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Fighting for an oppressed ethnic group

My first task: Help the ERRC sue Romania for standing by as its citizens burned down a Roma encampment — and for doing nothing afterward

BUDAPEST — Work is so interesting that I really don't notice the time go by - I'm not staring at the clock, trying to figure out the absolute earliest I could sneak out of work. Although I'm not sure that anyone would notice if I did. My boss gave me a task that's due Friday; I e-mail her a question or two, and she responds. I could work from home, except that I would get absolutely nothing accomplished.

My current task is to write a small appendix/exhibit to tag along with one of our major cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The case itself is really interesting, but I can’t give you more details than that. To make a long story short, a town basically stormed a Roma encampment/slum and burned it down. All of it. To the ground. So these Roma lost everything they owned and were homeless. They were kicked out of the village. Some survived by living in barns and whatnot until they were able to move somewhere more permanent. (Not all Romanians hate Roma, just a lot of them. The Romanian farmers who took in the Roma and let them crash in their barns saved numerous lives. Good stuff.)

Anyway, we are suing Romania, but the real problem is that this was not very unusual during the early 1990s. Revolution and bad times in general historically are not good for minorities anywhere, and a weak central government means poor enforcement of laws. Laws such as "Don’t go around committing pogroms."

Romani family
Romani family at the Plementina camp in Albania, having been driven out of their home in Obiliq, Albania, by an angry Albanian crowd. (EERC photo)

My role in all of this is basically to read every report ever written by a big-name intergovernmental agency (think the EU, Council of Europe, or the UN) or a major nongovernmental organization (such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch) about crappy investigations in Romania for ethnically motivated violence, especially mob violence. Actually, half my time is reading them, the other 49 percent is spent on finding the appropriate reports. These institutions are very good at writing things, but very bad at labeling them or organizing them in any coherent form, much less actually posting them on a searchable website. There just is no good international "document" search engine. Google sucks for finding this stuff, and Lexis and Westlaw are all U.S. reports. Garh.

Outside of searching and reading, maybe 1 percent of my time is spent writing my fancy little report. Yes, it is little, about seven pages or so. It is brief because the folks that will be reading it probably already know most of it, and they hate repetition. They probably won't even pay attention to the appendices stapled in the back. But I am actually writing something that will be submitted to the highest court specifically dedicated to human rights in the world. That is pretty sweet.

In my research, I found that all the organizations I named above keep mentioning the ERRC, where I work. Apparently, we are considered to be the authority on anything Roma. This is pretty awesome. I brought it up with one of the legal assistants and she just smiled. She said that I should be stoked. The ERRC has a turnover rate that is just above a year because all the big boys keep swiping all of our lawyers for Big Important Projects in Eastern Europe. This rocks.

I gotta go. A friend of Gabor's is having a "I just finished my master's" dinner, and I'm invited. I am curious if it will be as interesting as the night before.


— Mike