Swedish Roma woman tells of fear after lawsuit

Swedish Roma woman tells of fear after lawsuit
Roma people have filed a lawsuit at Stockholm District Court. Photo: Jessica Gow/SCANPIX
A member of the Roma community says she is afraid of repercussions as she, alongside ten others, sues the Swedish state for human rights violations over an illegal Roma database. But in an interview with The Local, she vows to stand firm in the face of hatred.

The Local speaks to her a day after Swedish human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders, on behalf of 11 Roma people, filed a lawsuit against the state of Sweden at Stockholm district court.

But she says she now fears for herself and her sons’ safety, and wants to remain anonymous.

“I don’t want my name on the internet. I’m afraid of the hatred. When news about the lawsuit broke I was on the Stockholm metro, opposite a couple of men reading the newspaper. One of them said to the other: ‘Look, the dregs are suing the state now’.”

The lawsuit comes in response to a controversial register of Roma people maintained by the regional Skåne police in southern Sweden. The list, which was declared illegal by the Swedish Commission on Security and Integrity Protection (SIN), included some 4,700 people, including children.

Skåne police said the list was originally put together to keep tabs on Roma in the south suspected of crime. The list ballooned, however, and included children, reporters at public service radio’s Romani Chib broadcast, and even the in-laws of Roma Swedes, and people who had passed away.

John Stauffer, Legal Director and Deputy Executive Director of Civil Rights Defenders, tells The Local that they and the Roma they represent object to the SIN ruling, which stated that although the register was illegal for personal integrity reasons, the database had not been based on ethnicity.

“The most demeaning thing about this database was that they were registered because of their Roma identity – many of them had nothing at all to do with any criminal activity. What has been done so far is not enough and it is very important that the authorities take a thorough look at the ethnic aspects,” he says.

Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice ordered last year, against the background of the SIN ruling, that those listed in the illegal register would be entitled to receive compensation of 5,000 kronor ($768). But the 11 Roma people represented by Civil Rights Defenders say this is not enough.

“As a citizen I have the right to find out why my name is in a register when I haven’t done anything. I don’t even have a parking ticket. We’re doing this to give the Swedish state a chance to give us answers, but also to stand up and admit that this happened,” the Roma woman explains to The Local.

“Even if this register perhaps won’t cause any harm today, it can be dangerous tomorrow. My sons know their history, they know how quickly these things can change. And we want other minority groups as well to understand that even though it’s us today, it could be them tomorrow," she adds.

The lawsuit comes as Sweden faces a rising tide of hate crimes, against Roma groups, synagogues and mosques. The Swedish Commission against Antiziganism recommended last month that a national institution be set up to protect Roma rights.

And Stauffer says that Civil Rights Defenders are prepared to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if they have to.

“These types of cases exist, but they’re not that common. We might not win, but we will keep trying,” he says.

Despite everything, the Roma woman we speak to says she still believes in the Swedish justice system. But she wants to take a stand. 

“It’s enough now. If I don’t take this fight it will happen again and again and again, and it must not.”