Stereotypes of Roma: Aksu v. Turkey in the Grand Chamber

 The Grand Chamber has handed down its much-awaited judgment in Aksu v. Turkey. This case concerns the use of derogatory stereotypical images of Roma in government-sponsored publications. The Grand Chamber holds with 16 votes to 1 that article 8 (right to private life) has not been violated. I have mixed feelings about the Court’s reasoning. When it comes to stereotypes, the judgment contains progressive and insightful reasoning. On the other hand, I regret that the Court did not take the substance of the applicant’s complaint – namely that he was discriminated as a Roma – seriously. In what follows I will chart the Court’s judgment and highlight both some strengths and some weaknesses. Continue reading

Saying It Is Doing It (comments on the hearing in the case of Aksu v. Turkey)

The famous American feminist legal theorist Catherine MacKinnon argued that pornography is an act of subordination. In Only Words, she notes: “Social inequality is substantially created and enforced – that is, done – through words and images. . .  Elevation and denigration are all accomplished through meaningful symbols and communicative acts in which saying it is doing it.” (p. 13)

It is this sort of insight that was crucially lacking in the recent hearing before the Grand Chamber in the case of Aksu v. Turkey. The hearings are online. I’ve blogged about this case before; here and here. Briefly, the case concerns a State-sponsored dictionary and book that contain derogatory stereotypes of Roma. The dictionary contains entries that define “Gypsy” as “(metaphorically) stingy” and the book contains passages that portray Roma as thieves, beggars and prostitutes.

The reason why we should care about Aksu is because words and images are not neutral and harmless vessels of expression, they do something. As MacKinnon says, words and images create and enforce social inequality. As might be expected, the representative of the Turkish state denied this completely. He referred to the entries in the dictionary as “sterile quotations from the language and literatureContinue reading

Just words? (Aksu v. Turkey Part II)

My post on Aksu v. Turkey received some criticism for not taking the freedom of expression into account. A brief memory-aid: Aksu is the case of a man of Roma origin who complained about degrading stereotypical remarks made about Roma in government-sponsored publications. In a “dictionary for pupils” and a book entitled “The Gypsies of Turkey” Roma were put down as “stingy”, “greedy”, “thieves” etc. (See my previous post).

News about the Court will pick up again – the Court will be releasing 21 judgments today – but because I find this such an interesting case I would like to take this opportunity to reflect further on Aksu, this time from a freedom of expression perspective.

The first thing that is remarkable from this perspective is that the Court decides to declare this application admissible. Continue reading

The Power of Definition: Stereotypes of Roma in Aksu v. Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights just rendered a judgment on the issue of stereotyped images of Roma in government-funded publications in Turkey. I think the majority decision (4 to 3) lacks sustained analysis and requires problematization. 

In the case of Aksu v. Turkey the applicant, mr Aksu, is of Roma origin. He complained about two publications (a book and a dictionary) that included harmful images of Roma, like the suggestion that Roma are stingy, fraudulent and aggressive. In his view, he had been discriminated against on account of his ethnic identity and he felt that these publications harmed his dignity. The Court treats his complaint under art. 14 in conjunction with art. 8. I will discuss the two publications and the Court’s treatment of them separately, as well as the dissenting opinion. Continue reading