ERRC Letter to Slovak Prime Minister
28 February 2000
On February 23, 2000, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defense in cases of human rights abuse, sent a letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to express concern at the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia, as well as at the failure of government measures to date to combat abuses.
The ERRC letter provides detailed information on political abuses of Roma in the village of Petrova; police abuses of Roma in Hermanovce, Kosice, Poprad and Zehra; attacks on Roma by non-Romani Slovaks -- including attacks by racist skinheads -- in Bratislava, Car and Hermanovce; and failures of the judicial system to provide remedy where Roma have fallen victim of serious abuses in Banska Bystrica, Hontianske Nemce, Lucenec and Poprad. The letter notes that despite a disturbing pattern of racially motivated attack by non-Romani Slovaks on Roma, according to statistics published in the Slovak press, Slovak authorities managed to solve only eleven racially motivated crimes in 1999. Where ethnically motivated crimes have been solved, in many cases Slovak authorities have apparently made little effort to inform the public, including the Romani communities.
The ERRC letter additionally notes that Romani women who fell victim to a systematic sterilization campaign sterilised until 1990 have never received justice or any form of compensation for their suffering. The ERRC letter indicates with alarm active efforts to segregate Roma in Slovakia and notes that the present President of Slovakia, Mr Rudolf Schuster, was mayor of Kosice during a campaign to remove Roma living in various places in and around Kosice and to segregate them in a massive substandard ghettoised housing project called "Lunik IX". The ERRC letter additionally calls attention to deep patterns of discrimination especially in the areas of education and housing. Documentation on several instances in which Slovak officials have obstructed efforts to remedy the dire housing situation of Roma is presented. The ERRC notes that according to information originating from the Office of the President, Slovakia is dramatically failing to live up to its commitments under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with respect to the education of Romani children.
The ERRC letter notes with alarm the fact that according to recent surveys, 60.4% of Slovaks say they favor separating Roma from the majority population. The ERRC decries the fact that a number of prominent Slovak politicians have made anti-Romani statements or statements attempting to downplay the gravity of the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia.
The ERRC letter also expresses concern that to date Slovakia has not yet adopted adequate anti-discrimination legislation.
The letter expresses disappointment that to date budgetary allocations aimed at Roma in Slovakia remain severely inadequate. Also, some expenditures listed under Roma-related budgets are extremely questionable.
The ERRC letter concludes with six recommendations to the Slovak government:
1. Call the problem by its true names of racism, discrimination, segregation and the legacy of centuries of humiliating treatment;
2. Act firmly to counter instances of discriminatory treatment and racist abuse;
3. Seriously evaluate communicative practices between police and judicial authorities and the Romani communities with a mind to informing Roma of successful prosecutions of racist crimes;
4. Adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation necessary to equip individuals to pursue justice when they believe they have suffered racist harm;
5. Open and fund adequately legal advisory and legal defense centres in every major town in Slovakia with the purpose of providing free legal aid to Roma;
6. Adopt long-term strategies to overcome the problem of racism in Slovak society and the patterns of discrimination and segregation resulting from it, and fund them adequately.
The text of the ERRC letter follows. In some instances, initials have been provided in the place of names, to shelter victims from public exposure. The reports listed below in the first paragraph of the letter are available in hard copy from the ERRC, as well as on the ERRC internet website at: www.errc.org.
Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda,
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international non-governmental organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, remains deeply concerned at the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia. In January 1997, the ERRC published Time of the Skinheads: Denial and Exclusion of Roma in Slovakia, an extensive report on the situation of Roma in Slovakia. The report focused especially on a wave of attacks on Roma by non-Roma in Slovakia, and particularly on attacks by racist skinheads. The ERRC noted that most cases of racist violence against Roma remained without judicial remedy and that in general Slovak authorities tended to deny the existence of racism or anti-Romani sentiment in Slovakia. Copies of that report are enclosed herewith, in both Slovak and English.
The ERRC greeted your election in 1998 with relief, following the era dominated by governments under Vladimir Meciar, in which rights abuses against Roma proliferated. We expected your government to go immediately to work addressing seriously problems of racism, discrimination and hate crimes. We especially wecomed your government's pronouncement, on November 3, 1998, as setting your approach to issues of racism and racist discrimination against Roma in Slovakia off on the correct footing. We recall that on that date, your government stated:
Among the priorities of the new government is the renewal of an atmosphere of tolerance, interested understanding, and good co-existence for all citizens of the Slovak Republic. In the conditions of a multi-ethnic society, the government of the Slovak Republic is prepared to undertake the steps necessary to renew the trust of all ethnic groups in the governmental institutions, which must, above all, serve as a source of help and rights defence of citizens of the Slovak Republic. [...]
The government of the Slovak Republic unequivocally condemns all forms and expressions of racism and intolerance and announces that it will act against all such expressions with full resolution. [...]
Approximately one and a half years after your election it can be stated that the hopes raised by this pronouncement have to date been disappointed, and individual Roma and the Romani communities have not seen their situation improve.
