Ms. Rita Izsák, CEO & President of the newly established Tom Lantos Institute and Mr. István Gyarmati, President of the Centre for Democracy Public Foundation spoke at the Atlantic Council to human rights experts about the mission, vision, and future of the Tom Lantos Institute as well as about current human and minority rights challenges in the region.
„We have to understand and overcome past injustices in order to start building a better future for our Roma” said Ms. Rita Izsák, President and CEO of the Tom Lantos Institute at a roundtable organized by the Atlantic Council on September 27th, 2011. Furthermore, „When we talk about human rights, we tend to overemphasize „rights” and tend to ignore the „human” aspect of the issues, which is a mistake. The socio-economic challenges of the Roma have as much to do with self-esteem, role models, school curriculum and inspirational leaders as with the justice system that protects human rights” she said. Ms. Izsák also spoke about her experiences during her career path, „I have been discouraged by others many times in my life from applying for something or aiming higher. However, it always motivated me even more. I wanted to show them that I can do it. I can make it despite the odds”. She also expressed that „With the right leadership, a strong vision and a motivation to help ourselves, we can overcome perceptions and succeed in whatever we want”.
Ms. Rita Izsák spoke about how unaddressed past injustices can poison the present, the role of identity, power relations, and the necessary steps related to the protection of minorities. Injustices may lead to growing gaps among different communities and to a feeling of alienation; as a consequence relationships may be ruined for generations. Recognition, compensation and prosecution mitigate the consequences of past issues. Power relations exist in diverse ways, minorities often do not hold any political, economical, media, or legal power whatsoever which makes them extremely vulnerable and easy to be left out from decision-making processes. Many different models exist in the region for political inclusion, Hungary for example has a remarkable system of minority self-governments, there are more than 1200 bodies with about 5000 minority representatives. However, it is important that these channels become a real avenue of self-government and not be corrupted by the political power plays among different parties. Concerning the necessary steps, lack of interaction must be abolished, and more communication, mutual understanding, consultation are to be facilitated between minority and majority communities. Moreover national inclusion policies are vital to be shaped for each country. Other devices of effective minority protection are movement building, community mobilizing, legitimating people on the ground, and transnational cooperation.
This program was part of a one-week long visit to the United States of America where representatives of the Tom Lantos Institute, International Centre for Democratic Transition and Centre for Democracy Public Foundation participated in several high-level events. Meetings included: the United Nations General Assembly, the session of the Community of Democracies, the 10th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, visits to the State Department and Congress, meetings with the Helsinki Commission and the Tom Lantos Commission.