Czech Republic examined by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

The Czech Government’s policies and practices on racial discrimination came up for discussion in Geneva on March 6 and 9 of this year when the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) examined the first report of the Czech Republic. In anticipation of the review meeting and in response to a flawed report by the Czech government to the CERD, the ERRC sent written comments to the CERD on the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic. Following this, the ERRC traveled to Geneva to advocate directly before the Committee and present ERRC concerns at the meeting. The Advocacy section of the ERRC Spring 1998 newsletter is therefore devoted to ERRC and CERD activities with respect to the Czech Republic. First of all, the Executive Summary of the ERRC submission is presented below.1 Next, Ina Zoon discusses the Czech Republic’s submission to the CERD, CERD discussion of the report and ERRC involvement in the CERD proceedings, and what measures non-governmental organisations might take to follow up on the CERD’s critical findings.

Written comments of the European Roma Rights Center concerning the Czech Republic

For consideration by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at its Fifty-second session, 6-9 March, 1998, Executive Summary

The European Roma Rights Center (“ERRC”), an international public interest law organisation based in Budapest, respectfully submits written comments concerning the Czech Republic for consideration by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (“the Committee”) at the 1254th and 1255th meetings of its Fifty-second session on 6 and 9 March, 1998.

We are aware of the efforts undertaken by the government of the Czech Republic (the “government”) to comply with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the “Convention”), as detailed in its report to the Committee.2  To date, however, these measures are insufficient to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention, particularly with regard to Articles 2, 4, and 5.

As to Article 2, twenty-nine years after the Convention’s entry into force in the territory of the Czech Republic,3 discrimination against Roma remains widespread, and the government has yet to enact legislation or administrative regulations expressly prohibiting racial discrimination.4 Accordingly, notwith-standing the existence of constitutional provisions, and criminal code sections directed primarily against racist speech and propaganda, victims of racial discrimination have no civil or criminal remedies available to them for acts of discrimination as such. “Clean” criminal record and residency requirements have rendered the 1993 Czech Citizenship law susceptible to arbitrary and discriminatory application with respect to Roma. As a result, large numbers of Roma have been denied access to citizenship, deprived of voting rights and social benefits, and - for those convicted of crimes - put at risk of expulsion from the country.

As to Article 4, prominent public officials have continued to disseminate racist hate speech, suggesting, among other things, that Roma must be housed in separate areas, preferably, outside the Czech Republic.

As to Article 5, the government has failed to ensure Roma and other racial minorities equal protection of the law.  Roma suffer widespread discrimination in the justice system, and are the victims of an unchecked wave of violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities, skinheads, and others. Notwithstanding the routine practice of denying Roma admission to restaurants, pubs and similar establishments, the government has yet to secure by law the right of access on a non-discriminatory basis to public accommodations. Educational discrim-ination is particularly egregious, with grossly disproportionate numbers of Roma children – 15 times more than the numbers of white children, according to recent statistics – assigned to dead-end special schools for students branded “intellectually deficient.” Roma experience large-scale discrimination in employment, and existing legal protections are ineffective.

In view of these deficiencies, the government should adopt and implement legislation expressly outlawing acts of racial discrimination and providing for civil, criminal and administrative remedies; abolish the practice of race-based educational segregation; adopt effective measures to prevent and punish manifestations of racial bias in the justice system; and intensify efforts to promote racial tolerance, in part through the conduct of educational and media campaigns to familiarise the public with the Convention and its standards.

Multiple areas of concern: Committee on the elimination of Racial Discrimination findings on the Czech Republic

The CERD is the United Nations treaty body charged with monitoring and reviewing the manner in which the State parties fulfil their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“the Convention”). Twice a year, CERD’s eighteen internationally recognised experts on racial discrimination examine, within the reporting procedure, the compliance of the state parties with the principles set forth by the Convention.  Governments are obliged to submit periodic reports to CERD: the initial report is due one year after the Convention enters into force and subsequent reports every two years thereafter. Information received by the experts is not limited to the documents provided by the states. Reports by other international organisations are used by the Committee members, although they are not processed as UN documents. If they are reliable, clear, and concise, the experts welcome submissions by international and local human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as additional sources of information.