In December 1998, for example, residents of Petrova, a town in northern Slovakia with a population approximately 50% of which is Romani, reportedly elected a Romani man named Marian Billy mayor. Non-Romani residents then gathered signatures on a petition to contest the election. According to ERRC information, the petition was circulated by persons going door-to-door and persuading Roma and non-Roma to sign "so that we will not have a Gypsy for a mayor". Slovak parliament subsequently annulled the election, and in September 1999, re-elections returned a non-Romani man named Jan Borecky as mayor. In statements made to the ERRC at a conference in November 1999 in Bratislava, members of the Slovak government downplayed the annulment of Mr Billy's election as mayor as not an issue of racism, and stated that the annulment had taken place due to the low educational achievement of Mr Billy. No provisions exist in Slovak law which would justify annulling a local election result on grounds of educational attainment. Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda, the right to freely elect representatives of one's choosing is central to democratic society, and the adjustment of results on ethnic grounds is cause for deep concern about the status of the rule of law in Slovakia. Roma in Petrova reportedly now doubt their inclusion in the body politic and are fully convinced that they have no say over their own fate in the new Slovakia. They are fully justified in these sentiments.
Other measures by Slovak authorities since the 1998 election indicate a pattern of arbitrary use of state power against the Roma; authorities have raided Romani settlement; shot, beaten, humiliated or otherwise abused Roma; in one instance a police officer shot and killed a Romani man in police custody.
On October 27 and 28, 1998, the police assaulted Romani inhabitants of the village of Hermanovce, Eastern Slovakia. On October 27, at around 4:30 AM, police reportedly entered the homes of two Romani families in Hermanovce, where they beat two Romani individuals - Mr A.Z. (14), and Mr P.Y. (21), handcuffed them, then forced them into the trunk of a car and drove them to the police station in Chminanska Nova Ves. The police offered no explanation to the detained persons or their families; nor did they show arrest or search warrants to justify their actions. At the police station, the two youths were allegedly beaten with truncheons and kicked. They were interrogated and shown various items, and pressed to say that they had stolen some of them. They were released later the same day, apparently without having been charged with any crime. Doctors who examined them documented bruises consistent with a beating. At no point were the two detainees advised of their rights; nor, despite his minor status, A.Z. was interrogated in the presence of a parent or other authorised person.
According to eyewitness accounts, on the following day, October 28, at approximately 6 a.m., more than 20 policemen arrived in the Romani settlement in Hermanovce, some accompanied by police dogs. Police officers broke down the doors of Romani houses and beat Romani men, women and children, many of whom were in bed at the time. At least one police officer used threatening, racist and vulgar language against a Romani woman while he was beating her. The police then brought six men-- B.Z., C.Z., D.Z., Q.Y., J.K. and U.V.-- to the village mayor's office. Mr U.V. is not a Rom; he is a citizen if the Czech Republic and an anthropologist. Once again, the police offered no explanation for their conduct and showed no arrest or search warrants. At the mayor's office, one of the detainees, Mr B.Z., was released. Five others were taken to the Chminanska Nova Ves police station, then released by noon without being charged with any crimes. Two of the five were taken to a local hospital for treatment.
The ERRC sent letters on November 2, 1998, to the Minister of the Interior and to the Chief Prosecutor, urging them to undertake prompt, thorough and effective investigation into these events and to ensure that those responsible were brought to justice. The General Prosecutor's office acknowledged receipt of the ERRC letter in a letter dated November 9, 1998, and informed the ERRC that it would be forwarded to the Presov district prosecutor. The ERRC subsequently was informed in a letter from Minister of Interior Ladislav Pittner dated December 7, 1998, that investigation had been opened into the conduct of an unspecified number of police officers. The ERRC has received no further information from any Slovak authority concerning actions taken in the case. The legal representative for the detained Roma told the ERRC that police officers in Chminanska Nova Ves had stated in April 1999 that no legal measures would be taken against the officers concerned, and that the affair had been resolved "internally". No charges had been brought against the Romani men.
Another abusive raid by police officers was reported on January 14, 1999, in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice. According to reports, at approximately 1:00 AM on January 14, 1999, two police officers in civilian clothing visited a block of flats inhabited by Roma in Vodarenska Street in Kosice. According to witnesses, the two men were drunk. The officers reportedly harassed Romani families in fourteen flats of this apartment complex. They repeatedly beat on the doors of flats and shouted racial slurs including "dirty Gypsies" at the Roma inside, demanding that they open their doors. The officers pointed revolvers at the heads of a number of the Roma. The threatened individuals complied with this demand, and the drunk police officers ordered them to produce their personal identification cards. The officers did not show any form of written authorisation. They reportedly told some members of the terrorised group that the action was an anti-drug raid, while telling others that they were looking for a man who sold pornography. The police officers also demanded some of the Roma for money. Officers allegedly accosted the three sisters of one family, aged thirteen, fourteen and fifteen respectively, and suggested that the sisters engaged in incestuous acts. According to the testimony of 14-year-old Petra Berkova, officers struck 13-year-old Adriana Berkova and 15-year-old Sona Berkova. They ordered the three girls to strip to the waist. Adriana and Sona reportedly complied with this order and took off their shirts; Petra Berkova refused, so the officers tore the shirt from her back. One woman called the police. At approximately 1:45 AM, around forty minutes after the call, officers from the local police station, Kosice North, arrived; these reportedly only asked the two intruders the purpose of their visit. Before leaving, one of the two raiding officers shouted several threats at the Romani families and then left with the Kosice police. On February 17, 1999, police investigators told the ERRC that they had interviewed fifteen witnesses in connection with the incident and that they had identified the officers concerned.
