MINELRES: ERRC: Head of Czech Police Apologises for Abuse of Powers by Police

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sat Oct 28 08:26:03 2006


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


Apology Follows Confirmation of Court-Ordered Fine on Bohumin 
Municipality for Arbitrarily Cutting Off Hot Water to Roma Families

Eviction of Roma and Others from Hostel for the Poor Remains in Effect

19 October 2006, Bohumin, Prague, Budapest. Czech Police President 
Vladislav Husak has apologised on behalf of the Czech Police for its 
misuse of its powers in the town of Bohumin from 4-6 October 2005. 
Private security guards hired by the municipality to guard the 
"Hotelovy Dum", a hostel for poor people, were preventing entry to a 
number of concerned parties trying to visit the facility. Hostel 
residents were part of a targeted campaign by Bohumin municipality to 
expel several hundred persons, a large number of them Romani, from 
the housing. Czech Police officers summoned to the scene declined to 
intervene on behalf of the residents and their visitors, despite the 
fact that a court injunction permitting normal use of the facility by 
the residents, including the right to receive visitors, was in effect 
at the time. After more than five hours of delay, the visitors were 
ultimately permitted entry, but on 6 October 2005, police forcibly 
expelled local activist and visitor Kumar Vishwanathan from the 
Hotelovy Dum, claiming a "new agreement" between the town and the 
police had been reached, that the police would not prevent the 
private security from barring any guests, and that, if necessary, 
they would aid in the removal of visitors.

In his apology, Husak clarified that "...if any court at any level 
has issued an injunction, then all parties, including the Police, are 
bound to obey the order..."

In July 2006 the appeals court in Ostrava upheld a lower court ruling 
imposing a fine on Bohumin municipality for ceasing to supply hot 
water to the "Hotelovy Dum" during the winter months of 2005-2006.

Background

In June 2005, Bohumin officials informed the approximately 250 
inhabitants of the "Hotelovy Dum" that, following expiry on June 30 
of their rental contracts, they would have to leave. The majority of 
those affected were Romani. Until issued with eviction orders, they 
had been long-term legal tenants of the building. Under intense 
pressure and harassment by officials, most residents left the 
building, despite having been provided with no reasonable alternative 
housing. However, four families, including the family of Mrs. Renata 
Scukova, stayed on and brought legal challenges against the 
evictions. The city retaliated by engaging a private security company 
to guard the hostel and block anyone but the residents from entering 
the building. Even close family members were not permitted access. 
The city then sent monthly bills to the families concerned for the 
security "service". In July 2005, this bill was CZK 76 549, or 
approximately 2 580 Euro, to be divided among the families. Mrs. 
Scukova's family's share of this and other bills, for the month of 
July alone, was CZK 27 802 (EUR 940). The city also cut off heat to 
the building during the winter, when outside temperatures plummeted 
to -25 C, putting at great risk the lives of the 16 remaining 
inhabitants, including several children.

As a result of these measures, Mrs. Scukova, who previously was a 
fastidious rent- and utilities-payer, accrued approximately CZK 110 
000 of debt (EUR 3 710). She and her family will not be eligible for 
social housing in the Czech Republic until this debt is paid. She was 
also forced to endure the public humiliation of Bohumin officials 
regularly referring to her as a "non-payer" in the media as part of 
efforts to garner public support for evicting her into homelessness. 
In so doing, local officials inflamed anti-Romani sentiment by 
encouraging existing widespread stereotypes of Roma as abusing social 
benefits and not meeting their financial obligations.

The Bohumin municipality eventually succeeded in forcing all of the 
families from the hostel.

These racially discriminatory acts, as well as the failure by Czech 
authorities to secure the basic well-being of the persons concerned, 
has called into question the Czech Republic's compliance with a 
number of its international law obligations. A number of civil 
organizations, led by the Ostrava-based Life Together, therefore 
engaged to defend the families who had been targeted by the 
municipality. Organisations joining the action have included the 
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the European Roma 
Information Office (ERIO), the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), 
the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the 
Czech League of Human Rights. Public appeals sent in connection with 
the Bohumin events are available at:
http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2274 and
http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2478

The actions of the municipality are just the latest in a series of 
acts by Czech authorities at the local level aimed at and/or 
resulting in the racial segregation of Roma in the field of housing. 
The Czech government has repeatedly acknowledged this problem, but as 
yet has undertaken little if any effective measures to check or 
reverse this racial segregation.

In addition to action by non-governmental organisations, Czech public 
institutions including the Public Defender of Rights and the Human 
Rights Commissioner have intervened on behalf of the families.

The events surrounding Czech Police President Husak's apology 
involved efforts by several of these institutions to visit the 
families on 5 October 2005. On the evening in question, 
representatives of the European Roma Rights Centre (Claude Cahn), 
League of Human Rights (Gwendolyn Albert, Edita Stejskalova), Life 
Together (Kumar Vishwanathan), Deputy Public Defender of Rights Anna 
Sabatova and Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Svatopluk 
Karasek were refused entry to the hostel for more than five hours, 
despite having being invited onto the premises by residents. Despite 
being apprised of this illegal act on the part of the security 
guards, Bohumin police declined to intervene. In his apology, Police 
Chief Husak acknowledged that the police had been partial in their 
actions on behalf of the municipality, rather than performing the law 
enforcement which was their duty in the neutral manner required of them.

The Ostrava appeals court ruling and the apology issued by Czech 
Police President Husak constitute among the first tangible 
indications that the Bohumin municipality may yet be held accountable 
for the human rights violations it has perpetrated.

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Centre 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 Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at 
http://www.errc.org.

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

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