Letter to Czech President Václav Havel

02 April 1998

On January 19, the European Roma Rights Center sent a letter to Czech President Václav Havel. The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr President,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, appeals to you to exercise your constitutional power to annul the expulsion orders of all former citizens of the Czechoslovak federation who were sentenced to the penalty of expulsion prior to and including December 31, 1997.

Until it was amended, Article 57 of the Czech Criminal Code provided the penalty of expulsion, undifferentiated in degree; all expulsion penalties issued by courts were permanent, ie. for life. In September 1997, the Czech Parliament recognised the injustice of the lifetime expulsion and amended Article 57 to provide for differentiated penalties according to the severity of the crime and the ties of the offender to the Czech Republic. The amended article entered into force on January 1, 1998.

According to information provided by the Ministry of Justice, between 1993 and the first half of 1997, the expulsion penalty was imposed on 3,083 foreigners, of whom 851 were Slovak citizens, ie. former citizens of the Czechoslovak federation. The perverse effect of the widely criticised Czech citizenship law has been to facilitate the expulsion of many persons with strong ties to the Czech Republic. For people who did not become foreigners by crossing a border but by the split of a country, the expulsion sentence can mean life-long separation from close relatives, places of employment and social and cultural home. An undetermined although purportedly sizable majority of those Slovaks expelled were individuals who had either been born or had lived considerable periods of their lives in the Czech Republic. The ties of these individuals to the new Czech state were genuine and their ties to the Slovak Republic were often, at best, attenuated. In many instances, courts permanently expelled individuals who had family and children living in the Czech Republic, effectively violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In one famous example, before his case was overturned by the Supreme Court, a Romani man was sentenced to life expulsion for stealing a nearly valueless quantity of sugar beets from a field belonging to a farm near his home. Indeed, there are strong indications that the expulsion penalty was disproportionately applied when sentencing Roma.

Honourable Mr. President, the ERRC welcomed your recent strong condemnations of racism in the Czech Republic. We now appeal to you to act within the powers of your office and reverse some of Czech citizenship law’s negative consequences by annulling the expulsion orders of all Slovak citizens sentenced to life expulsion following the division of the state.

It was announced on February 3 that President Havel had annulled all expulsion sentences given to former citizens of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic who were sentenced for crimes for which the Criminal Code calls for a maximum sentence of less than five years. Initial press reports indicated that roughly 600 persons out of the 851 former citizens sentenced to expulsion prior to January 1, 1998, would have their expulsions annulled.

At the time this newsletter went to print, the question of post amnesty residence was not clear. The legal existence of an individual in the Czech Republic is closely related to where (and if) that person has a local residence permit. Many of the persons affected are presently not citizens of the Czech Republic due to the widely-criticised Czech citizenship law, and are currently in Czech prisons serving the prison portion of their sentences. In the case of individuals sentenced to expulsion, previously, when someone with an expulsion sentence applied for Czech citizenship, the Ministry rejected the application on the grounds That their permanent residence automatically ended when the expulsion sentence was handed down, even if they remained in the Czech Republic while serving a Arison sentence. If this legally questionable practice is continued following the amnesty, many of the persons expelled may fend themselves in a situation of extreme exclusion, cut off from the labour market, legal housing and social services, with the only improvement to their situation being that they are allowed to remain in the country.

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