In addition to the two officers identified by eyewitnesses, according to police a third officer waited in a car outside the building. On March 3, 1999, a Kosice investigator recommended that the charges violence a group or individual, coersion, abuse of power by a public actor, and disturbance of the domestic sphere in the form of complicity be brought against Mr L.K. (1971) and Mr R.A. (1974). An appeal by the two men against the decision was overturned on March 29, 1999. The mother of the Berkova girls, 35-year-old Ms Sona Berkova, told the ERRC on January 21, 2000, that she had been called in for questioning by police several times in October and November 1999, and since then she had heard nothing with regard to the case. Radio Twist reported on February 2, 2000, that the two officers had been charged with violence against a group or individual, coersion, abuse of power by a public actor, and disturbance of the domestic sphere in the form of complicity. Both officers have been forced to resign from the police force. The ERRC is continuing to monitor the case and urges swift and thorough prosecution of both men.
Another police raid took place in the Romani settlement in Zehra in central Slovakia on December 2, 1999, during the course of which, a thirteen-year-old boy was shot in the leg. According to the Slovak daily Pravda, reporting on December 3, riot troops of the police unit KR PZ in Kosice entered the Romani settlement at approximately 6:00 AM on December 2. Witnesses state that up to one hundred officers took part in the raid. Once in the settlement, police reportedly forced their way into a number of flats, ordered the men to lie down on the floor and physically abused them, in many cases brutally kicking and punching them repeatedly while they lay face down. Officers reportedly beat at least one minor after first forcing him into a toilet cubicle and thrusting his head into the bowl. During the course of the raid, police used firearms at least once, injuring 13-year-old Jan M. in the leg. Mayor Jozef Mizigar described the raid as "very brutal". According to local Romani activists, Mayor Mizigar was placed under house arrest for approximately two hours during the raid. Officers damaged or destroyed property including the doors of houses, furniture, and Mayor Mizigar's automobile. Roma from Zehra state that officers insulted their ethnic origins in the course of the raid, among other things calling them "dirty Gypsies". Officers reportedly threatened to rape Romani women present and shouted the threat, "Gypsies, we will shoot you all". Local Roma also reported that they had not been shown any warrants authorizing officers to enter houses. Officers took nine persons into custody during the course of the raid, primarily on charges related to the possesion of weapons. A lawyer representing those detained states that officers were liberal in their interpretation of what constitutes a weapon to the point of impounding kitchen knives.
Police spokesperson Jana Damjanicova told members of the press on December 2, 1999, that the raid had been carried out in order to detain persons sought for various crimes including disturbing the peace, damage to health and theft. She stated that officers were authorized to use weapons for shooting short distances. During the action, the riot units used shotguns with rubber bullets, once on a dog and once on an individual who did not obey an order. According to Officer Damjanicova, "Uninvolved individual Jan M. was hit and lightly wounded and taken to hospital." With respect to the wounding of an uninvolved person, proceedings were taken over by the police inspectorate of the Ministry of the Interior. According to Mayor Mizigar, riot police returned to the village in the late morning and requested that the mother give them the spent cartridge case, but she refused. As of January 31, 2000, according to the lawyer for the detained, three persons have been charged with disorderly conduct and all three remain in custody. There have been no further official pronouncements with respect to the investigation of police conduct during the raid. On February 1, the Kosice regional directorate of the regional police rejected a criminal complaint against the officers involved in the raid. The lawyer of the mother of the 13-year-old shooting victim has appealed the decision. The ERRC continues to monitor the case.
