MINELRES: Campaign for Roma Housing Rights in Slovakia

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Fri Jul 2 15:37:01 2004


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


ERRC/MSF/COHRE Appeal to the Slovak Government, Advocating Housing
Rights Legal and Policy Reform


On June 23, 2004, the ERRC, together with the Bratislava-based Milan
Simecka Foundation (MSF) and the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights
and Evictions (COHRE), sent an appeal to Mr Laszlo Gyurovszky,
Slovakia's Minister of Construction and Regional Development, and Mr
Ludovit Kanik, Slovakia's Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family,
recommending a range of legal and policy reforms aimed at bringing
Slovak domestic law and policy on housing rights into line with
Slovakia's international legal and policy commitments. These include the
United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights and the European Union Lisbon Agreement, amongst others.

The appeal followed a one-year project undertaken by the three
organisations involving legal research, housing rights documentation,
litigation and human rights training. The Foreign and Commonwealth
Office of the Government of the United Kingdom provided funding for the
project.

Research undertaken within the project framework revealed that the
housing rights of Roma are frequently violated. Conditions in major slum
settlements such as Jarovnice, Svinia and Hermanovce - to name only a
few - are extremely inadequate. One infamous example, the Patoracka
Romani settlement outside Rudnany, is located on the grounds of a former
mercury mine. Most such slum settlements are characterised by
substandard or extremely substandard housing, a prevalence of
environmental hazards including toxic waste, rubbish tips, intermingling
of waste and drinking water, etc. They completely or partially lack
formal infrastructure such as paved roads, electricity, heating, sewage
removal and the provision of adequate drinking water, and are frequently
excluded from other public services, such as public transport or postal
services.

In 2001, the Slovak government amended the Slovak civil code to weaken
the rights of tenants. In the wake of the amendments, there has been a
significant rise in the number of forced evictions of Roma in Slovakia.
It is unclear what protection the Slovak government has made available
to victims of forced evictions, what measures Slovak officials have
undertaken to provide alternative accommodation to victims of forced
eviction, or even whether it is monitoring evictions to ensure that they
are not implemented in a discriminatory manner.

ERRC/MSF/COHRE field research has revealed that homelessness - including
so-called "hidden homelessness" in which, as a result of forced
evictions, extended families live in overcrowded conditions - is a
problem in a number of Slovak cities, including Kosice, Presov and
Trnava. Overcrowding and severe overcrowding of housing is reported in a
number of areas, including Bardejov, Kosice and Spisske Tomasovce.

Discrimination in the allocation of social and other public housing has
been frequently reported in Slovakia. In addition to extreme cases such
as the selective allocation to non-Roma of housing outside Lunik IX in
Kosice, the ERRC/MSF/COHRE have documented a number of recent instances
of alleged discrimination in the provision of public housing. For
example, in the village of Bystre, in the district of Vranov nad Toplou,
local Roma told the ERRC/MSF/COHRE in September 2003 that local
authorities were building new social housing units for the local
community, but with the provision that these flats are not intended for
local Roma. According to ERRC/MSF/COHRE field research, some Romani
families have been moved into substandard housing intended for chronic
rent-defaulters and/or "socially unadaptable citizens", despite having
no rental or utilities debts as in, for example, Presov.

Roma in Slovakia frequently report being blocked by vigilante local
action, sometimes carried out with the active or passive complicity of
local authorities, when trying to rent or purchase property outside
segregated settlements. In the village of Abrahamovce, Presov district,
for example, the ERRC/MSF/COHRE spoke with members of a local Romani
family in September 2003 who were planning to build their own house on
land they had inherited from their parents. During discussions with the
local mayor, he told them unofficially that he would do everything
within his power to prevent the construction of the house because he did
not want the number of Roma in the village to increase. In another case,
in Letanovce, aRomani family was prevented from moving into the village,
purchasingproperty and building ahouse, because all plots in the village
are owned by the non-Roma who refuse outright to sell to Roma. During
field research in September 2003, when asked why there were not more
Roma living in the village, one non-Romani villager stated: "Let the
Gypsies stay in their settlement. We don't want them in the village. It
is more than enough that they come into the village to the post office,
municipal office and to shops. They create enough mess and smell anyway.
Let them be as far as possible from us." Refusal to sell houses or land
to Roma has also been reported in Spisske Tomasovce, Svinia and a number
of other localities.

A large number of Roma in Slovakia are unable to access a range of basic
services crucial to the realisation of fundamental economic and social
rights because they lack a residence permit in the place of their
factual residence. In order to secure legal permanent residence in a
given municipality, an individual must produce a valid identity
document, as well as papers confirming the individual's right to use the
flat or other habitable rooms or ownership papers. Due to the fact that
many Roma live in informal settlements wherein the latter condition
cannot be met, as well as a range of other possible factual profiles,
many Roma, and particularly Romani women, either do not have a residence
permits at all or have a residence permit in their town of birth. As a
result, large numbers of Roma have no access to basic public services or
only extremely limited access to such services, which are linked to
residency.

