ERRC letter of appeal to Czech President Vaclav Havel
19 January 1998
On January 19, 1998, the European Roma Rights Center sent a letter to Czech President Vaclav Havel, appealing to him to exercise his 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. The text of the letter is as follows:
President Vaclav Havel
Kancelar prezidenta republiky
cc: JUDr. Jana Chalupova
Kancelar prezidenta republiky
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, i.e., 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, i.e. 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.