In addition to being subject to violent and humiliating police raids, Roma have also fallen victim in attacks by non-Romani civilians. A Slovak man reportedly terrorised Romani children in a school in the eastern Slovak village of Hermanovce on April 16, 1999. According to ERRC investigation into the case, at around 10:30 AM, an ethnic Slovak named Mr A.G. who lived near the remedial special school of Hermanovce, was returning home when he saw a Romani girl leaving his yard. According to testimony by witnesses, she was retrieving a ball which had landed in his yard as the children played during a school break. Mr A.G. reportedly then entered the school and went to the room where the first, second and third classes are held and began insulting Romani pupils, calling them "pharoahs" and saying that they belonged in India. Mr A.G., who was reportedly drunk, threatened to kill them. He also reportedly threw chairs and tables at the pupils. According to the testimony of the victims, Mr A.G. then left the school and returned a short time later visibly carrying a large wooden stick and a knife and allegedly carrying a concealed pistol. He insulted, threatened and beat several Romani boys who were playing football outside the school, with their teacher, Mr Ribic. Mr A.G. reportedly tried to stab one of the boys, 13-year-old Jergus Cervenak. When Mr Ribic attempted to intervene, Mr A.G. allegedly beat him with his stick. Mr A.G. then entered the school building for a second time and went into the classroom of the first, second and third class. Most of the children escaped, but Mr A.G. reportedly caught 12-year-old girl, Tana Cervenakova, beat her with the stick and held the knife to her throat, threatening to kill her. He then allegedly entered the classroom of the fourth and fifth class and produced a pistol, with which he threatened pupils. Mr A.G. then proceeded to the classroom of the sixth and eighth class. A 14-year-old Romani pupil named Nasta Conkova opened the door for him and as she turned to flee, he struck her on the back of the head with his stick, causing her to fall, unconscious, to the floor. In the sixth and eighth classroom, Mr A.G. also reportedly beat 12-year-old Stanislava Vanova, a Romani pupil in the sixth class. The third pupil in the room at the time, Ms Marianna Pokutova allegedly fled out the window. Mr A.G. reportedly destroyed a cassette player with his stick in the sixth and eighth classroom. Throughout the duration of the attack, pupils hid in the staff room and in the toilets. Mr A.G. also entered the staff room and beat Romani pupils there, including 11-year-old Viera Cervenakova. Mr A.G. insulted the ethnic origins of the victims, said that all Roma belonged in India, shouted that he wished they were dead, and stated that if they came to school again, he would kill them. According to ERRC investigation, the director of the school was away at the time of the attack; most of the teachers assisted children in hiding in the staff room, where they themselves hid during the attack.
Three pupils summoned the police. Two police officers were seen by independent witnesses in Hermanovce around the time of the attack. Witnesses stated that at the time of the attack, a police car was parked outside a building housing a pub, a shop and the mayor's office. Police officers however reportedly arrived only after Mr A.G. had left the building. According to the victims, the police only waited in a police car outside the school building to see if Mr A.G. would return and, when he did not return, they left. ERRC investigation indicates that the officers did not subsequently report the incident to the police department competent for Hermanovce in the town of Chminanska Nova Ves. Subsequent to the attack, parents kept children home from school, afraid that Mr A.G. would fulfill his threat to kill them if they came back to the school. Parents told the ERRC that Mr A.G. had threatened their children before and neither school nor municipal or police authorities had taken any action to investigate threats or protect the children.
During investigation in April 1999, the mayor of Hermanovce, Mr Frantisek Margita, refused to speak with the ERRC. The director of the school, Ms Marie Markova, forbade individual teachers from speaking with the ERRC. The sum of her statements to the ERRC were that the damage to the school was minimal - only a broken cassette recorder - and that the incident would not be repeated. She refused to give further information to the ERRC.
On April 26, 1999, the ERRC presented Mayor Margita and School Director Markova with a statement signed by the parents of 28 children who attend the school, appealing to authorities to take measures with respect to the crime. In response to the statement, members of the local council accused the ERRC of falsifying the signatures of Romani parents, and threatened to sue the ERRC. On May 3, the ERRC filed a detailed criminal complaint, signed by the Romani parents of 28 pupils at the school, at the county prosecutor's office in Presov. On May 14, the county prosecutor's office in Presov informed the ERRC that the case had been forwarded to the police department in Chminanska Nova Ves. On May 27, police officers reportedly interrogated the director of the school. As of June 1, 1999, Mr A.G. was still at large and had reportedly threatened Romani children on several occasions after the incident. As of June 25, authorities had not informed the signatories of the statement of the results of investigation, in violation of Slovak law. As of January 31, 2000, Mr A.G. has been charged with disorderly conduct and is reportedly awaiting trial. The ERRC is continuing to monitor the case.
