Slovakia under review by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
12 November 2002
Today the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviews the Slovak Republic's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In the run-up to today's meeting, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent written comments to the Committee for consideration during its review. The ERRC submission documents widespread discrimination against Roma in Slovakia in the fields of employment, housing, and education.
On the occasion of the review, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said: "Slovakia has a new government and, from last week, that government has a programme. We eagerly await what the government will tell the Committee as to how it plans to address the very pressing issues facing Roma in the area of economic and social rights. We hope the Committee will use the occasion to secure real commitments from the Slovak government, such that the rights of Roma in Slovakia can finally be realised effectively."
Roma in Slovakia are caught in a vicious pattern of discrimination and disenfranchisement. Racial discrimination in access to education prevents Roma from acquiring basic skills, and discrimination in employment frequently denies Roma the possibility to earn a living. Many Roma live in inadequate -- often appalling -- housing conditions, and are sometimes even homeless. Local authorities often deny Roma registration as resident in municipalities, and in some instances have actually banned the entry of Roma into the territory of the municipality. In Slovakia, local residence is a condition for access to social assistance benefits, education and other services necessary for realising the rights protected by the Covenant; lack of such residence can mean effective exclusion from basic rights protection. Extreme poverty, compounded by poor environmental conditions and discrimination in access to health care and basic municipal services, seriously deteriorates the health of Slovak Roma, whose life expectancy is far below the national average.
The ERRC is aware of the efforts undertaken by the Slovak Government to comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as detailed in its report to the Committee. To date, however, these measures have been insufficient to ensure the effective implementation of the Covenant, particularly with regard to Articles 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, and 13.
As to Article 2 of the Covenant, the ERRC is concerned that Roma in Slovakia are subjected to discrimination when seeking to realize the rights protected by the Covenant. Slovakia lacks adequate anti-discrimination legislation, and Roma frequently fall victim to racial discrimination, notably in the sectoral fields of employment, housing, health, and education. The few existing legal provisions relating to discrimination are rarely if ever invoked, rendering the protections offered by them effectively illusory. The ERRC is particularly concerned about the recent withdrawal of draft comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation from consideration by Slovak Parliament.
As to Article 6, Roma in the Slovak Republic face unemployment rates at least four times the national average. Slovak employers routinely discriminate against Romani job applicants. The geographical isolation, educational segregation, and ghettoisation of the Romani population exacerbate the problem of unemployment. The Government's action to remedy the problem of unemployment among Roma has been grossly inadequate thus far.
As to Article 9, many Roma are denied access to or are inadequately covered by social assistance programmes. Direct as well as indirect discrimination bars Roma from full access to social assistance. Furthermore, alarming statements by public officials seem to condone and encourage discrimination in the sphere of social assistance.
As to Article 11, Roma face systemic discrimination in their right to adequate housing. Municipal authorities have openly sanctioned segregation or even expulsion from municipalities of Romani inhabitants. In addition, Roma often live in inadequate conditions in settlements and neighbourhoods without basic infrastructure or utilities such as waste removal, potable drinking water provisions, and/or electricity.
As to Article 12, Roma also face discrimination in the provision of health care by doctors, emergency care personnel, and hospital staff. Roma are often denied treatment on racist grounds, and hospitals reportedly segregate Romani patients from non-Roma. Additionally, the state of health of Roma in the Slovak Republic falls far below that of the average Slovak citizen. Life expectancy is over 10 years lower and infant mortality rates, as well as rates for most communicable disease, are markedly higher in the Romani population.
As to Article 13, Roma in Slovakia are denied equal access to education. Romani children frequently attend racially segregated classes or schools; in some instances, Romani children are segregated in schools for the mentally disabled. When Romani children attend regular schools, they offen suffer racial discrimination and humiliating treatment by both school staff and non-Roma.
Finally, the ERRC has identified the practice of local authorities refusing to register Roma as resident in municipalities as a central bureaucratic obstacle to the effective implementation of nearly all substantive rights protected by the Covenant, in particular by Articles 9, 11, 12 and 13. In many areas, despite having lived in a given location for generations, Roma are refused registration for permanent residence. This practice effectively precludes Roma from access to services fundamental for the realisation of basic social, economic and cultural rights.
In view of the above, the ERRC recommends that the Slovak Government undertake the following:
- Adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation by bringing Slovak law into conformity with the requirements of Council Directive irrespective of racial or ethnic origin\224. Ensure that the implementing body mandated by the Directive is strong, fully independent and adequately staffed and funded.
- Without delay, ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights.
- Without delay, ratify the revised Social Charter of the Council of Europe and make a declaration accepting the collective complaints procedure under Article D, paragraph 2 of Part IV of the revised Charter.
- Ensure effective remedy for cases of discrimination against Roma in the field of employment, housing, health care, and access to public goods and services.
- Implement a comprehensive school desegregation plan, such that all Romani children may fully realise the right to education. Without delay, end the practice of segregating Romani children into classes for mentally disabled children or other separate, substandard classes. Integrate all school-age Romani children into mainstream classes and, where necessary, design and implement adequately funded and staffed programmes aimed at easing the transition from segregated to integrated schooling.
- Design pre-school programmes for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling and to attain a level ensuring an equal start in the first class of primary school.
- Develop and implement catch-up or adult education programmes aimed at remedying the legacies of substandard education and non-schooling of
- Where instances of abuse in the school system are reported - abuse including exclusionary practices, physical and verbal assault, humiliating treatment, and failure by teachers and school administrators to protect Romani children from peer abuse - without delay, punish school authorities responsible, and implement measures aimed at preventing further abuse.
- Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture, and history in schools, and make them available to all schools, so that all children in Slovakia learn of the valuable contributions Roma have made to Slovak society.
- Without delay, implement effective desegregation measures in the fields of housing and health care.
- Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons actually residing in a given municipality, without regard to race.
- Provide security of tenure for residents of Romani communities and settlements, and protect the inhabitants from forced and arbitrary evictions, as well as segregationist local practices.
- Provide free legal aid to members of weak groups, including Roma and the indigent.
- At the highest level, speak out against the problem of anti-Romani sentiment and discrimination; at all levels, acknowledge and speak out against racism, racially motivated crime, patterns and practices of discrimination, and segregation. Address the root problem of anti-Romani racism in Slovakia by developing and implementing anti-racism curricula for schools and campaigns for the media, so as to address widespread negative attitudes against Roma and racism generally.
- Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for the national and local administration, state and private employers, labour offices staff, school officials, and health care providers.
- Proactively recruit qualified Roma for professional positions in the national and local administration, labour offices staff, health care providers, and school officials.
The full text of the ERRC submission is available on the Internet at: ERRC: International Advocacy .