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ERRC Welcomes UN Human Rights Committee Findings on Slovakia

8 August 2003

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, welcomes the Concluding Observations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on Slovakia's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In its Concluding Observations released during its 78th Session, the Committee singles out the human rights situation of the Roma as generating much concern, particularly in areas of segregation in education, police brutality, sterilisation and racist attacks. In addition to making specific recommendations regarding each of these issues the Committee urged Slovakia to collect relevant and up to date data regarding all aspect of Roma life.

The Committee notes that Slovakia "should continue with further measures to ensure effectiveness of legislation against discrimination." It further urges the State party "to establish adequate monitoring and redress mechanisms which provide ready access to individuals, in particular vulnerable groups". The Committee expresses its concern about "the persistent allegations of police harassment and ill-treatment during police investigations, particularly of the Roma minority". It further recommends that Slovakia "should take measures to eradicate all forms of police harassment and ill-treatment during police investigations of the Roma, including prompt investigations, prosecutions of perpetrators and the provision of effective remedies to the victims".

Despite "the oral and written answers provided by the delegation", the Committee "remains concerned at reports of forced or coerced sterilisation of Roma women". In particular, "the Committee regrets that in its written answers submitted after the oral consideration of the report, the State party does not clearly deny or admit breaches of the principle of full and informed consent but asserts that an investigation related to maternity wards and gynecology departments of 12 hospitals did not result in findings of infringements of "medical indication" of sterilization". The Committee further notes that "the reference made, in the same submission, to "the fact that not all administrative acts were fulfilled in every case" appears to amount to an implicit admission of breaches of the requirement of informed consent".

The Committee recommends that the State party should "adopt all necessary measures to investigate all alleged cases of coerced or forced sterilization, publicize the findings, provide effective remedies to victims and prevent any instances of sterilization without full and informed consent".

Another area of concern for the Committee is "the threat by governmental authorities of criminal prosecution of the authors of the publication "Body and Soul" under article 199 of the Criminal Code, for "spreading false rumours". While having been assured by the delegation that "the Office of the Prosecutor General has dismissed the charges against the authors", the Committee "is nevertheless concerned at the impact of the case on the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, particularly by human rights defenders". The Committee recommends that the State party "should ensure that provisions of the criminal code are not used in such a way as to deter individuals from exercising their right to freedom of expression, and in particular for human rights defenders to carry out independent research and publish the results". The Committee is further "concerned about discrimination against Roma". The Committee notes that the steps taken by the State party "to improve the socio-economic condition of Roma and to change attitudes of society vis-a-vis the Roma do not appear to be sufficient to address the situation, and de facto discrimination persists". The Committee recommends that Slovakia should "take all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination against the Roma, and to enhance the practical enjoyment of their rights under the Covenant. The State party should also make greater efforts to provide opportunities for Roma to use their language in official communications, to provide readily accessible social services, to provide training to Roma in order to equip them for employment, and to create job opportunities for them." The Committee would further like to "receive full details on policies adopted and their results in practice".

The Committee reiterates its concern about reports that "Roma are often victims of racist attacks, without receiving adequate protection from law enforcement officers". It further notes "continued reports of statements by prominent politicians reflecting discriminatory attitudes vis-a-vis the Roma". The Committee recommends that the State party "should take all necessary measures to combat racial violence and incitement, provide proper protection to Roma, and establish adequate mechanisms to receive complaints from victims and ensure adequate investigation and prosecution of cases of racial violence and incitement to racial hatred".

Despite some acknowledged positive developments, the Committee expresses concern at "the grossly disproportionate number of Roma children assigned to special schools designed for mentally disabled children, which causes a discriminatory effect [...]". The Committee notes that the State party should "take immediate and decisive steps to eradicate the segregation of Roma children in its educational system by ensuring that any differentiation within education is aimed at securing attendance in non-segregated schools and classes. The Committee further recommends that "[where needed], the State party should also provide special training to Roma children to secure, through positive measures, their access to education without segregation".

The Committee has further taken note of the position of the delegation as to "the reasons for the lack of statistical data with regard to the situation of Roma as well as women. However, the Committee "emphasises the importance of data to assess the situation in the State party and to address possible inequalities and patterns of discrimination. Another area of concern for the Committee is "the large discrepancy between official census figures and data provided by NGOs as to the size of the Roma population in the State party". The Committee stresses that "such underreporting may have a significant impact on the position of Roma in public life, including the exercise of certain rights, for instance under the Minority Language Law".

The Committee further "urges the State party to take steps to gather, through methods compatible with principles of data protection, statistical data reflecting the current size of the Roma population, as well as the position of minorities and women in society, including in the workplace, both in the public and the private sector". The Committee concludes by noting that the State party should "provide within one year relevant information on the implementation of the Committee's recommendations regarding police harassment and ill-treatment during police investigations; forced or coerced sterilisation" and "results of policies adopted to eradicate discrimination and to combat racial violence and incitement".

The ERRC submitted written comments to the Committee for consideration during its review of Slovakia's compliance with the ICCPR on July 11, and, on the day of the review, representatives of the ERRC held a briefing on Slovakia's Roma Rights record before Committee members in Geneva. The full text of the ERRC written submission to the Committee is available at: www.errc.org.

 

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