Attacks by racist skinheads on Roma have also continued to occur. Pravda reported on October 21, 1999, that three skinheads had beaten a 20-year-old Romani man named Jozef Polak from the village of Car at a busstop near Bratislava's main train station. The three men reportedly kicked him and beat him with their fists until he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness he reported the attack to the rail police at the train station and was transported from there to a hospital. He was diagnosed with injuries requiring seven days recovery. Pravda reported on October 29 that in connection with the attack, police had charged Mr Jan M. (1982), Mr Michal K. (1983) and Mr Andrej S. (1983) with disturbing the peace and racially motivated damage to health. According to the Slovak Helsinki Committee, investigation was still open as of February 8, 2000. In an incident that is presumed to be unrelated, according to a Pravda article of December 27, 1999, an unnamed skinhead in Car assaulted a 21-year-old Romani man named Marian D., on December 17, punching him in the face. Roma in the village subsequently gathered in a local pub with chains and knives and assaulted the alleged skinhead attacker and an individual sitting next to him in the pub. At a subsequent meeting, Roma from Car told the mayor that youths in the village regularly appear near their houses, threaten them and shout slogans such as "Heil Hitler" and "Gypsies to the gas". According to an article in Pravda from December 28, Police Spokesperson Ludovit Zapletaj described the incident as one of "youthful imprudence" and ruled out a racial motive. Investigation in the case was still open as of February 8, 2000. According to Romani activist Emilia Pompova of the organisation Zor in Kezmarok, Zor recieves reports of skinhead attacks on Roma from the town of Poprad on a weekly basis. According to an article appearing in Narodna Obroda on December 16, 1999, police managed to register only fifteen and resolve only eleven racially motivated crimes during 1999. Police appear either to be applying an unreasonably rigid standard for what consitutes racially motivated crime, to be ignoring reports, or not to be proactively engaged in investigating racially motivated crimes among the terrorised Romani community.
The 1997 ERRC report went into significant detail showing that Slovak authorities often failed to provide legal remedy to persons who have fallen victim of racially motivated crimes, especially Roma who had been attacked by racist skinheads. Instances of this basic failure on the part of Slovak authorities have continued to be reported throughout the term of the present government. On November 12, 1999, for example, a second instance district court in the central Slovak town of Banska Bystrica returned the case of Mr Ivan Mako for the second time to the first instance regional court in Banska Bystrica. In the attack, three skinheads, including 18-year-old Mr Jan P. and two unknown males, assaulted Mr Mako at a bus station in Banska Bystrica, spat at him, called him "dirty Gypsy", punched him in the face and threw cobblestones at him in June 1996. Mr Mako had to be hospitalised after the attack. In connection with the attack, the first instance court has twice convicted Jan P. of damage to health, but has, on both occasions, refused to apply penal code articles pertaining to racially motivated crime because, according to the court, ethnic Slovaks and Roma are of the same race. As of January 31, 2000, the first instance court had not yet set a date to hear the case for the third time.
Time of the Skinheads also provided extensive detail on unequal treatment of Roma in the Slovak judicial system. Recent cases brought to the attention of the ERRC indicate that Roma still bear disproportionate blame when cases featuring Roma and non-Roma are heard by judicial authorities. On May 7, 1998, a 16-year-old Rom named Branislav Baranyi was attacked and beaten by a non-Romani adult in Lucenec, Slovakia, when trying to intervene in a fight between a Romani friend of his and an intoxicated non-Romani adult. Branislav Baranyi suffered concussion and lost three of his teeth as a result of the beating and had to be hospitalised. On May 7, 1998, Mr Baranyi's father filed a complaint against the attacker, Mr I.C., at the local police station, but the policeman there refused to issue a confirmation of the complaint. Mr Baranyi Sr therefore filed a complaint against Mr I.C. with the Prosecutor's Office in Lucenec. Mr O.G., the other Romani victim of the attack, filed a complaint against an unknown perpetrator at the local police station. On July 6, 1998, the Prosecutor's Office informed Mr Baranyi in writing that his complaint had been forwarded to the Regional Office of Investigation. The very same Regional Office of Investigation, however, opened an investigation against Branislav Baranyi for damage to health and disorderly conduct on August 28, 1998. Investigators alleged that Mr Baranyi had attacked Mr J.D., the non-Romani initiator of the fight. The witness supporting Mr J.D.'s claim was allegedly the same Mr I.C., against whom Baranyi filed a complaint more then three months before, and in which case official investigation had still not been opened. Mr J.D. presented the investigation authorities with a medical certificate showing contusions and abrasions on his chest, which allegedly resulted in his incapacity for work for 21 days. Suspicion arose that the certificate had been fabricated, as witnesses saw Mr J.D. working in his private workshop and drinking in local bars during these 21 days.
Upon the intervention of an attorney retained by the ERRC, a reconstruction of the incident took place on November 20, 1998. The reconstruction of the event did not establish the allegations against Baranyi. On November 27, 1998, the investigator dismissed criminal proceedings against the other defendant, 14-year-old O.G., on the grounds that he was a minor. The investigator, however, in written documents pertaining to the case, did not describe the incident in accordance with the reconstruction. Branislav's father subsequently complained to the Office of the President and the Ministry of Justice. The lawyer representing Branislav Baranyi lodged a formal objection at the Regional Court in Banska Bystrica concerning the suspected bias of the judges of the District Court in Lucenec dealing with the Baranyi case, as it was established that plaintiff, Mr J.D., is a relative of one of the judges. The objection was sustained and on February 9, 1999, the case was transferred from the District Court in Lucenec to the District Court in Zvolen. On March 3, 1999, Branislav Baranyi was found guilty of disorderly conduct and was sentenced to one month imprisonment, suspended for one year. Branislav Baranyi appealed, but a regional court in Banska Bystrica upheld the verdict of the lower court on September 2, 1999. Branislav Baranyi did not appeal the decision. In January 1999, legal proceedings against Mr I.C. finally began, but on the basis of medical testimony indicating he had suffered only light injuries, the case was classified as misdemeanour, not criminal; a fight between a Roma and non-Roma resulted in criminal prosecution only of the Roma.
