United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Reviews Czech Republic
Today and tomorrow, April 30 and May 1, 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is reviewing the Czech Republic's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. To assist the Committee with its review, on April 12, 2002, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent written comments on the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic. On the occasion of the review, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said, "Where Roma are concerned, we have observed with alarm the steady erosion of any progress made previously in the Czech Republic in the area of social and economic rights. Particularly in the areas of housing and education, racial segregation is clearly increasing."
The full text of the ERRC written submission is available on the Internet at http://errc.org.
A summary of the ERRC's written comments follows:
In the Czech Republic, Roma continue to face racial discrimination in nearly all aspects of their economic and social rights. To date, there has been a lack of political will to bring about effective change. Most noticeable is the absence of adequate legislative measures to combat racial discrimination, making it difficult for victims of racial discrimination to secure remedy and compensation when their rights have been violated.
Roma in the Czech Republic face an unemployment rate at least seven times the national average. In addition to discrimination and segregation in the education system, which severely limit future employment opportunities, Roma suffer from ingrained discrimination on the job market, particularly in hiring practices. While laws have been introduced which make legal remedies a potential option, existing legal remedies available are insufficient to address the problem at hand. Legal amendments to the Czech labour code have failed to define the kind of conduct that amounts to racial discrimination or to provide effective sanctions for its breach. Additionally, it is at the discretion of national authorities to initiate legal proceedings.
Many Roma who were citizens of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic were denied Czech citizenship under the 1992 Czech Act on Citizenship, even though their family and other ties were to the Czech Republic. Amendments to the law in 1999 have resolved most of the issues relating to those who had permanent residence in the Czech Republic or had been continuously present since 1992. However, some persons denied Czech citizenship under the 1992 Act but legitimately deserving Czech citizenship under international norms may still be excluded from access to Czech citizenship now. Additionally, many Roma denied citizenship under the 1992 law have spent the better part of a decade forced -- through legal measures -- into social and economic exclusion in their own country. The Government has adopted no measures to remedy or to compensate for that exclusion.
Roma continue to face systematic discrimination of their right to adequate housing. Many Roma face forced eviction, particularly as tenants' rights are eroded as a result of recent legal amendments. Roma are increasingly subjected to residential segregation, particularly by being housed in extremely substandard accommodations called "holobyty".
The state of health of Roma in the Czech Republic falls far below that of the average Czech citizen. Life expectancy is over 10 years lower and infant morality rates are distinctly higher for the Romani population. Discrimination in the health care system remains an obstacle to higher standards of health, as do the deplorable housing conditions in which many Roma live.
Roma suffer racial segregation in the Czech school system. A particularly debilitating form of this segregation is the practice of placing Romani children in so-called "special schools" or "special classes" for the mentally handicapped. During research in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, the ERRC found that Romani children in Ostrava outnumbered non-Roma in special schools by a proportion of more than twenty-seven to one. Although Roma represented fewer than 5% of all primary school-age students in Ostrava, they constituted over 50% of the "special school" population. Nationwide, as the Czech Government itself conceded, approximately 75% of Romani children attend "special schools", and during the 1998/1999 school year, more than half of all special school students were Romani. This massive over-representation of Romani children in schools for the mentally handicapped embodies the triple harm of racial segregation, substandard education and the stigma of mental handicap. There is no indication that the situation has changed substantively in the intervening three years since the ERRC conducted intensive research into the situation of Roma in the educational system in the Czech Republic. Despite repeated pronouncements by the Czech authorities that far-reaching changes to the school system are planned, to date the Czech school system remains segregated.