Head of Czech Police Apologises for Abuse of Powers by Police in Bohumin
29 October 2006
Apology Follows Confirmation of Court-Ordered Fine on Bohumin Municipality for Arbitrarily Cutting Off Hot Water to Roma Families
Eviction of Roma and Others from Hostel for the Poor Remains in Effect
Bohumin, Prague, Budapest. Czech Police President Vladislav Husak has apologised on behalf of the Czech Police for its misuse of its powers in the town of Bohumin from 4-6 October 2005. Private security guards hired by the municipality to guard the "Hotelovy Dum", a hostel for poor people, were preventing entry to a number of concerned parties trying to visit the facility. Hostel residents were part of a targeted campaign by Bohumin municipality to expel several hundred persons, a large number of them Romani, from the housing. Czech Police officers summoned to the scene declined to intervene on behalf of the residents and their visitors, despite the fact that a court injunction permitting normal use of the facility by the residents, including the right to receive visitors, was in effect at the time. After more than five hours of delay, the visitors were ultimately permitted entry, but on 6 October 2005, police forcibly expelled local activist and visitor Kumar Vishwanathan from the Hotelovy Dum, claiming a "new agreement" between the town and the police had been reached, that the police would not prevent the private security from barring any guests, and that, if necessary, they would aid in the removal of visitors.
In his apology, Husak clarified that " …if any court at any level has issued an injunction, then all parties, including the Police, are bound to obey the order …"
In July 2006 the appeals court in Ostrava upheld a lower court ruling imposing a fine on Bohumin municipality for ceasing to supply hot water to the "Hotelovy Dum" during the winter months of 2005-2006.
In June 2005, Bohumin officials informed the approximately 250 inhabitants of the "Hotelovy Dum" that, following expiry on June 30 of their rental contracts, they would have to leave. The majority of those affected were Romani. Until issued with eviction orders, they had been long-term legal tenants of the building. Under intense pressure and harassment by officials, most residents left the building, despite having been provided with no reasonable alternative housing. However, four families, including the family of Mrs. Renata Scukova, stayed on and brought legal challenges against the evictions. The city retaliated by engaging a private security company to guard the hostel and block anyone but the residents from entering the building. Even close family members were not permitted access. The city then sent monthly bills to the families concerned for the security "service". In July 2005, this bill was CZK 76 549, or approximately 2 580 Euro, to be divided among the families. Mrs. Scukova's family's share of this and other bills, for the month of July alone, was CZK 27 802 (EUR 940). The city also cut off heat to the building during the winter, when outside temperatures plummeted to -25 C, putting at great risk the lives of the 16 remaining inhabitants, including several children.
As a result of these measures, Mrs. Scukova, who previously was a fastidious rent- and utilities-payer, accrued approximately CZK 110 000 of debt (EUR 3 710). She and her family will not be eligible for social housing in the Czech Republic until this debt is paid. She was also forced to endure the public humiliation of Bohumin officials regularly referring to her as a "non-payer" in the media as part of efforts to garner public support for evicting her into homelessness. In so doing, local officials inflamed anti-Romani sentiment by encouraging existing widespread stereotypes of Roma as abusing social benefits and not meeting their financial obligations.
The Bohumin municipality eventually succeeded in forcing all of the families from the hostel.
These racially discriminatory acts, as well as the failure by Czech authorities to secure the basic well-being of the persons concerned, has called into question the Czech Republic's compliance with a number of its international law obligations. A number of civil organizations, led by the Ostrava-based Life Together, therefore engaged to defend the families who had been targeted by the municipality. Organisations joining the action have included the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the European Roma Information Office (ERIO), the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Czech League of Human Rights. Public appeals sent in connection with the Bohumin events are available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2274 and http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2478.
The actions of the municipality are just the latest in a series of acts by Czech authorities at the local level aimed at and/or resulting in the racial segregation of Roma in the field of housing. The Czech government has repeatedly acknowledged this problem, but as yet has undertaken little if any effective measures to check or reverse this racial segregation.
In addition to action by non-governmental organisations, Czech public institutions including the Public Defender of Rights and the Human Rights Commissioner have intervened on behalf of the families.
The events surrounding Czech Police President Husak's apology involved efforts by several of these institutions to visit the families on 5 October 2005. On the evening in question, representatives of the European Roma Rights Centre (Claude Cahn), League of Human Rights (Gwendolyn Albert, Edita Stejskalova), Life Together (Kumar Vishwanathan), Deputy Public Defender of Rights Anna Sabatova and Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Svatopluk Karasek were refused entry to the hostel for more than five hours, despite having being invited onto the premises by residents. Despite being apprised of this illegal act on the part of the security guards, Bohumin police declined to intervene. In his apology, Police Chief Husak acknowledged that the police had been partial in their actions on behalf of the municipality, rather than performing the law enforcement which was their duty in the neutral manner required of them.
The Ostrava appeals court ruling and the apology issued by Czech Police President Husak constitute among the first tangible indications that the Bohumin municipality may yet be held accountable for the human rights violations it has perpetrated.