The level of consideration given minority rights varies in different countries (they may or may not be considered a specific part of the population; they may be considered as a national or an ethnic minority; etc.)
As the Council of Europe states, Roma are defined as a minority by the constitution in some countries (e.g., Slovenia, Macedonia, Finland) or by a special act (e.g., Hungary). In some countries, they are defined as a minority by a constitutional act as well as by some other act (e.g., Romania, the Czech Republic, Finland). Some countries do not define national minorities at all (e.g., France, Spain, Bulgaria).
The situation is different in the USA. In view of the fact that this is not a national state but an immigrant state, it does not use the term 'national minority' (all inhabitants are members of national minorities to a certain degree). Thus, only the original population has a special status. As the Minority Rights Group states:'The USA is a very diverse society, but its minority groups have been pressured to “melt” into mainstream culture and to uphold US patriotism and global ambitions.' The rights of minorities are laid down within the meaning of a right to non-discrimination.
However, in spite of legislative definition, policies vary. For example, in the Czech Republic, the Roma minority has all the features designated by a special act for recognition as a national minority. Neverthelesss, the government uses the term 'Roma community' rather than 'Roma minority' in official documents and tries to solve the problem of their segregation by using instruments of social policy rather than a nationality-oriented policy.
There is a problem surrounding the participation of Roma in public matters in most European countries. The Roma of the Czech Republic, like other national minorities, can participate in public matters which directly concern them through their representatives in the Council for Nationalities and in the Council for Issues of the Roma Community - both Councils are advisory bodies of the Czech government. At the level of local self-government, national minorities are represented by members of the Minority Committees, which are established by municipalities and regions when the members of national minorities reaches a certain number (10 per cent in a municipality and 5 per cent in a region). This model is essentially a copy of the Hungarian model, where there is an Office for Ethnic and National Minorities, a consultative body between the government and the minorities; a Coordinating Council for Gypsy Affairs at the central level; and minority self-government at the local level. Similarly, a National Consultative Committee has been established in Spain; there is a Roma Advisory Board in Finland, a Council for National Minorities in Rumania, an Ethic Advisory Council in Austria, a Council of Representatives of Minority Organisations in Ukraine, and so on. The consultative nature of these various bodies raises the question as to whether this is really an avenue to power for Roma.
The issue of Roma access to power, as well as the issue of Roma's recognition as a national or ethnic minority are closely related to the issue of the implementation of the relevant international conventions by the individual states. The situation of Roma in individual countries was recognized as being important and was included in the agenda of many international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, CSCE, etc. These institutions usually include Roma, Sinti, and Travellers in the same category. However, Travellers do not belong to the Roma nation.
The relevant international conventions are primarily the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities, the Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages, the UN International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The documents of the Council of Europe
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was ratified by all forty-four members of the Council of Europe. The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was ratified by thrity-five members; seven signed it. The European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages was ratified by seventeen members; twelve signed it.
In Strasbourg, a court for human rights has been established, which examines individual complaints about breaches of the provisions of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Information on individual judgements can be found on the relevant website.
Reports on observance of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which are also available on its website, can be an important source of information on the situation of Roma in the individual members' countries.
Similarly, the states which are parties to the above UN conventions submit reports on observance of the conventions.
In 1967 the International Gypsy Committee was founded. It represented Roma organizations in the form of an international federation (it represented twenty-three organizations from twenty-two countries in 1972), and was recognized, among others, by the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
At the Second World Congress organized by the International Gypsy Committee, a new international organization was founded - the International Romany Union (IRU). In 1979 the IRU received the status of observer with the UN; it obtained the status of consultant in 1993.
The IRU attended the CSCE meeting on the Human Dimension in Copenhagen (1990), Geneva and Moscow (1991), and in Helsinki (1992), and also participated in events organized by the Council of Europe and the European Union. Roma are also associated with organizations at national levels.
Even though Roma regard themselves as a nation and are also regarded by international organizations as such, many countries approach them as a social group, and not as a national or ethnic minority, despite the fact that they officially declare Roma as a national minority. The reason for such an approach might be their social exclusion.