The Convention entered into force on the territory of the Czech Republic, as successor state to the dissolved Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, on January1, 1993. The initial report was due on February 22, 1994.5 The second periodic report was due on February 22, 1996. However, the Czech government submitted the initial and second periodic reports in one document in the summer of 1997, with a three and a half year and a one and a half year delay respectively. The process of the report’s preparation was far from transparent. The public was not informed and the government did not invite non-governmental organisations to comment on the report’s content.

The Czech authorities’ presentation was flawed at several points. First of all, the Czech government’s statement that prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race “is embodied in laws and regulations such as the Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure, Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, Code of Administrative Procedure, Labour Code, Law on State Social Benefits, Law on the Family, etc.”6 is misleading. In fact, with the exception of the Labour Code,7 the other laws mentioned by the Czech report’s authors do not provide any specific prohibition of racial discrimination (let alone establish any mechanism of sanctions or possible remedies for persons who have been discriminated against). The lack of adequate legal protection against discrimination transpires from the rest of the text of the Czech report itself. For example, the authors mention the existence of the rights of freedom of movement, social security and public health and the laws which recognise them, but make no reference to specific anti-discrimination provisions. When providing information on anti-discrimination legislation in the fields of education, participation in cultural activities and in equal access to services, the Czech report points repeatedly and solely to Article 3 of the Czech Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, thereby recognising that this article provides the only explicit guarantee existing in Czech law against discrimination in those areas.8 The fact that the Czech constitutional court has yet to rule on any case of racial discrimination gives rise to serious doubts concerning the effectiveness of constitutional complaints and serves to further emphasise the fact that the Czech Republic should adopt and implement legislation expressly outlawing acts of racial discrimination and providing for civil, criminal and administrative remedies.

A second failing of the Czech government report concerns the availability of accurate statistics on minorities in the country. The reporting guidelines of the CERD require that State parties indicate “the number of persons who could be treated less favourably” because of their racial, national or ethnic origin.9 Despite this, the Czech report does not provide any statistical data or survey results concerning, for example, the unemployment situation of various minority groups,10 minority children’s school attendance rates, etc. The failure to provide relevant figures is not a mere technicality: without them, a timely evaluation of the effectiveness of governmental measures aimed at eliminating racial discrimination is impossible. Noting this deficiency, the CERD specifically recommended to the Czech authorities to provide, in the next report, statistical data on minority representation in local, regional and state administration, as well as information on their situation in the fields of education, employment and health.

Thirdly, the language used in several paragraphs of the Czech government report reveals that deep prejudice against Roma exists in the Czech Republic even at the top governmental level. For example, paragraph 188, which deals with minorities’ civic structures, reads: “By early 1994, the Ministry of Interior had registered more than 30 Roma civic associations which, however, tend to be loose structures controlled by traditional clans and hampered by frequent conflicts between their leaders [emphasis added]...” A troubling presumption that Romani youth have, in general, incorrect working and social habits and that the government is called upon to correct them is found in paragraph 110, in which the report’s authors inform the CERD about measures undertaken by the Czech government for the retraining and education of unemployed persons in need of special assistance. These measures “include two projects targeting Romas: ROMSTART and MOST. The target group of ROMSTART is young Romas (15-20 year old) with elementary education who never received further training[...]; the objective is to provide job training and implant correct working and social habits.” (emphasis added).

The ERRC voiced its main concerns regarding the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic in a submission sent to the CERD prior to its review of the country. The ERRC drew the Committee members’ attention to the fact that discrimination against Roma remains widespread in the Czech Republic and stressed the need for legislation expressly prohibiting racial discrimination. Emphasis was placed on the lack of civil or criminal remedies available to victims for acts of discrimination as such. Special attention was paid to the government’s failure to comply with its obligations under Article 5 of the Convention, namely to ensure Roma and other minorities equal protection of the law. Issues such as violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities, skinheads and others; discrimination against Roma in the judicial system; and discrimination in employment were also addressed.