In other cases, high-ranking Slovak officials have sought to deny that instances of abuse have taken place when the alleged offender is a police officer. The Czech Press Agency (CTK) reported on August 13, 1999, that a Romani man had been shot in police custody on August 12 in the central Slovak town of Poprad. The Slovak press did not cover the story until August 19, when the daily Pravda wrote that a 21-year-old Romani man named Lubomir Sarissky had died on August 17. According to press reports, two young Roma were detained by the local police in Poprad on the evening of August 12, 1999, on suspicion of bicycle theft. While being interrogated alone with one police officer, one of the men, 21-year-old Lubomir Sarissky was shot in the abdomen. CTK informed on August 13 that Lubomir Sarissky had subsequently undergone two operations and was in critical condition. Speaking on the private television station TV Markiza on August 12, Slovak Minister of the Interior Mr Ladislav Pittner stated that the victim had pulled the policemans gun out of its holster and shot himself in the stomach. He was quoted as stating, "The incident is being investigated [...] It does not make sense to me that the policeman would use his weapon against a man who is being interrogated." Slovak press informed on Thursday August 19 that Lubomir Sarissky had died without regaining consciousness on August 17. According to the lawyer for the victim's family, Lubomir Sarissky told a friend in the local clinic shortly after being transported there and before losing consciousness, "They shot me." The police officer concerned was reportedly suspended during the investigation. According to the Slovak daily Pravda, on November 12, police investigators accused Officer M.L. of damage to health and negligence in connection with the shooting death of Mr Sarissky. As of January 31, 2000, no results of the investigation had been made available and the original investigator had been replaced. Additionally, the legal representative of the victim's family had still not been provided with the coroner's report on the case, raising the suspicion that investigators were attempting to conceal or manipulate evidence.
The ERRC additionally notes that no one has ever been brought to justice in connection with the systematic sterilisation of Romani women carried out by the former communist regime and at least until the year 1990. Extensive documentation on the issue was gathered still during communism by researchers Ruben Pellar and Zbynek Andrs and presented to Slovak authorities. Further investigations were published in the Helsinki Watch report Struggling for Ethnic Identity: Czechoslovakia's Endangered Gypsies. A district investigator in Presov dismissed complaints in connection with the cases in September 1991.
The ERRC noted during field research in January 2000 that not only Romani victims, but also members of Romani civic associations are provided with no information by police and judicial authorities on the status of cases in which Roma have been victims. This failure of communication is most evident in cases in which the alleged perpetrator is a police officer, but also in racially motivated attacks by civilians as well as general crimes against Romani individuals. This silence on the part of authorities had left most Roma with whom the ERRC spoke with the impression that crimes occur, pronouncements are made that investigations are open and, subsequently nothing happens. A noteworthy exception is the 1995 killing by skinheads of a Romani youth named Mario Goral, set alight with a molotov cocktail in the town of Ziar nad Hronom. The case resulted in the prosecution of two men in connection with the case, and this was widely publicised. However, in other extremely serious cases of human rights abuse, such as the 1996 pogrom in Hontianske Nemce during which a Romani man named Jozef Miklos was burned to death (the case was detailed at length in Time of the Skinheads), persons close to the case with whom the ERRC spoke have simply no idea if or when anyone has ever been prosecuted in connection with the crime.
The ERRC's 1997 report described how local authorities evict Roma from the centre of towns and cities, forcing them to move to the periphery, as well as how local authorities prevent Roma from moving into towns and cities. According to ERRC information, these processes of marginalisation and ghettoisation are as vigorous now as they have ever been in Slovakia.
In 1995, the city of Kosice passed municipal ordinance number 55/1995, establishing the use of housing settlement of Lunik IX on the outskirts of Kosice as the site for "creating living conditions for citizens of the city of Kosice who illegally occupy flats, are homeless, are non-payers of rent, as well as for unadaptable citizens". Although the ordinance makes no reference to Roma, subsequent municipal documents approve financing for "small-sized, substandard flats for Roma". Since 1995, almost all of the non-Romani residents of Kosice have been allocated housing elsewhere in the city and have moved out. At the same time, Roma living in other areas of Kosice have been evicted, and entire formerly Romani quarters of Kosice have vanished. The housing estate is now nearly 100% Romani. Disease is rife, many Roma live in flooded basement flats, rats are evident, electricity, heating and basic sanitation entirely unavailable or unavailable for months at a time. The city has abandoned basic services to the housing estate. The person ultimately responsible for creating a Romani ghetto out of Lunik IX is Mr Rudolf Schuster, who was, at the time of the 1995 decree, mayor of Kosice. He is presently President of the Slovak Republic.
