Czech Government Amends Anti-Romani Citizenship Law, But the Improvements Are Cosmetic

On April 26, 1996, the Czech government amended a controversial citizenship law (Law no. 40/1992 on the Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship) which had gone into effect on January 1, 1993, following the break-up of Czechoslovakia. According to the original law, non-Czechs who had been sentenced to any prison term during the five years prior to December 31, 1992 were ineligible for Czech citizenship. It also excluded all individuals without a valid long-term residence permit. The law was likely drafted in order to remove Roma from the country.

The majority of Roma living in the Czech Republic are of Slovak origin, but a great number of these are long-term residents of Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech half of the former federal republic. According to the Tolerance Foundation (Prague), there were approximately 100,000 Roma on Czech territory in 1994 who had previously been Czechoslovak citizens and long-term residents of the Czech half of the federation, but who had not become Czech citizens. Igor Němec, chairman of the Czech Government Council on National Minorities, put the figure at 70,000.

The new amendment to the law allows the Ministry of the Interior to waive the clean criminal record requirement on an individual basis. The ERRC acknowledges this partial improvement to the law. However, the improvements seem only nominal.

In the first place, the law continues to apply retroactive penalty to numerous individual Roma. Secondly, the law applies double jeopardy: it punishes Roma twice for single crimes. The law is therefore in contradiction of Article 11 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 15 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the standards set in the Helsinki Final Act.

Additionally, devolving the power to allocate citizenship to the local authorities in no way secures the rights of Roma. Since the amendment to the law has not made explicit the principle that former citizens of the Czechoslovak Federation with genuine links to Czech territory are welcome as Czech citizens, the authorities are still sanctioned to exclude. In addition, Roma report consistent discrimination at the Czech authorities. As a result, the discriminatory effects of the original citizenship law will not be abolished by the amendments approved in April.

(ERRC)

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