On March 6, 1998, one hour before the beginning of the meeting dedicated to the examination of the situation in the Czech Republic, the ERRC organised a briefing for Committee members with the assistance of the CERD secretariat and the Geneva-based non-governmental organisation Anti-Racism Information Service (ARIS). The Committee’s Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, MrIon Diaconu, was among the participants. After a fifteen minute presentation, the ERRC representatives spent the rest of the hour answering the members’ questions. Among other subjects, the long-term discriminatory effects of the 1993 Czech citizenship law on the Czech Republic’s Romani community and the disproportionately large number of Romani children assigned to so-called “special schools” for students branded intellectually deficient were discussed in detail.

The ERRC stressed the fact that Czech victims of racial discrimination cannot complain directly to the CERD because the Czech Republic has to date failed to recognise the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual communications.

In the first part of the debate, the Czech delegation, led by Mr Miroslav Somol, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic in Geneva, introduced the report. Later in the debate, each of the eight members of the delegation answered questions directly related to their field of activity. During the discussion11 of the Czech Report, Mr Ion Diaconu, the Committee member charged with leading the debate, said that the government report did not provide sufficient information on racially motivated violence. He added that very little information had been provided on the implementation of existing legal norms aimed at protecting minority rights.

The main issues raised by the Committee members during the session were:

  • the lack of information concerning measures taken by the government (if any) to ensure the use of minority languages in judicial relations;
  • the need to resolve individual cases of racially motivated violence;
  • the need for further information related to racial acts carried out by the police during arrests and controls;
  • the need for additional information about cases in which persons belonging  to ethnic minorities have been refused access to public places such asrestaurant and shops, and public services;
  • allegations of individual police officer sympathy with racist skinheads;
  • the need to further amend the Czech citizenship law. Mr Diaconu pointed to the discriminatory character of the law and to the situation of de factostateless persons who are deprived of rights and under the risk ofexpulsion;
  • the need to clarify the situation and the legal status of persons of Slovakorigin residing in the Czech Republic who have been denied Czechcitizenship;
  • the need for further clarification of measures taken by the state to train thepolice and judges in international human rights, cultural understanding and tolerance;
  • the need to facilitate the access of Romani children to primary andsecondary schools;
  • clarification of the level of minority representation in Parliament and local administration.

The CERD’s concluding observations (CERD/C/304/Add.47) were adopted on March 18, 1998.12 The principal subjects of concern include the persistence of racial hatred and acts of violence against Roma, the presence of organisations and publications which promote racist and xenophobic ideas, as well as the fact that a political party represented in the Parliament promotes racial discrimination. The Committee was of the opinion that the Czech authorities are not sufficiently active in countering racial violence: the number of charges and convictions are low relative to the number of abuses reported, perpetrators of racial crimes are often lightly punished and sometimes prosecutors have been reluctant to identify a racial motive. In this context, the sixfold increase in racially motivated crime between 1994 and 1996 was noted with alarm.

The lack of civil and administrative law provisions expressly outlawing discrimination in employment, education, housing and health care was noted with concern, especially in light of reports indicating discrimination against Roma in these fields. In the field of education, the CERD expressed concern at the marginalisation of Roma. The Committee stated that evidence that a large number of Romani children are placed in so-called “special schools” for the mentally handicapped leads to de facto segregation, a situation which gives rise to doubts about the full implementation of Article 5 of the Convention in Czech Republic.
In the final section of the concluding observations, the Committee formulated a number of recommendations. It is expected that the Czech government will view them with the gravity they merit and act accordingly. The ERRC is committed to further monitoring of the extent to which the actions of the Czech authorities comply with these recommendations and invites all interested Romani and non-Romani organisations to participate in follow-up efforts. Wide dissemination of the CERD’s conclusions and recommendations is an important first step.