Similarly, the Slovak daily Sme reported on November 28, 1998, that officials in the southeastern Slovak town of Jelsava had taken a decision to refuse to grant residence permits to Roma moving there. According to the article, five Romani families who had recently purchased homes in Jelsava had been denied residence permits and therefore been unable to settle in the town legally. The Slovak daily Narodna Obroda further reported on November 30, 1998, that Jelsava Mayor Ondrej Mladsi had said, "The denial of permanent residence was caused by Jelsava citizens' fear of a wave of Romani migration into abandoned Jelsava houses, which are selling for relatively low prices." While Mayor Mladsi reportedly acknowledged that the town's conduct was in breach of law, he said that the town's representatives were acting "under the pressure of citizens who fear deterioration of the socio-economic and crime situation in the town." According to the mayor, "We had to act the way we did to discourage others from the intention of moving to Jelsava and to draw attention to this Slovak-wide problem, about which nothing is being done." The ERRC filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in March 1998 against the northeastern Slovak municipalities of Nagov and Rokytovce because those villages had passed ordinances explicitly banning Roma from entering the villages. In April 1999, acting in response to the lawsuit, Slovak authorities annulled the ordinances. However, according to information provided to the ERRC by the Vranov nad Toplou-based Romani organisation Central European Romani Educational Center on January 3, 2000, Roma from the two villages continued to live on the bank of a river in town of Cabiny in appalling conditions, effectively banned from entry to the municipalities.
Efforts by non-governmental organisations to assist Roma in improving their own housing situation often meet with insurmountable obstacles at a local level. A 1998 effort by the Vienna-based organisation Romano Centro to buy the plot of land on which the Romani community of Jarovnice sits, for example, was ultimately unsuccessful: after gathering money for the purpose through a series of charitable actions, Romano Centro ultimately was forced to alter their plan after meeting with obstruction and opposition by local authorities. It was similarly reported to the ERRC that a wealthy Romani entrepreneur had been rebuffed in his efforts to purchase the ground underneath the Romani settlement at Toporec for the Roma living there.
Recent publications by the Slovak government indicate failure by the government to ensure the right to education where Romani children are concerned. According to a document distributed at the "Meeting of Presidents of the Visegrad Four Countries" on December 3, 1999, entitled "Working Document on the Roma Issue in the V4 Countries", Romani children in elementary schools are ten times more likely than non-Romani children to fail advancing to the next year; five times more like to receive lower marks for behaviour; and thirty-six times more likely to finish elementary school attendance without completing it. Most notably, according to the Working Document, kindergarten attendance among Romani children has dropped from 80% in 1989/90 to 15% today, constituting a dramatic failure by the government to comply with its commitments progressively to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Roma are also segregated in the educational system and reasonable estimates put the number of Roma attending so-called "remedial special schools" for the mentally handicapped at over half.
The ERRC applauds the recent publication of Slovakia's first school textbook on Romani history and culture, but notes that to the best of our knowledge, no provisions exist to require teachers to use it in the classroom.
The September 27, 1999, "Resolution of the Government of the Slovak Republic concerning the Strategy of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the Solution of the Problems of the Roma National Minority and the Set of Measures for Its Implementation" (hereinafter "Strategy") acknowledges that "...the practical application of human rights protection and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities in real life is not absolute, in particular with respect to the citizens from Romany national minority." (English version of the document distributed by the Slovak government). Nevertheless, according to media reports, high-ranking Slovak officials have recently made statements which can be characterized as insensitive at best, and in some cases are clearly racist. For example:
- On March 9, 1999, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Jan Slota, mayor of the north-central Slovak town of Zilina had told a rally in central Slovakia that Slovakia would never tolerate a Romani minority because "they are Gypsies who steal, rob, and pilfer."
- International media reported on November 30, 1999 that President Rudolf Schuster had told a forum of the German Society for Foreign Policy in Berlin on November 29 that Roma "lack the will to integrate" and that Slovak Roma are "profiting from state help but are neither willing nor capable of assuming responsibility for the improvement of their own situation."
- According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty of December 7, 1999, Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky stated that he saw "no reason for Slovak citizens to emigrate for reasons of political or ethnic discrimination."
- Slovak and international media reported on January 5, 2000, that Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chebo had stated, while calling for sanctions against Czech Airlines for transporting Roma from Bratislava to Finland that the "real discrimination" was prompted by "73 people who may bring about the re-imposition of visa requirements for 5.5 million Slovaks."
Recent publications by the Slovak government similarly include anti-Romani statements and offensive generalisations about Roma. For example, a document distributed by the Slovak President's office at the "Meeting of Presidents of the Visegrad Four Countries" on December 3, 1999, entitled "Working Document on the Roma Issue in the V4 Countries" included the following passage: "The lifestyle of many of them is oriented towards consumption and they live from hand to mouth. Because of their lower educational standard, the philosophy of some of them is to simply survive from one day to the next. If we add their increased propensity to alcohol abuse, absence of an at least minimum degree of planning, and low concern for developing normal habits including the feeling of responsibility, hygienic habits and ethics, this philosophy is changing today to that of living 'from one benefit to the next'."
