MINELRES: Forced Eviction Crisis in the Czech Republic

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Wed Jul 6 13:19:21 2005


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



Organisations Urge Action to Stop Racial Segregation of Roma

30 June 2005, Budapest, Bohumin. The organisations European Roma Rights Centre 
(ERRC), Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), European Roma 
Information Office (ERIO), Life Together (Vzajemne souziti) and the 
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) today sent a letter to 
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, urging him to act to address an emerging 
crisis in the town of Bohumin, where a number of persons are threatened with 
forced eviction from their housing. The persons under threat -the majority of 
whom are Romani - have been offered racially segregated alternate housing 
arrangements or have been provided with no alternate housing at all.

Although the Czech government has acknowledged concerns at racial 
discrimination and segregation in the field of housing, to date no action by 
the government has effectively countered these problems. Indeed, the Czech 
government has not yet managed even the rudimentary measure of adopting an anti-
discrimination law in conformity with European Union requirements. The letter 
sent today notes the broad failure by the Czech government to adopt law and 
policy measures addressing a number of very serious matters related to Roma in 
the field of housing, problems that the government itself has identified. The 
full text of the letter sent today follows:

Honourable Prime Minister Paroubek,

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions 
COHRE), European Roma Information Office (ERIO), Life Together (Vzajemne 
souziti) and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) are 
very concerned at developments in the town of Bohumin, where a large group of 
persons -- the majority of them Romani -- are threatened with forced eviction 
from their housing, or have already been pressured into moving into racially 
segregated or otherwise substandard housing arrangements. This letter concerns 
the very direct threats of serious human rights abuses against these persons, 
as well as the systemic nature of matters related to Roma and housing, matters 
of which the Czech government has long been aware, and on which it has 
nevertheless failed to date to address adequately through law and policy 
measures.

In the matter at hand, on the basis of information gathered by the Ostrava-
based organisation Life Together - a signatory to this letter -- during first-
hand research into the case, the municipality of Bohumin has purchased a 
building in the centre of Bohumin, a building which, in its upper floors, is 
currently serving as a hostel for low-income and other poor people. The 
majority of the current inhabitants of this hostel - Hotelovy Dum ZDB, at the 
address Okruzni Street 716 in Bohumin - are or until recently have been Romani. 
The municipality has reportedly told inhabitants of the hostel - whose rental 
contracts extend only to June 30 - that following the elapse of these contracts 
and by July 1, they must vacate the premises. The municipality apparently 
intends to create, instead of the current accommodation serving poorer and low-
income groups, high category flats. The conditions set for being eligible for 
these flats (being employed for one year in Bohumin or 3 years permanent 
residence in Bohumin and not taking social subsistence benefits for at least 
for six months) pre-empt and exclude any possibility for the current 
inhabitants to have access to housing there in the future. The municipality has 
threatened that from July 1, it will disconnect electricity and lift services 
in the building, and will forcibly expel persons and their possessions from the 
building, bypassing court intervention.

The municipality has not made adequate provision for alternate accommodation 
for these persons. Many of the families have, under intense pressure and 
threats from the municipality, been forced to move to the homes of their 
relatives themselves living in crowded single-room flats. Several families have 
been coerced to move into so-called "holobyty" -- bare flats -- with no running 
water, no sanitary facilities and no electricity. The municipality has also 
seriously proposed to the other remaining families that they submit to the 
possibility of being separated as families, with women and children going to 
live in places different from men. Under pressure, a number of the families 
have in fact moved into substandard and/or racially segregated housing. In 
general, in the Czech Republic, alternate accommodation provided to persons 
forced out of their housing in recent years, where it has been provided at all, 
has been of extremely substandard quality and located in racially segregated 
areas, and therefore has called into question the Czech government's compliance 
with its international law obligations, most notably the ban on racial 
segregation set out under Article 3 of the International Convention on the 
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), as well as related 
international, European and domestic law.

