ERRC Press Release: Harassment of Roma Rights Activists in Slovakia


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Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2001 18:11:47 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: ERRC Press Release: Harassment of Roma Rights Activists in Slovakia

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

ERRC Press Release: Harassment of Roma Rights Activists in
Slovakia


ERRC Press Release: Harassment of Roma Rights Activists in Slovakia

On November 30, 2001, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a
letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to express concern
about the harassment of Roma rights activists in Slovakia. In one
case, Mr Columbus Igboanusi, an activist lawyer of Nigerian origin,
has been the target of break-ins to his flat and office, has been
explicitly targeted in leaflets distributed by the Slovak extreme
right, and is the subject of a criminal complaint by the head of a
nationalist party for his human rights activities. A second case
concerns Mr Alexander Patkolo, the head of one of Slovakia's Romani
parties. Mr Patkolo is the subject of a criminal complaint for his
efforts to secure justice for Romani women allegedly sterilised
without their informed consent. In its letter, the ERRC urges Prime
Minister Dzurinda to provide Mr Igboanusi with effective police
protection, as well as to ensure that police authorities take no legal
action against Mr Igboanusi or Mr Patkolo in relation to the criminal
complaints filed against them. The text of the ERRC letter follows:


Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public
interest organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe
and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is
concerned at the reported harassment of activists working on human
rights issues in Slovakia.

In one series of events, Mr Columbus Igboanusi, a Nigerian citizen and
lawyer working with the Bratislava-based non-governmental organisation
League of Human Rights Activists and involved extensively and publicly
in work to combat racism and racist attacks against, especially, Roma,
non-white Slovaks and dark-skinned foreigners in Slovakia, has been
subjected to repeated harassment, and police have not responded to
this harassment with adequate protection. In addition, Mr Igboanusi is
currently the target of a campaign by extreme right wing parties and
organisations, calling for his expulsion from Slovakia, as well as his
prosecution for slander, "defaming the Republic of Slovakia" and
"spreading alarming reports", all crimes in Slovakia. A right wing
party has filed a similar criminal complaint against Mr Alexander
Patkolo, a Romani politician in Slovakia, as a result of his efforts
to secure justice for Romani women who have allegedly been sterilised
absent informed consent.

In the case of Mr Igboanusi, according to testimony provided to the
ERRC by Mr Igboanusi, on the evening of October 20, 2001, he was
followed home from his office by a group of men. Some minutes after
entering his flat, he heard a scratching at his front door and, taking
a closer look, saw the handle of the front door shaking. Peering
through the eye-hole in the door, he saw four men, two of whom
appeared to be bearing firearms. Mr Igboanusi ran to a window, opened
it, and started shouting for help. The men then reportedly fled the
scene. On the following day, Mr Igboanusi reported the incident to the
police. Police officers reportedly came to Mr Igboanusi's flat, looked
around, took some photographs and left after some minutes. Police
allegedly refused to provide him with protection, as they had "too few
personnel".

Several minutes after the police left his flat on the evening of
October 21, persons again reportedly attacked his home, breaking a
window of his ground floor flat. Mr Igboanusi ran up to the first
level of the apartment building in which he lives, jumped out the
window to the street and began shouting for the police. Again,
apparently, the attackers fled. Police came a second time, again
conducted a rudimentary investigation and left.

On October 23, Mr Igboanusi was summoned to a local police department
and questioned inter alia about the status of his organisation,
including questions as to sources of financing, as well as "whether it
was a member of the United Nations".

On the morning of October 25, Mr Igboanusi found, upon arrival at his
office, that the lock on the door had been tampered with, apparently
in an effort at break-in. Mr Igboanusi reported the incident to the
police.

During a field visit to Slovakia in November 2001, the ERRC was
presented with a pamphlet entitled "Citizen's Initiative - Resistance
2001" which, among other things, calls explicitly for the "immediate
expulsion" of Mr Igboanusi (in the document named as "I. Kolumba")
from the Slovak Republic. The pamphlet includes an e-mail address
contact for the disseminating organisation. On November 12, 2001, the
General Prosecutor of the Slovak Republic reportedly opened an
investigation against unknown persons in connection with the leaflet.
The ERRC is of the position that, in light of the fact that the
disseminating organisation has provided its contact details,
identifying the perpetrators of the public threat to Mr Igboanusi
ought to be carried out efficiently and without delay.

Finally, according to reports in the Slovak media of November 25 and
November 27, Mr Jan Slota, head of the True Slovak National Party, has
publicly called for the expulsion of Mr Igboanusi from Slovakia, on
grounds that Mr Igboanusi has committed the crimes of slander,
"spreading alarming reports" and "defaming the Republic of Slovakia",
all crimes in Slovakia, reportedly for "applying a double standard
when evaluating the acts of Roma and non-Roma." At a press conference
on November 25, Mr Slota reportedly provided a number of examples to
support his views. Mr Slota is the author of famous statements about
"Gypsies", most notoriously his publicly stated view that the only
proper way to interact with Roma is "with a long whip in a small
yard." Mr Slota repeated at the November 25 press conference his
frequently stated contention that Slovaks would soon be a minority in
their own country due to high Romani birth rates.

