MINELRES: ERRC: Slovakia Before UN Body in Hearing on Racial Discrimination

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Wed Aug 11 20:02:08 2004


Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org> 


United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Reviews Slovakia's Compliance with International Law Banning All Forms
of Racial Discrimination

Geneva: August 9, 2004. On August 9 and 10, the United Nations Committee
on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination hears the Slovak government
discuss measures it has undertaken to end racial discrimination in
Slovakia, as required under the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The Committee
-- referred to under the shorthand "the CERD" -- is reviewing Slovakia's
compliance with the provisions of the ICERD, on the basis of a report
submitted by the Slovak government describing measures undertaken to end
all forms of racial discrimination in Slovakia, including measures
undertaken to remedy the very serious human rights issues Roma face in
Slovakia. The CERD has also received written comments from a number of
non-governmental organisations, including a 38-page document from the
European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), detailing concerns with respect to
the treatment of Roma in Slovakia.

The ERRC submission includes the results of research undertaken
independently, as well as collaborative work undertaken with various
partner organisations in Slovakia, including the League of Human Rights
Activists, the Milan Simecka Foundation and the Center for Roma Rights
Slovakia. The submission also includes results of a project documenting
housing rights issues Roma face in Slovakia, undertaken with local
partners as well as the international organisation Centre on Housing
Rights and Evictions, with funding from the UK government's Foreign and
Commonwealth Office.

The ERRC written submission notes that the Slovak government has not
fully complied with its obligations under Article 2 of the ICERD to
"prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including
legislation [...] racial discrimination." Slovak parliament ratified on
May 20, 2004, a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, and it entered
into force on July 1, 2004. It is too soon to know whether the recently
adopted law will in practice ensure that all individuals have access to
justice when suffering the serious harm of racial discrimination. In
light of how recently the new law was adopted, this submission will not
attempt to speculate as to whether the law will finally remedy the
long-term void of effective legal protections available in Slovakia to
victims of racial discrimination. It is however of concern that on July
2, 2004, one day after the law entered into effect, a judge of the
Bratislava IVth District court dismissed a discrimination complaint in a
housing eviction case. It is also worrying that the Slovak Minister of
Justice has stated that he will file challenges to the legality of
certain provisions of the adopted law. In practice, Roma in Slovakia are
regularly subjected to discrimination in almost all aspects of their
life, from interaction with law-enforcement authorities and the
judiciary to the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights.

The ERRC submission also details concerns that the Slovak government has
failed to prevent, prohibit and eradicate the racial segregation of
Roma, banned under Article 3 of the Convention. This is especially
evident in the field of education, where officials consistently deny
equal access to Romani children, placing them in alarming numbers in
segregated, substandard schools and classes. In addition to the inherent
harms flowing from this practice, the racial segregation of Romani
children in the Slovak school system virtually ensures that Roma will
remain, for the foreseeable future, a systemically excluded underclass.
Additionally, a large number of Roma live in a state of complete
physical separation from mainstream society, in slum settlements
segregated from the rest of the population and characterised by
substandard conditions such as lack of basic infrastructure and
facilities such as sanitation, drinking water, or electricity. Racial
segregation of Roma in Slovakia has also been documented in recent years
in the field of health care.

As to Article 4 of the ICERD, the submission notes that anti-Romani hate
speech is a regular part of public discourse in Slovakia. Anti-Romani
statements are a standard and often unquestioned part of public life in
Slovakia, and officials as high-ranking as the Prime Minister have made
anti-Romani statements. Provisions of the criminal code sanctioning hate
speech have rarely if ever been applied in cases where Roma are at
issue. A new draft criminal code, currently before Slovak parliament,
would remove some legal protections against hate speech, if adopted in
its present proposed form.

As to Article 5, Roma have, in recent years, suffered violence at the
hands of both law enforcement and non-state actors, in violation of "the
right to security of person and protection by the State against violence
or bodily harm" protected under the Convention. In several recent cases,
Roma have been killed by Slovak police officers while in police custody.
Furthermore, authorities continue to fail to provide Roma with adequate
protection against racially motivated violence perpetrated by members
and sympathisers of nationalist-extremist movements and other vigilante
groups. In addition, research by independent human rights groups
including the ERRC has revealed that Romani women have in recent years
been subjected to coercive sterilisation in Slovak hospitals.

The ERRC and partner organisations have also documented violations of
the rights of Roma to be free from discrimination in the exercise of
economic and social rights, as protected by Article 5. Roma in the
Slovak Republic suffer discrimination in the fields of employment,
housing, health care, and access to social assistance and social welfare
benefits.

As the substance of the ERRC submission makes clear, the Convention's
Article 6 guarantee that "States Parties shall assure to everyone within
their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies, through the
competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against any
acts of racial discrimination which violate his human rights and
fundamental freedoms contrary to this Convention, as well as the right
to seek from such tribunals just and adequate reparation or satisfaction
for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination" currently
rings hollow for Roma in Slovakia. In 2004, there is near total impunity
for racial discrimination against Roma, as well as for those who would
frustrate Roma in their efforts to realise the Convention's substantive
provisions.

Furthermore, there are persistent threats to human rights defenders
working on racism issues in Slovakia. Official threats of criminal
charges against Roma rights activists in relation to their work raises
serious concerns about the government's commitment to its obligations
under Article 7 of the Convention to adopt immediate and effective
measures to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among
various ethnic groups and to propagate the purposes and principles of
the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration on Human
Rights and the Convention itself. A new draft criminal code, currently
before Slovak parliament, includes proposals for provisions on "defaming
a public official" which, if adopted into law, would potentially make
possible criminal prosecution of individuals for public criticism of
authorities, and would perpetuate the current "chill" prevalent in
Slovak public life due to the existence of similar provisions in the
current Slovak criminal code.

The ERRC submission does not aim to address all issues Roma face in
Slovakia of relevance to the Convention. The sole ambition of the
submission is to present the results of ERRC research in several areas
of relevance to the Convention, with the aim of complementing the
information provided in the Slovak government's report to the Committee.
Following a general introduction, the submission presents concerns in
the following areas:
* Anti-Romani Expression in Slovakia
* Anti-Discrimination Law and Policy
* Violence
* Coercive Sterilisation of Romani Women
* Medical Care, Social Security and Social Services
* Education
* Housing
* Issues Related to the Provision of/Possession of Residence Permits
* Discrimination in Access to Public Accommodation
* Ethnic Statistical Data
* Human Rights Defenders
The submission concludes with some rudimentary recommendations for the
Slovak government, intended to assist the Committee in bringing
concluding observations with respect to Slovakia's compliance with the
ICERD.

The full text of the written submission is available on the Internet at: 
http://www.errc.org/Advocacysubmission_index.php

In addition, on August 9, ERRC staff appeared before members of the CERD
at an oral briefing in the UN's Palais Wilson in Geneva to discuss human
rights issues facing Roma in Slovakia. Also, on August 10, the ERRC and
partner organisations will hold a press conference in Bratislava's House
of Journalists, to present concerns about the situation of Roma in
Slovakia, as well as to discuss issues raised by the Committee during
public hearing with members of the Slovak government.

Further information on the situation of Roma in Slovakia, on the UN CERD
hearing on Slovakia's compliance with the Convention, as well as on
other issues related to ERRC international advocacy is available by
contacting the offices of the ERRC.

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest law 
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European 
Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary


Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201

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