COPENHAGEN, 5 October 2011 – OSCE Parliamentary Assembly human rights committee chair Matteo Mecacci (Italy) today called for calm and for the respect of the rights of minorities after violent protests targeting the Roma population swept across Bulgaria in recent weeks.

Demonstrations began after a 19-year-old ethnic Bulgarian was killed in a hit-and-run near the home of a local Roma leader. With Bulgaria’s presidential election set for 23 October, political parties have tried to play on anti-Roma sentiment by tying Roma leaders to the ruling party.

“The anti-Roma hate speech and violent demonstrations that followed has been particularly worrying,” said Mecacci, chair of the OSCE PA Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. The topic is on the agenda of today’s OSCE human dimension meeting in Warsaw.

“As an OSCE participating State, Bulgaria must continue to work to promote the integration of minorities, including the Roma, and combat discrimination,” Mecacci said. “The media must also act responsibly in covering these demonstrations.  It is necessary that the authorities react quickly and adequately to the attempts to incite racial hatred, before they get out of hand.”

“The hatred expressed in these demonstrations clearly goes against the respect of basic human rights: targeting and inciting violence against an entire ethnic group is a dangerous path to follow, and we have seen an increasing number of similar expressions of intolerance in several OSCE countries over the last months and years. We have struggled with these issues in Italy as well, coming under heavy international criticism for a policy of fingerprinting in the Roma community. This episode in Bulgaria should remind us all we need to do more to ensure the respect of the rights of minority communities.”

OSCE participating States have adopted a number of measures to support legislation and practices aimed at improving the situation of Roma and Sinti populations. The latest violence in Bulgaria was reported as the worst in 14 years in the country.