UN Body's Review Provides Opportunity to Highlight Human Rights Emergency Facing Roma in Slovakia

17 July 2003

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the review body charged with monitoring states' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reviews Slovakia's compliance with the Covenant. The review provides an occasion to highlight the human rights emergency facing Roma in Slovakia.

Virulent racism, discrimination and racially motivated violence against Roma in Slovakia raise serious concerns about the Slovak Government's compliance with its obligations under the Covenant. Anti-Romani sentiment is pervasive in Slovakia, creating an environment in which Roma are extremely vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights. The Slovak Government has undertaken little to reduce or even acknowledge endemic anti-Romani sentiment. Indeed, some members of the Government have even appealed to racist sentiment in order to garner support, arguably contributing to the creation of a public culture in which abuses of the human rights of Roma are tolerated, and even encouraged.

An ERRC submission presented to the UN Human Rights Committee in advance of today's review details concerns which are sadly extensive:

  •  That Roma have suffered numerous acts of violence at the hands of both law enforcement and non-state actors, resulting in the death of the victims in a number of instances;
  • That Romani women have in recent years been subjected to coercive sterilisation in Slovak state hospitals;
  • That Romani children are educated in substandard segregated schools or classes, frequently in schools or classes for the mentally disabled;
  • That racial discrimination against Roma persists in nearly all sectors of social life;
  • That when Roma have sought redress for the human rights violations they have suffered, they have frequently been denied justice and in some cases even faced criminal charges in retaliation for their complaints;
  • And that serious concerns have been documented in recent years related to the ability of human rights defenders freely to pursue their work in Slovakia.

The ERRC has been monitoring of the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia since it first opened offices in 1996. Since then, the ERRC has conducted extensive independent human rights research in Slovakia, and has worked closely with a number Slovak non-governmental organisations to ensure quality fact-based human rights documentation. The ERRC additionally maintains a permanent human rights monitor, based in Kosice, as well as a legal monitor, based in Bratislava.

The ERRC submission to the UN Human Rights Committee presents extensive new research findings, including cases of coercive sterilisation of Romani women and statistics relating to the overrepresentation of Romani children in schools or classes for the mentally disabled. As documented by the ERRC, at some schools for the mentally disabled in Slovakia, during the 2002/2003 school year, every single pupil was Romani.

In the process of drafting the submission, the ERRC and the Bratislava-based non-governmental organisation League of Human Rights Activists organised a consultation meeting in Bratislava on April 28 with Romani activists and other human rights groups in Slovakia to solicit input and discuss issues related to the upcoming Human Rights Committee review. The ERRC was disturbed to learn at the meeting not only that none of the organisations present had been consulted during the drafting of the Government report to the Committee, but also that no one present knew whether a Slovak-language version of the report was publicly available.

A recent conference organised by the World Bank and the Open Society Institute held in Budapest, Hungary, June 30-July 1, 2003, heralded the inauguration by philanthropist George Soros of a "Decade of Roma Inclusion". In marked contrast to a number of governments in the region, the Slovak government failed to send its Prime Minister, emphasising again what many have noted repeatedly: That the Slovak government has failed to date to make clear to the international community as well as to the Slovak public that it is serious about addressing the very problematic human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia. Today's review by the UN Human Rights Committee provides an important opportunity to begin to change this state of affairs.

The full text of the ERRC submission is available on the Internet at: http://errc.org.



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