Statement of the ERRC OSCE Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues
21 November 1997
November 21, 1997, Warsaw: First, a comment on the organisation of this meeting. It is the position of the ERRC that the situation of Roma constitutes by far the most serious human rights problem in Europe as a whole, and that discussion of the situation of Roma consequently belongs in other sessions as well. We are surprised by the reaction to the intervention of the IHF earlier this morning, which dealt with Slovak Roma in the context of national minorities. Roma are a national minority in Slovakia, and there is no reason for Slovak Roma to be considered irrelevant to the debate simply because there is a specific item devoted to them elsewhere. The procedure of this meeting has effectively sidelined Roma into a few designated hours. We do not believe that this corresponds to the original intentions of the OSCE Participating States in establishing a separate item for Roma and Sinti.
The ERRC will use this intervention to refer to the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic and to the situation of Romani applicants for asylum in the United Kingdom.
The positive assessment of the situation of Roma that we heard from the Czech delegation this morning does not, unfortunately, correspond to the reality continuously and closely monitored by the ERRC in that country. In no other country researched by the ERRC do we observe such high levels of racism and discrimination against Roma at all levels of public and political life. The amendments to the Penal Code made in 1995 have not led in practice to greater effectiveness in prosecuting racially-motivated crime.
We feel obliged to point out the factual inaccuracies in the Czech delegation intervention concerning the attack on Roma in a train, which occurred two years ago, and not this summer as the delegate said. While it is true that the original decision denying racial motivation has just been overturned by the Supreme Court, the Minister of Justice made her appeal not immediately, as was stated, but in the last possible week for appeal, and after considerable attention from the press and from Romani activists. Secondly, it is not true that the District Court judge was dismissed. Judge Perina continues to sit in Hradec Kralove District Court and to judge criminal cases.
The excellent speech by Mrs. Verspaget for the Council of Europe referred to the announcement by Viktor Dobal, Deputy Minister without Portfolio, at the CLRAE conference in Pardubice a month ago. Mr. Dobal claimed that all remaining problems with the Czech Law on Citizenship would be eliminated by the end of the year. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as the measures announced by Mr. Dobal, which constitute only an internal directive of the Minister of the Interior and not a change in the law itself, deal only with the requirement of a clean criminal record. Other aspects of this law that has prevented Roma from obtaining Czech citizenship remain unchanged.
The Czech Republic has an effectively segregated school system as a result of disproportionate allocation of Roma to special schools for the mentally retarded. Currently, between 50% and 80% of Romani children pass through this special school system. The ERRC cautiously welcomes the fact that three weeks ago the Czech government finally accepted the Council for Nationalities's Report on the Situation of Roma in the Czech Republic, along with recommendations for policy change. The recommendations to the Ministry of Education are ones for which Romani organisations have campaigned for a very long time.
However, the report raises serious questions: with one exception, the recommendations for the Ministry of Education do not include budget provisions. There have been many examples of excellent experimental projects running suddenly into crisis as a result of seemingly arbitrary decisions by local authorities to cut funding; the government claims municipal and school autonomy as an excuse.
Finally, and most critically, will the recommendations in the report actually be brought into effect? The process by which the report was accepted was very peculiar: the government rejected it in September, then suddenly accepted substantially the same document at the end of October, at the height of fears about British reimposition of visa requirements. It remains necessary to monitor closely the situation of Roma in the Czech Republic, to see the extent to which report recommendations become effective policy and practice. We urge that this remain among the concerns of the OSCE Human Dimension.
Next, a few comments about Czech and Slovak Romani applicants for asylum in the United Kingdom. The ERRC is extremely concerned about declarations by the British government that all evidence suggests that the majority of such applications are based on bogus claims. The ERRC would like to know which evidence the British government is referring to: both the Czech and Slovak Republics fail to protect Roma from racist violence. In both countries, current legislation is inadequate to prevent or punish discrimination in schools, in employment, in housing and in public places. We are concerned that the reaction of the British government evidences a group negative decision in the cases of Czech and Slovak Roma, and urge the British authorities to ensure that asylum applications are treated individually. In particular, we note that the wording of decisions to impose custody makes it clear that the current practice, according to which many male heads of families are now in Rochester Jail, is the result of premature group negative decisions; such custody decisions are designed more to scare asylum-seekers out of the country than to ensure compliance with asylum procedure. Finally, we urge the British authorities to regularise the position of the 40 Czech Roma now in Calais, who were allegedly expelled from Britain as a result of misinformation about the asylum procedure.