European Roma Rights Center Press Statement on the Concluding Observations Concerning the Czech Republic of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
31 March 1998
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) welcomes the serious concerns regarding the Czech government's policies and practices on racial discrimination expressed earlier this month at the 52nd Session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Upon release of the CERD's Concluding Observations concerning the Czech Republic, Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the ERRC, stated, "The Committee's conclusions underline the extent to which the Czech government's failure to combat racism effectively has aroused the concern of the international community. The numerous shortcomings identified require urgent government action to bring the Czech Republic into compliance with international law concerning its treatment of racial and ethnic minorities."
The CERD is a United Nations body charged with responsibility for overseeing compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Convention -- the oldest United Nations human rights convention -- was ratified in 1969 by the former Czechoslovak government; in 1993, the government of the newly-formed Czech Republic acceded to the Convention. Composed of 18 internationally-recognized experts on racial discrimination, the CERD reviews state implementation of the Convention through a procedure which obliges governments to submit written reports on a periodic basis. The March 1998 session marked the first time since 1993 that the Committee has reviewed reports submitted by the Czech Republic.
In its Concluding Observations concerning the Czech Republic, the CERD expressed "alarm" at a "recorded sixfold increase in racially motivated crime between 1994 and 1996;" lamented "the persistence of racial hatred and acts of violence ... towards persons belonging to minority groups;" and chastised the government for not "effectively countering racial violence against members of minority groups." In particular, the Committee highlighted failures of the Czech criminal justice system and of law enforcement authorities in combating racially-motivated violence. The Committee expressed its concern "that the number of charges and convictions ... is low relative to the number of abuses reported," that "perpetrators of racial crime are often lightly punished," and that "in a number of cases, prosecutors have been reluctant to identify a racial motive." "[U]nnecessarily long proceedings," "slow investigations of acts of racial crime," and arguably "insufficient training provided to law enforcement officials" all contribute to the problem.
The CERD further criticised what it termed "de facto racial segregation" of Roma children in "special schools" for the educationally deficient and the denial of access for persons belonging to ethnic minorities, particularly Roma, to public places such as restaurants, pubs and discotheques. To date, the Committee noted, notwithstanding "discrimination against Roma in ... housing, transport and employment," the Czech Republic has no legal provisions "expressly outlawing discrimination" in these areas. Nor is there any administrative regulation "explicitly prohibiting racial discrimination by public institutions and agencies."
In view of these serious deficiencies, the Committee recommended that the Czech government take a series of steps to stem the tide of racism and racist violence. Among the CERD's "suggestions and recommendations" were the following:
- introduce legal measures to combat racial discrimination in employment, housing, education and access to public accommodations;
- provide information indicating what affirmative action measures have been adopted for the Roma community;
- resolve the remaining problems relating to the acquisition of Czech citizenship for all residents, including prisoners, and children and adolescents in institutions, in particular members of the Roma minority;
- provide increased education and training on racial tolerance and human rights issues to judges, lawyers and civil servants;
- prevent and counter effectively attitudes and acts of racial violence against persons belong to minority groups, especially Roma;
- ensure an effective and timely handling of court cases of racially motivated crime and punishment of the perpetrators; and
- take further action to publicize more widely the provisions of the Convention and the CERD's Concluding Observations.
In March 1998, the ERRC submitted written comments concerning the Czech Republic to the CERD. This document, together with the full text of the CERD's Concluding Observations, is available from ERRC upon request.