UN Racial Discrimination Supervision Body Convenes to Assess Czech Republic's Compliance with International Law
01 March 2007
Advocates Report on Roma Rights Concerns
Budapest, Ostrava. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has reviewed today Czech Republic's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). In advance of today's hearing, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), acting in cooperation with the Ostrava-based civic organisation Vzajemne Souziti, submitted written comments on racial discrimination concerns with regard to Roma in the Czech Republic.
Systematic monitoring of the overall human rights situation of Romani communities in the Czech Republic as well as recent targeted research carried out by the ERRC/Vzajemne Souziti indicate that government compliance with the ICERD is seriously flawed, among other things due to:
- Failure to give effect to the international ban on racial discrimination;
- Persistent racial segregation of Roma, especially in the fields of housing and education;
- Failure to act upon recommendations by the Czech Ombudsman and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with regard to practices of coercive sterilisation affecting Romani women;
Systematic discriminatory practice of removing Romani children from the care of their biological parents and placing them in state care.
The ERRC/Vzajemne Souziti submission elaborates the following concerns:
The government has not complied with its obligations under international race discrimination law to "prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation […] racial discrimination." The Czech legislature has yet to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law and most of the sectoral fields of the ICERD Convention remain to date unprotected by any form of actionable domestic law ban on racial discrimination. In practice, Roma in the Czech Republic are regularly subjected to discrimination in almost all aspects of their lives.
The submitting organisations are concerned that the government of the Czech Republic has failed to prevent, prohibit, and eradicate the racial segregation of Roma. This is especially evident in the field of education, where officials consistently deny equal access to Romani children, placing them in alarming numbers in segregated, substandard schools and classes. In addition to the inherent harms flowing from this practice, the racial segregation of Romani children in the Czech school system virtually ensures that Roma will remain, for the foreseeable future, a systemically excluded underclass. Additionally, a growing number of Roma live in socially excluded locations characterised by substandard conditions on the edges of towns, segregated from the rest of the population. Recent acts by a number of local officials in the Czech Republic have worsened this situation in a number of municipalities, and no acts of the national government have been effective in countering racially segregating forces in the field of housing.
Anti-Romani hate speech is a regular part of public discourse in the Czech Republic. Anti-Romani statements are a standard and often unquestioned part of public life, and officials as high-ranking as the Prime Minister and President, and also including local officials, have made anti-Romani statements or otherwise undertaken speech acts denigrating the dignity of Roma. Individuals are rarely if ever held accountable in cases in which anti-Romani statements are at issue.
Key sectoral fields covered by the international law ban on discrimination are infused with systemic discrimination against Roma. This submission notes a number of concerns in social and economic sectoral fields including education, employment, housing, health care, social assistance and child protection. Furthermore, authorities continue to fail to provide Roma and human rights defenders with adequate protection against racially motivated violence perpetrated by members and sympathisers of nationalist-extremist movements and other vigilante groups.
Finally, research by independent human rights groups including the ERRC and Vzajemne Souziti has revealed that Romani women have been subjected to coercive sterilisation in Czech hospitals for decades and as recently as 2004. In December 2005, the Czech Ombudsman concluded that "the problem of sexual sterilisation carried out in the Czech Republic either with improper motivation or illegally, exists, and Czech society has to come to terms with this". One year since the publication of the Czech Ombudsman's Final Statement and half-year since the CEDAW Recommendations, no high-level authority in the Czech Republic has made any public pronouncement on the matter. There is no indication that any governmental authority intends to act with the urgency required - if at all -- on these or any other recommendations existing on this issue.
As the substance of the submission elaborates, the ICERD Convention's guarantee that "States Parties shall assure to everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies, through the competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against any acts of racial discrimination which violate his human rights and fundamental freedoms contrary to this Convention, as well as the right to seek from such tribunals just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination" currently rings hollow for Roma in the Czech Republic. In the year 2006, there is near total impunity for racial discrimination against Roma, as well as for those who would frustrate Roma in their efforts to realise the Convention's substantive provisions.
The submission concludes with recommendations for the Czech government, intended to assist the Committee in bringing concluding observations with respect to the Czech Republic's compliance with the ICERD.
The full text of the ERRC/Vzajemne Souziti submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discirmination is available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2129.