We understand that Mr Igboanusi has been provided with an alarm for
his flat by Slovak police. In light of the extensive and
well-publicised threats against Mr Igboanusi, the high level of
attention to which he is currently subjected by members of the Slovak
extreme right, as well as apparently three efforts at break-in to his
home and workplace, it is clear that this measure is not adequate. Mr
Igboanusi's person requires 24-hour protection, and his home and flat
should be provided with regular and constant discrete police
observation - within the boundaries of respect for his right to
privacy. We urge you to take all measures available within the powers
of your office to ensure that preemptive measures are taken by police
commensurate with the gravity of the threats against Mr Igboanusi.

A second series of events pertains to Mr Alexander Patkolo. Mr Patkolo
is chairman of the political party Romani Initiative of Slovakia.
According to a report by the Slovak press agency TASR, Mr Jan Slota,
the aforementioned head of the True Slovak National Party, has
recently filed a criminal complaint against Mr Patkolo for "spreading
alarming reports" in connection with his efforts to seek justice for
Romani women allegedly sterilised absent informed consent. Mr Patkolo
had earlier presented documents to the police alleging that two named
Romani women had been sterilised absent informed consent in the years
1995 and 1999 respectively. On November 22, TASR reported that a
spokesperson for the Slovak Prosecutor's Office, Mr Stanislav Ryban,
had told journalists that both complaints had been rejected. According
to information reported in TASR and apparently provided by Mr Ryban,
the complaint in one of the two cases had been rejected on grounds
that the sterilisation had taken place in the course of an operation
in life-threatening circumstances. It is unclear from TASR information
whether, in fact, medical investigation took place in the second case,
since the explanation provided for the reason for rejecting the
complaint was that the woman at issue "does not know how to read or
write, only to sign her name," and had been apparently unfamiliar with
the contents of her complaint when questioned by investigators.
Following an announcement by the Slovak Prosecutor's Office that the
complaint had been dismissed, according to press reports, Mr Slota
filed  criminal complaint against Mr Patkolo.

Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda, it is evident from the recent
flurry of media attention paid to the issue of the alleged
sterilisation of Romani women absent informed consent by medical
practitioners in Slovakia, coming primarily in the context of the
recent publication of a report by the Open Society Institute calling
attention to the issue, that this theme is one of extreme sensitivity
for both Roma and non-Roma in Slovakia. The ERRC is of the position
that at the heart of the issue is:

- The failure of Slovak authorities to date to prosecute anyone in
connection with the extreme breaches of medical ethics and
international law which took place until 1990, when, according to
extensive documentation by members of the Czechoslovak medical
community, as well as by highly credible organisations such as Human
Rights Watch, many Romani women were sterilised using bribes, pressure
or tricks, during abortions or routine exploratory surgery, and often
absent even rudimentary information about the consequences of the
medical procedures at issue. Similarly, no compensation has ever been
provided to victims of these practices.

- The failure of high-ranking Slovak politicians to state publicly
that Slovak authorities will never again undertake the coercive
sterilisations of Romani women, despite frequent suggestions by some
Slovak politicians, journalists and members of the public that they
should do so.

Absent even rudimentary justice for past abuses and basic affirmation
from Slovak politicians that Romani women in Slovakia are safe, now
and forever, from coercive sterilisation, it is to be expected that
activists such as Mr Patkolo will be justly preoccupied with the
issue. Should police bring charges against Mr Patkolo, his prosecution
would constitute an impermissible breach of Article 10 of the European
Convention on Human Rights, as well as Article 19 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to
freedom of expression. Prosecution of Mr Igboanusi for his human
rights activities in Slovakia would similarly violate international
law. We urge your office to ensure that police authorities take no
legal action against Mr Igboanusi or Mr Patkolo in relation to the
criminal complaints filed against them.

We welcome any communication with your office on the issues raised
above, and respectfully request to be kept informed of any measures
taken.

Sincerely,
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director


For more information on the sterilisation of Romani women in 
Czechoslovakia, see: http://errc.org/rr_nr1_2000/past_abuses.shtml). 
Information about the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia is 
available on: http://errc.org/publications/indices/slovakia.shtml. 
Persons wishing to express concern about issues raised above are urged
to contact:

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda
Nam. Slobody
813 70 Bratislava 1
Slovakia

Fax: (421 7) 54 41 54 84

Ms Hina Jilani
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights
Defenders
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations
1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Fax: (41 22) 917 90 06



_____________________________________________

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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