Slovakia Before UN Body in Hearing on Racial Discrimination
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Reviews Slovakia's Compliance with International Law Banning All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Geneva: August 9, 2004. On August 9 and 10, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination hears the Slovak government discuss measures it has undertaken to end racial discrimination in Slovakia, as required under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The Committee -- referred to under the shorthand "the CERD" -- is reviewing Slovakia's compliance with the provisions of the ICERD, on the basis of a report submitted by the Slovak government describing measures undertaken to end all forms of racial discrimination in Slovakia, including measures undertaken to remedy the very serious human rights issues Roma face in Slovakia. The CERD has also received written comments from a number of non-governmental organisations, including a 38-page document from the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), detailing concerns with respect to the treatment of Roma in Slovakia.
The ERRC submission includes the results of research undertaken independently, as well as collaborative work undertaken with various partner organisations in Slovakia, including the League of Human Rights Activists, the Milan Simecka Foundation and the Center for Roma Rights Slovakia. The submission also includes results of a project documenting housing rights issues Roma face in Slovakia, undertaken with local partners as well as the international organisation Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, with funding from the UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The ERRC written submission notes that the Slovak government has not fully complied with its obligations under Article 2 of the ICERD to "prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation [...] racial discrimination." Slovak parliament ratified on May 20, 2004, a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, and it entered into force on July 1, 2004. It is too soon to know whether the recently adopted law will in practice ensure that all individuals have access to justice when suffering the serious harm of racial discrimination. In light of how recently the new law was adopted, this submission will not attempt to speculate as to whether the law will finally remedy the long-term void of effective legal protections available in Slovakia to victims of racial discrimination. It is however of concern that on July 2, 2004, one day after the law entered into effect, a judge of the Bratislava IVth District court dismissed a discrimination complaint in a housing eviction case. It is also worrying that the Slovak Minister of Justice has stated that he will file challenges to the legality of certain provisions of the adopted law. In practice, Roma in Slovakia are regularly subjected to discrimination in almost all aspects of their life, from interaction with law-enforcement authorities and the judiciary to the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights.
The ERRC submission also details concerns that the Slovak government has failed to prevent, prohibit and eradicate the racial segregation of Roma, banned under Article 3 of the Convention. This is especially evident in the field of education, where officials consistently deny equal access to Romani children, placing them in alarming numbers in segregated, substandard schools and classes. In addition to the inherent harms flowing from this practice, the racial segregation of Romani children in the Slovak school system virtually ensures that Roma will remain, for the foreseeable future, a systemically excluded underclass. Additionally, a large number of Roma live in a state of complete physical separation from mainstream society, in slum settlements segregated from the rest of the population and characterised by substandard conditions such as lack of basic infrastructure and facilities such as sanitation, drinking water, or electricity. Racial segregation of Roma in Slovakia has also been documented in recent years in the field of health care.
As to Article 4 of the ICERD, the submission notes that anti-Romani hate speech is a regular part of public discourse in Slovakia. Anti-Romani statements are a standard and often unquestioned part of public life in Slovakia, and officials as high-ranking as the Prime Minister have made anti-Romani statements. Provisions of the criminal code sanctioning hate speech have rarely if ever been applied in cases where Roma are at issue. A new draft criminal code, currently before Slovak parliament, would remove some legal protections against hate speech, if adopted in its present proposed form.
As to Article 5, Roma have, in recent years, suffered violence at the hands of both law enforcement and non-state actors, in violation of "the right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm" protected under the Convention. In several recent cases, Roma have been killed by Slovak police officers while in police custody. Furthermore, authorities continue to fail to provide Roma with adequate protection against racially motivated violence perpetrated by members and sympathisers of nationalist-extremist movements and other vigilante groups. In addition, research by independent human rights groups including the ERRC has revealed that Romani women have in recent years been subjected to coercive sterilisation in Slovak hospitals.
The ERRC and partner organisations have also documented violations of the rights of Roma to be free from discrimination in the exercise of economic and social rights, as protected by Article 5. Roma in the Slovak Republic suffer discrimination in the fields of employment, housing, health care, and access to social assistance and social welfare benefits.
As the substance of the ERRC submission makes clear, the Convention's Article 6 guarantee that "States Parties shall assure to everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies, through the competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against any acts of racial discrimination which violate his human rights and fundamental freedoms contrary to this Convention, as well as the right to seek from such tribunals just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination" currently rings hollow for Roma in Slovakia. In 2004, there is near total impunity for racial discrimination against Roma, as well as for those who would frustrate Roma in their efforts to realise the Convention's substantive provisions.
Furthermore, there are persistent threats to human rights defenders working on racism issues in Slovakia. Official threats of criminal charges against Roma rights activists in relation to their work raises serious concerns about the government's commitment to its obligations under Article 7 of the Convention to adopt immediate and effective measures to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among various ethnic groups and to propagate the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention itself. A new draft criminal code, currently before Slovak parliament, includes proposals for provisions on "defaming a public official" which, if adopted into law, would potentially make possible criminal prosecution of individuals for public criticism of authorities, and would perpetuate the current "chill" prevalent in Slovak public life due to the existence of similar provisions in the current Slovak criminal code.
The ERRC submission does not aim to address all issues Roma face in Slovakia of relevance to the Convention. The sole ambition of the submission is to present the results of ERRC research in several areas of relevance to the Convention, with the aim of complementing the information provided in the Slovak government's report to the Committee. Following a general introduction, the submission presents concerns in the following areas:
- Anti-Romani Expression in Slovakia
- Anti-Discrimination Law and Policy
- Coercive Sterilisation of Romani Women
- Medical Care, Social Security and Social Services
- Issues Related to the Provision of/Possession of Residence Permits
- Discrimination in Access to Public Accommodation
- Ethnic Statistical Data
- Human Rights Defenders
The submission concludes with some rudimentary recommendations for the Slovak government, intended to assist the Committee in bringing concluding observations with respect to Slovakia's compliance with the ICERD.
In addition, on August 9, ERRC staff appeared before members of the CERD at an oral briefing in the UN's Palais Wilson in Geneva to discuss human rights issues facing Roma in Slovakia. Also, on August 10, the ERRC and partner organisations will hold a press conference in Bratislava's House of Journalists, to present concerns about the situation of Roma in Slovakia, as well as to discuss issues raised by the Committee during public hearing with members of the Slovak government.
Further information on the situation of Roma in Slovakia, on the UN CERD hearing on Slovakia's compliance with the Convention, as well as on other issues related to ERRC international advocacy is available by contacting the offices of the ERRC.