The group of persons living in the hostel includes a number of families with 
children. The expulsion of these people from the building, should it result in 
homelessness, would constitute evidence that parents were incapable of caring 
adequately for their children, and might result in their being taken into state 
care. Studies undertaken by the Tolerance Foundation in the late 1990s 
indicated that in some children's homes; around 80 percent of inhabitants were 
Romani. There is little indication that this situation has changed for the 
better. In general, the Czech Republic has among the highest rates of 
institutionalised children in the European Union. Indeed, the first person born 
this year in the Moravian-Silesian Region, the area in which Bohumin is 
situated, is a Romani girl named Eva Sivakova. She was taken immediately into 
state care upon birth, and only released into the custody of her mother in May 
2005, on the orders of a court in Karvina. These matters give rise to serious 
concerns that the Czech Republic may not be complying with its international 
law obligations, in particular requirements under the International Convention 
on the Rights of the Child to ensure that the best interests of the child are 
primary.

Honourable Prime Minister, the current threats to the persons living at Okruzni 
716 are only the latest in a series of problems of which the Czech government 
has been aware for a considerably period of time. The Czech government has 
clearly identified these issues (including the inadequacy of current Czech 
legislation) as of central concern, and it has committed itself to addressing 
them proactively. For example, in 2002, the Czech government told the UN 
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the body charged with 
oversight of the ICERD:

"Although the Czech Republic has been systematically striving to prevent all 
forms of racial segregation, some municipalities have adopted, within their 
separate competencies, certain measures whose consequences show some symptoms 
of segregation. In their attempt to resolve the housing situation of persons 
who are facing social problems and do not pay the rent and services provided in 
connection with apartment lease, the municipalities provide to such persons 
alternative housing, frequently of poorer quality, called "bare flats" or 
hostels. A number of those facilities are in poor technical condition, lacking 
sufficient infrastructure and separated from other populated areas. Such 
facilities house segregated groups of the population suffering from accumulated 
social problems, who are thus excluded from the society. An alarming fact is 
the high proportion of Roma inhabitants of those facilities, which, in a number 
of cases, exceeds 80 per cent. [...]"

As the Czech government noted at that time, however, law and policy were not 
yet adequate to meet the challenges posed by these serious issues:

"99. No changes occurred in the housing legislation concerning protection 
against discrimination. Housing laws still lack non-discrimination provisions, 
even the declaratory ones. Prohibition of discrimination is not stipulated even 
in the laws and regulations applying to the allocation, renting, privatization 
or sale of municipal apartments.

"100. The elimination of discrimination in housing also includes the question 
of rent. The amount of apartment rent is currently regulated by the Ministry of 
Finance Price Assessment No. 01/2002 of 28 November 2001, which issues a price 
list of goods with regulated prices, and further permits non-specific blanket 
regulation of rent. One of the prerequisites for the elimination of 
discrimination in access to housing is to do away with the current regulation 
of rent, which has not occurred until now.

"101. As noted above, the housing problems of the Roma have been escalating. 
The State has only limited means to address such a situaion, because this 
problem falls within the competence of self-government authorities. Due to 
unpaid rent and charges for services provided in connection with the lease, the 
Roma are more and more frequently evicted from their apartments and allocated 
alternative housing. Many of those alternative housing facilities are in poor 
technical condition, lack adequate infrastructure, and are isolated from other 
populated areas. This leads to residential segregation of a group of population 
with cumulative social problems. However, eviction due to failure to fulfil the 
obligations connected with rental housing could often be prevented by the 
improvement of social work with those families.

