Slovenia: Constitutional right to water “must flow down to” Roma communities

 

A constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to water for all must be fully implemented to benefit the lives of Slovenia's Roma communities denied access to water, said Amnesty International.

Whilst the amendment passed today recognises that everyone has the right to drinking water, some Romani communities are still forced to fetch water from polluted streams or public taps and do not have access to adequate toilets.

It is shocking that in a highly developed country like Slovenia some Roma communities struggle to collect even small amounts of water to drink, cook and bathe themselves and their families
Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International Deputy Europe Director

“Enshrining access to drinking water as a constitutional human right is an important legal step forward for Slovenia, but Roma communities need more than legal changes. Action is now needed to ensure the changes flow down to all those without water and sanitation,” said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International's Deputy Europe Director.

“It is shocking that in a highly developed country like Slovenia, where almost 100 per cent of the population have access to safe water, some Roma communities struggle to collect even small amounts of water to drink, cook and bathe themselves and their families.”

Many Roma families in Slovenia live in informal settlements in inadequate and at times unsanitary housing conditions. Some do not have access to water close to their homes and have to travel long distances with jerry cans to get water from petrol stations, cemeteries or polluted streams. These conditions impact their lives and result in illnesses including water borne diseases.

In 2011 a government commission recommended that access to water should be provided to all Roma communities as matter of urgency, but no effective measures have so far been taken.  

“The government must now ensure that the constitutional recognition that everyone has a right to drinking water leads to swift and concrete changes,” said Fotis Filippou. 

“Failure to do so would not only be an abject dereliction of responsibility by the government but could also prove costly since the new amendment will strengthen the case of anyone challenging their lack of access to water in domestic courts.”

BACKGROUND

The constitutional amendment requires that water for drinking and household use is provided purely by the public sector.

In 2014 two Roma families from Škocjan and Ribnica took the issue of lack of access to water to the European Court of Human Rights. The case Hudorovic v. Slovenia is currently pending before the Court.

The Roma do not need riches, what we really need is a water pipe for our children to wash and to be able to drink water when thirst
Branko Hudorovič

has stated: “The Roma do not need riches, what we really need is a water pipe for our children to wash and to be able to drink water when thirsty.”

It is estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 Roma people live in Slovenia. Most of them live in isolated and segregated settlements or slums in rural areas. Many live in poorly constructed homes or informal settlements which lack security of tenure. Widespread discrimination often prevents Romani families from buying or renting housing in other areas.

Under Slovenian law, citizens can only obtain access to communal public services if they own or hold other legal claims to the land on which they live, along with a building permit. Many Roma are therefore denied even minimum levels of access to water and sanitation, as well as utilities such as electricity.

The denial of their rights to adequate housing, water and sanitation, whilst also negatively impacting other rights such as education, work and health, feeds into a cycle of poverty and marginalization. Widespread prejudice against Roma, including children and women persist on the grounds of their lack of access to basic sanitation.

Photo by Borut Peterlin