In some instances, local officials have attempted to delete Roma from
the municipal register. For example, on June 28, 2001, the local council
of the town of Letanovce adopted Resolution 21/28.6.2001, "terminating
the permanent residence of the citizens living in the Gypsy settlement
Letanovce from August 1, 2001." Despite the intervention of the Slovak
Government's Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities, as well as review by
a parliamentary committee, the local council refused to strike down the
act. A court subsequently annulled the act by the Letanovce local
council, but as of October 2003, approximately 60 Roma in the Letanovce
settlement lacked permanent residence there, despite the fact that many
of them were born there. Similarly, in the Vilcurna settlement in
Spisska Nova Ves, out of a total number of approximately 1000 local
Roma, only 727 persons have legal residence in the village.

In a number of municipalities -- particularly in rural settlements -
Roma report arbitrary denial or obstruction of planning permission. In
addition, during the course of ERRC/MSF/COHRE research in Slovakia into
the housing situation of Roma, there were repeated concerns expressed at
the high rents charged for social housing -- rent often as high as that
of other housing of considerably higher quality.

The overarching concern permeating housing rights with respect to Roma
in Slovakia is racial segregation. In the most egregious example, since
1995, the city of Kosice - Slovakia's second largest city - has been by
policy progressively evicting Roma from the city centre and re-housing
them in a housing estate called Lunik IX. At the same time, it has
allocated housing in other housing estates to non-Romani residents of
Lunik IX, such that they may move away. In November 2003, the ghetto
known as Lunik IX in the eastern Slovak city Kosice became an absolutely
segregated settlement for Roma when municipal authorities moved the last
twenty non-Roma (non-rent payers) out of the area. Many of the Romani
residents of Lunik IX have regularly paid their rent but have been told
that they would only be permitted to move out of the area after all
non-Roma had first been moved. As of January 31, 2004, Slovak
authorities had not facilitated the movement of a single Romani
rent-payer out of the Lunik IX Romani ghetto.

In other instances, local councils of villages have consented to
development projects for Roma only if they are in isolated or excluded
areas. For example, in September 2003, the mayors of the villages of
Letanovce, Hrabusice, Arnutovce, Spisske Tomasovce and Spisske Stvrtok
agreed to a development project proposed by the government with European
Union funding, only if it were located in the isolated community of
Strelniky. Other localities which have planned and/or implemented
racially segregated housing projects in recent years include Nitra and
Presov.

The village of Svinia, despite an international project of close to a
decade long, involving, among others, the Canadian International
Development Agency (CIDA) and the US-based NGO Habitat for Humanity,
remains racially segregated as a result of obstruction by the local
council and (very many) members of the non-Romani community. On April 1,
2003, the local council adopted Resolution 34/2003 "approving the
termination of activities currently being carried out in the village by
the organizations Habitat for Humanity and CIDA".

While not all settlements are racially segregated, an alarming number
are. Efforts by Roma to seek housing in non-segregated environments are
very frequently met by obstructive efforts on the part of locals and
even public officials, such as mayors and/or members of local council.
In a number of areas, historic segregation has not even been challenged
due to a widespread perception among Roma that it would be fruitless to
even attempt to move out of segregated housing. Finally, it must
unfortunately be noted that a number of governmentally and/or
internationally-funded housing projects for Roma have in recent years
been implemented in such a way as to exacerbate racial segregation,
generally because of local opposition to integrated housing projects
involving Roma.

The ERRC/MSF/COHRE appeal notes in particular the following areas in
which legal and policy reform are sorely needed:
- Rigid rules and practice in the area of adverse possession thwart
legalising informal slum settlements;
- Slovak legislation renders Roma living in informal slum settlements
unable to register as locally resident;
- Slovak authorities have not ensured the provision of adequate
infrastructure and/or services in many Romani settlements;
- Slovak legislation does not regulate rental/housing costs;
- The Slovak government has not taken adequate steps to improve the
quality of Romani homes;
- Roma do not have access in practice to the same level of social
housing as their non-Romani counterparts;
- Roma face limited access to private homes and violations of their
freedom of movement;
- Housing provided to Roma in Slovakia is in many cases located on the
periphery of towns, away from the non-Romani population;
- Slovak legislation is adopted/amended without due regard to the
situation of excluded individuals or groups.
In addition, the ERRC/MSF/COHRE appeal notes that Slovak legislation
does not provide effective protection against forced eviction and that
nowhere in Slovak law is the ban on racial segregation incorporated into
the domestic legal order.

The appeal concludes with a number of recommendations aimed at bringing
Slovak domestic legislation, policy and administrative practice related
to the right to adequate housing into harmony with international
standards.

In addition to the two ministers mentioned above, copies of the appeal
were also sent to other relevant Slovak and EU officials.

The full text of the appeal is available at: 
http://www.errc.org/db/00/AD/m000000AD.doc.

Persons wishing to express similar concern are urged to contact:

Mr Laszlo Gyurovszky, Minister of Construction and Regional Development
Ministry of Construction and Regional Development
Spitalska 8
816 44 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Fax: +421-2-5293-1803

Mr Ludovit Kanik, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family
Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family
Spitalska 4-6
816 43 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Fax: +421-2-5296-1528

Mr Pal Csaky, Deputy Prime Minister
Office of Government
Nam. Slobody 1
813 70 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Fax: +421-2-5249-7595

Mr Daniel Lipsic, Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Zupne namestie 13
813 11 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Fax: +421-2-5935-3607

Mr Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for Employment and Social
Affairs
European Commission
B-1049 Brussels, Belgium
Fax: +32-2-2982-099


_____________________________________________

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
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P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary


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

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