offer free legal assistance to NGOs requiring legal help on a variety of issues, including litigating public interest cases such as this one.
The partnership has been fruitful. The strategy of this case was built on a court decision won by CFCF in Debrecen. The Appellate Court declared that the municipality breached the law on public education with regard to equal treatment of Roma and non-Roma children.
Segregation in public schools is a serious ongoing problem in Hungary. CFCF has been leading efforts to sue Hungarian municipalities under the 2004 Equal Treatment Act in order to raise public awareness and government attention about the issue. The children were awarded 100,000 HUF (about 450 USD) in compensation, and the decision confirmed that regardless of the children's individual fate after they have left primary school, segregation itself is unequal treatment, and its victims are entitled to damages in civil law. According to CFCF, follow-up cases based on the ruling could benefit over 150,000 students. "But our purpose is not to add burdens to the court system," emphasized CFCF President Erzsebet Mohacsi. "The decision's most important result is to show municipalities that segregation is not just unlawful-as the previous administrative court ruling already established-but that the exclusion of Roma pupils causes real harm."
The Public Interest Law Institute (PILI) applauds Allen & Overy's efforts for CFCF and its clients. Ed Rekosh, PILI's Executive Director, noted: "This case demonstrates the enormous contribution that pro bono lawyers can make: some of the strongest members of society seeing that justice is done for some of the weakest." The Moscow office of Allen & Overy recently won PILI's 2010 Pro Bono Award.
Map location of Miskolc, Hungary