Following this, NGOs might want to undertake concrete initiatives and specific projects aimed at monitoring and contributing to the elimination of discriminatory practices in the Czech Republic. For example, with respect to the CERD’s recommendation to the Czech authorities “to ensure an effective and timely handling of court cases of racially motivated crime and punishment of the perpetrators,” trial monitoring projects might be initiated by local human rights organisations.

The Committee recommended that the Czech Republic give more attention to the activities of those political parties, organisations, and media which promote racist propaganda and ideas of racial superiority. The ERRC considers that the Czech authorities have the obligation to explain what measures will be taken against these organisations, when such measures will be taken, as well as to publish periodic reports on implementation. The role of NGOs here will be to scrutinise carefully government activities and to evaluate their effectiveness.

Additionally, NGOs might want to follow other Committee recommendations closely and: contribute to gathering statistical data on representation of Roma in local, regional and state administrations and information on their situation in the fields of education, employment and health; advocate the adoption of specific anti-discrimination provisions in various civil and administrative laws; advocate affirmative action measures for the Roma community in the field of education, employment and housing; continue efforts to monitor the effects of the implementation of Czech citizenship law; request that the government widely publicise the Convention, particularly among minority groups, government officials, and the police; request that the government make the declaration under Article 14 of the Convention which would enable victims of racial discrimination to lodge individual complaints with CERD.

In the long run, it is essential that NGOs ensure that due attention is paid by the Czech authorities and by the public to international monitoring proceedings. The CERD concluding observations constitute an authoritative analysis of the situation in the Czech Republic and can serve as programmatic guideline, but they alone cannot eliminate discriminatory practices. In practical terms, only strong political will and active non-governmental organisations may guarantee that the UNreporting procedure does not remain just one more formal exercise.

Endnotes:

  1. See “Written Comments of the European Roma Rights Center Concerning the Czech Republic. For consideration by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at its Fifty-second session, 6-9 March, 1998,” February 23, 1998. The full text is available, upon request, from the ERRC office and is posted on the ERRC Internet website at: http://www.errc.com/advocacy/a_index.html.
  2. 17 July, 1997, State Party Report of the Czech Republic, CERD/C/289/Add.1 (hereafter the “Government Report”).
  3. See Government Report, paragraph 3 (“The Convention entered into force in respect of the Czech Republic pursuant to Article 19 on 4 January 1969”).
  4. For the purposes of this document, the term “racial discrimination” is synonymous with its definition in Article 1(1) of the Convention.
  5. The one year period was calculated from the date when the Secretary General of the United Nations notified the succession of the Czech Republic to the Convention.
  6. See Government Report, paragraph 7.
  7. Article 3 of the Labour Code prohibits racial discrimination in employment and Article 270 and 270a provide sanctions (fees) for the breach of Article 3. However, as far as ERRC knows, no employer has ever been fined under these articles.
  8. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms is part of the Czech constitutional order. For the specific points at which the Czech report refers to Article 3 as its anti-discrimination guarantees in the areas mentioned, see paragraphs 128, 142 and 144 of the Government Report respectively.
  9. See “General guidelines regarding the form and contents of reports to be submitted by State parties under Article 9 paragraph 1 of the Convention”, from 23/07/93, CERD/C/70/rev.3., paragraph 8.
  10. During the oral presentation of the Government Report, Mr Miroslav Fuchs, Head of the Department for the European Integration and International Relations of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs told the CERD that only 6-7 % (!) of Roma are unemployed in the Czech Republic while 95% of them are without any qualification and only 6% of jobs on the labour market are available for unqualified persons. See United Nations Department of Public Information press release, March 9, 1998.
  11. See United Nations Department of Public Information, CERD press releases of March 6, 1998 and March 9, 1998.
  12. The concluding observations of the CERD about the Czech Republic, including their suggestions and recommendations, can be found on the Internet homepage of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at http://www.unhchr.ch under the category “treaty bodies database”.

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