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ECHR Upheld Decision on Roma Book and Dictionaries

Last Update 20.03.2012

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the decision that the book "Gypsies in Turkey" did not constitute a violation of the right to respect for private and family life. Mustafa Aksu had previously appealed the decision on behalf of the Roma Associations

On 15 March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld its verdict on the book entitled "Gypsies in Turkey" and ruled against a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on "the right to respect for private and family life".

Mustafa Aksu, himself of Roma origin, alleged that three government-funded publications included remarks and expressions that reflected anti-Roma sentiment, i.e. the book "Gypsies in Turkey" by Prof Ali Rafet Özkan and two dictionaries of the Turkish Language Institution.

In June 2001, Aksu filed a petition on behalf of the Turkish Gypsy associations with the Ministry of Culture, complaining that a book it had published, entitled "The Gypsies of Turkey", contained passages that humiliated Gypsies, as it depicted them as involved in criminal activities.

Informed by the Ministry of Culture that, according to its publications advisory board, the book reflected scientific research, and that the author would not allow any amendments, Mr Aksu brought civil proceedings against the Ministry and the author of the book. He requested compensation and asked for the book to be confiscated and for its publication and distribution to be stopped.

When domestic remedies were exhausted, Aksu lodged two applications with the European Court of Human Rights in 2004, arguing that the book and dictionaries contained passages and definitions which were an insult to the Roma community. He relied on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

In its Chamber judgment of 27 July 2010 taken by a 16 to one majority vote the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 8.

"No discrimination on account of ethnic identity"

The ECHR found that the book was an academic study focusing on the history and socio-economic living conditions of the Roma people in Turkey with the passages at issue being examples of the biased portrayal of Roma in Turkish society.

The ECHR ruled that Aksu had not been discriminated against on account of his ethnic identity. Nor had the authorities failed to take the necessary steps to protect Aksu's private life.

As concerned the book, the Court found that the domestic courts' conclusions - that the book, based on scientific research, had neither been an insult to nor an attack on Roma identity - had been reasonable.

As concerned the dictionaries it would have been preferable to label the second meaning of the word "Gypsy" as "pejorative" or "insulting" rather than "methaphorical". However, this alone was insufficient for the Court to override the domestic courts' view on the case.

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