In harbouring anti-Romani views, Slovak politicians have reflected and even abetted the views of non-Romani Slovaks, rather than act to combat them: according to a recent poll by the TNS polling institute, 60.4% of Slovaks say they favor separating Roma from the majority population.
Even you yourself, honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda, evidently caved in to racist pressures exerted on your office when, according to an article from January 15, 2000, in Narodna Obroda, you labled the recent emigration of Roma from Slovakia "speculation" and called on member states of the EU to alter laws to ensure that Slovak citizens would not have access to international protection.
Recent publications by the Slovak government also maintain a position of denial with respect to the level of discrimination in Slovakia. For example, a document distributed with the Strategy entitled "Informational Material About the Activities of the Government of the Slovak Republic in the Area of the Resolution of Problems of the Romani National Minority in the Slovak Republic" states that, "It is notpossible to accept the automatic link between the question of the emigration of Roma with the question of racial discrimination." The ERRC considers that in the present situation of extreme discrimination and frequent attacks on Roma, statements downplaying the link between the emigration of individual Roma and the human rights situation in Slovakia indicate either insensitivity or denial on the part of government officials. The ERRC also regarded as denial of the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia the efforts by the Slovak Foreign Ministry to confiscate ERRC materials at a Council of Europe conference in Bratislava in November 1999.
Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda, one and a half years into the term of your government's office, Slovakia continues to lack basic legislation necessary to enable individuals in pressing claims when they believe they have suffered discriminatory treatment on ethnic grounds. The European Union has instructed the Slovak government that comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is a condition of acceptance in the EU. The ERRC notes that in drafting legislation, Slovakia can count on expertise and guidance from the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. We would also be happy to assist your government in this respect.
In the sphere of financing of measures intended to support projects for Roma, too, your government's actions to date remain inadequate. The 6,902,700 Slovak Crowns project-specific budget approved on October 13 and the 30,000,000 Crowns Slovak parliament reportedly approved in December 1999 for unspecified projects aimed at Romani integration and fighting racism in the year 2000 are paltry given the size of task at hand. Levels of spending in this important area are, for example, anemic compared with the 1.5 billion US dollars (approximately 60,000,000,000 Slovak crowns) the Slovak government reportedly committed in November 1999 to projects related to NATO expansion. Members of the Slovak government reportedly recently rebuffed a request by representatives of the Vienna-based organisation Romano Centro to provide a stipend for the bus fare for teachers to travel to the Romani community of Jarovnice from the nearby town of Presov. Members of the Slovak government told representatives of Romano Centro that finding funding for such a stipend program would be "very difficult". Additionally, the Slovak government appears to be funding the cost of deportation of refused Romani asylum seekers from out of the budget of money earmarked for Romani integration projects, raising concerns as to what constitutes a project aimed at Romani integration into society. Finally, statements by various Slovak authorities indicate that portions of the budget aimed at integration project will depend on EU funding, suggesting that the Slovak government is unwilling to use taxpayer money to fund even the relatively small projects envisioned. In light of such statements, the recent habit of high-ranking Slovak politicians repeatedly to state that the problem is "European" and not Slovak arouses the suspicion that Slovakia does not intend to spend adequate Slovak money on Roma projects.
Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda, the documentation presented above reflects only a fraction of the true number of abuses which Roma face daily in Slovakia. Roma live separated from, discriminated against, and often under attack by non-Romani Slovaks. We believe that there are strong indications that your government does not take seriously the fact of discriminatory practice, racism and racist violence against Roma in Slovakia and has to date acted ineffectively to counter deep patterns of abuse. We urge your government to engage all powers available to your office to address the situation by at very least undertaking the following:
- Call the problem by its true names of racism, discrimination, segregation and the legacy of centuries of humiliating treatment;
- Act firmly to counter instances of discriminatory treatment and racist abuse;
- Seriously evaluate communicative practices between police and judicial authorities and the Romani communities with a mind to informing Roma of successful prosecutions of racist crimes;
- Adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation necessary to equip individuals to pursue justice when they believe they have suffered racist harm;
- Open and fund adequately legal advisory and legal defense centres in every major town in Slovakia with the purpose of providing free legal aid to Roma;
- Adopt long-term strategies to overcome the problem of racism in Slovak society and the patterns of discrimination and segregation resulting from it, and fund them adequately.
Persons wishing to express similar concerns to the Slovak government are urged to contact:
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda
813 70 Bratislava 1
Fax: (421 7) 54 41 54 84
Deputy Prime Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Regional Development
813 70 Bratislava 1
Fax: (421 7) 52 49 20 27
Government Commissioner for the Resolution of the Problems of the Romani
Minority Vincent Danihel
Lomacka cesta 8
P.O. Box 22
811 04 Bratislava
Fax: (421 7) 59 36 44 21