"102. Indirect discrimination may occur in the allocation of municipal flats. 
Municipalities and cities, being the owners, may determine their own 
conditions. Thus, a formally neutral system of allocation of municipal flats or 
frequently groundless requirements imposed upon applicants for municipal flats 
may have an inadequate impact mainly on the Roma minority. Such conditions 
include the submission of excerpts from the criminal register, which is, 
moreover, in conflict with Act No. 101/2000 Coll. on Personal Data Protection, 
which considers personal information about criminal activities as sensitive 
information. Another disputable condition for filing an application for lease 
of a municipal apartment is the permanent residence in the municipality; 
moreover, some municipalities request that the applicants are registered as 
residents in the municipality for a certain period of time. This condition 
affects all applicants for lease of apartments owned by such municipalities, 
but much more frequently the Roma, many of whom are registered for residence in 
municipalities in the Czech Republic other than those in which they actually 
live (and potentially apply for lease of an apartment). The role of 
municipalities is defined by Act No. 128/2000 Coll. on Municipalities; 
municipalities which exceed, by their criteria, the limits stipulated by this 
Act, actually discriminate against certain groups of population."

It is noteworthy that, to date, the Czech Republic has failed to remedy even 
the least controversial of these matters the adoption of a comprehensive anti-
discrimination law covering a range of areas including housing, required not 
only under the Czech Republics international law obligations but also as a 
result of its membership in the European Union.

Honourable Prime Minister Paroubek, the housing situation of Roma is 
increasingly a matter of pan-European concern. Ruling earlier this year in the 
matter of European Roma Rights Centre v. Greece, the European Committee of 
Social Rights, the body charged with adjudicating issues under the Revised 
European Social Charter, held that: "[...] states must promote the provision of 
an adequate supply of housing for families, take the needs of families into 
account in housing policies and ensure that existing housing be of an adequate 
standard and include essential services (such as heating and electricity). 
[...] Furthermore the obligation to promote and provide housing extends to 
security from unlawful eviction." In elaborating its position on forced 
evictions, the Committee held: "The Committee considers that illegal occupation 
of a site or dwelling may justify the eviction of the illegal occupants. 
However the criteria of illegal occupation must not be unduly wide, the 
eviction should take place in accordance with the applicable rules of procedure 
and these should be sufficiently protective of the rights of the persons 
concerned."

The Committee had elsewhere noted, "the implementation of the Charter requires 
the State Parties to take not merely legal action but also practical action to 
give full effect to the rights recognised in the Charter. When the achievement 
of one of the rights in question is exceptionally complex and particularly 
expensive to resolve, a State Party must take measures that allows it to 
achieve the objectives of the Charter within a reasonable time, with measurable 
progress and to an extent consistent with the maximum use of available 
resources. States Parties must be particularly mindful of the impact that their 
choices will have for groups with heightened vulnerabilities as well as for 
others persons affected including, especially, their families on whom falls the 
heaviest burden in the event of institutional shortcomings." Finally, in its 
ruling in European Roma Rights Centre v. Greece, the Committee reaffirmed 
that "[...] ultimate responsibility for implementation of official policy lies 
with the [...] state."

In its General Comment 4 on the right to adequate housing, elaborating the 
requirements of Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social 
and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and 
Cultural Rights (CESCR) detailed an approach whereby adequate housing was to be 
understood in terms of seven key elements. These are:

"(a) Legal security of tenure. [...];
"(b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure. [...];
"(c) Affordability. [...];
"(d) Habitability. [...];
"(e) Accessibility. [...];
"(f) Location. [...];
"(g) Cultural adequacy. [...]"

Evaluating further in its General Comment 7 the relationship between the right 
to adequate housing (including, as noted above, the element of legal security 
of tenure) and the issue of forced evictions, the Committee held that "forced 
evictions are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant." 
General Comment 7 defines, at Paragraph 3, forced evictions as "the permanent 
or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or 
communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision 
of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection." Finally, at 
Paragraph 16 of General Comment 7, the Committee stated: "Evictions should not 
result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of 
other human rights. 
Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State party must 
take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to 
ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive 
land, as the case may be, is available."

