Landmark Housing Rights Victory for Roma in Slovakia - United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination finds Slovakia in Violation of International Law for Failing to Remedy Racial Exclusion of Roma; ERRC Urges Break with Policies of
22 March 2005
In a decision received 17 March 2005, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that Slovakia had violated three provisions in the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in a housing discrimination case. The ruling clarifies unequivocally that policies aiming to keep Roma in substandard slum settlements or resulting in such severe discrimination violate international law, and tolerance of such acts by public officials cannot stand.
On 20 March 2002 the councillors of the Dobsina municipality approved a plan to construct low-cost housing for the Romani inhabitants of the town. About 1,800 Roma live in Dobsina, many in appalling conditions without drinking water, raw sewage removal or drainage, and in very poor quality huts. The Dobsina chairman of the Real Slovak National Party, one of several political parties in Slovakia with tacit or explicit anti-Romani platforms, together with four other nationalists, organised a petition aimed at stopping the housing plan as they did not want any more Roma living in Dobsina. They presented this petition to the municipal council, which proceeded to vote to cancel the earlier decision to build social housing and agreed a resolution that included an explicit reference to the racist petition.
Roma from Dobsina asked the District Prosecutor to investigate the legality of the municipal council's actions. The Prosecutor refused. They applied to the Slovak Constitutional Court, which also refused to consider the merits of their claim. A number of Romani individuals from Dobsina, together with their legal representatives, the European Roma Rights Centre and the Slovak NGO League of Human Rights Advocates, then brought their claim before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
In its Opinion on the case, the CERD held that "in complex contemporary societies the practical realization of, in particular, many economic, social and cultural rights, including those related to housing, will initially depend on and indeed require a series of administrative and policy-making steps by the State party's competent relevant authorities ... The Committee considers that the council resolutions in question, taking initially an important policy and practical step towards realization of the right to housing followed by its revocation and replacement with a weaker measure, taken together, do indeed amount to the impairment of the recognition or exercise on an equal basis of the human right to housing".
The Committee found Slovakia in breach of its obligations under international law not to engage in any act of racial discrimination and to ensure that all public authorities act in conformity with this obligation. It also found Slovakia in breach of its obligation to guarantee the right to everyone of equality before the law in the enjoyment of the right to housing. In addition, "…having established the existence of an act of racial discrimination, it must follow that the failure of the [Slovak] courts to provide an effective remedy discloses a consequential violation of the Convention". The CERD held that Slovakia must provide the Roma from Dobsina with an effective remedy, in particular, it must take measures to ensure that the Roma from Dobsina "are placed in the same position that they were in upon adoption of the first resolution by the municipal council [to build low-cost housing]."
ERRC Acting Executive Director Claude Cahn said, "This decision appropriately and importantly clarifies to the Slovak Government -- as to all governments -- that breaches of international anti-discrimination law in housing policy-making and planning cannot and will not stand. We hope the Slovak government will hear the decision as a wake-up call to finally act to the extent required to end the stone-age conditions in which several tens of thousands of Roma currently live in Slovakia, and once and for all to bring Slovak Roma with equal dignity into the 21st century."
For further information on the case, please contact Alan Anstead at ERRC (Alan.Anstead@errc.org) or Columbus Igboanusi at the League for Human Rights Advocates (email@example.com).
A comprehensive summary of racial exclusion issues facing Roma in Slovakia is available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=1999.
Documentation and legal action in Dobsina were part of a comprehensive housing rights project in Slovakia undertaken with the generous support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government.