Honourable Prime Minister Paroubek, we urge you to intervene without delay to 
ensure that the Czech government upholds its international law obligations with 
respect to the persons living at Okruzni 716, namely:
*That they are provided in practice with all due process of law guarantees;
* That it be ensured that no racially discrimination infect any aspect of 
decisions related to their housing;
* That, should it be necessary to evict them, all persons expelled from housing 
are provided with adequate alternate accommodation and that under no 
circumstances are persons rendered homeless or racially segregated by any 
evictions measures or their consequences;
* That any persons guilty of violations of domestic or international law be 
held accountable for their actions, and that any and all individual victims of 
human rights abuses arising from these matters be provided with just 
compensation.

In addition, we urge your office now to begin finally undertaking the law and 
policy measures necessary to remove the structural issues giving rise to 
repeated, regular and pattern instances of forced eviction, resulting in racial 
segregation, as well as in the reported disproportionate removal of Romani 
children into state care. One necessary initial measure, which by no means will 
be adequate to address all issues arising in this regard, but is a sine qua non 
for beginning to tackle these matters seriously, is to adopt a comprehensive 
anti-discrimination law in harmony with European Union Directives in this area.

We kind request to be apprised of any actions undertaken in this regard.

Sincerely,

Claude Cahn
Acting Executive Director
European Roma Rights Centre

Scott Leckie
Executive Director
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions

Aaron Rhodes
Executive Director
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Sri Kumar Vishwanathan
Director
Life Together

Ivan Ivanov
Executive Director
European Roma Information Office

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr. Jiri Paroubek
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
Urad vlady CR
Nabrezi Edvarda Benese 4
118 01, Prague 1
Czech Republic
Fax: (420) 257 533 053

Mr. Evzen Tosenovsky
Hejtman, Moravskoslezsky kraj
Regional Office
28.rijna 117
702 18 Ostrava
Czech Republic
Fax: (420) 595 622 129

Mr. Svatopluk Karasek
Human Rights Commissioner of the Government of the Czech Republic
Urad vlady CR
Vladislavova 4
100 00 Prague Nove Mesto
Fax: (420) 224 946 615

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public interest law 
organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at combating anti-Romani 
racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in particular strategic litigation, 
international advocacy, research and policy development, and training of Romani 
activists. For more information about the European Roma Rights Centre, visit 
the ERRC website at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary
Tel.: ++ (36 1) 413 2200
Fax: ++ (36 1) 413 2201
E-mail: office@errc.org


Life Together is a Czech Romani organisation fighting social exclusion and 
marginalisation in the Ostrava region of the Czech Republic, as well as 
strengthening Czech-Roma mutual confidence and co-operation.

Life Together
30. Dubna 3
Ostrava 70200
Czech Republic
Tel: ++ 420 77 77 60 191
E-mail: vzajemne.souziti@tiscali.cz


The Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions (COHRE) is an international human 
rights organisation committed to protecting and promoting the right to housing. 
For more information on COHRE see www.cohre.org.

COHRE
83 Rue Montbrillant
Geneva 1202
Switzerland
Tel: (41-22) 734-1028
Fax: (41-22) 733-1126
E-mail: cohre@cohre.org


The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) is a unique 
community of 44 human rights NGOs in the OSCE region, working together 
internationally to insist on compliance with human rights standards.
International Helsinki Federation For Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7
A-1080 Vienna, Austria
Tel: +43-1-408 88 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 50


The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) has been founded in 2003 with the 
aim to establish and maintain a Romani presence in Brussels . ERIO aims to 
contribute to the political and public discussions surrounding Roma by 
providing factual and in-depth information in order to counteract 
discrimination and exclusion which the Romani communities have been suffering 
from for centuries and to contribute to their equal representation and 
participation in political decision-making. Further information about ERIO is 
available at www.erionet.org.

European Roma Information Office
Av.Eduard Lacomble 17, Brussels
Belgium
Tel + 32 27333462
Fax +32 27333875


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