United Nations CERD Finds Slovak Anti-Romani Municipal Ordinances Violate International Law
27 September 2000
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), in its recent 57th session, has found that municipal ordinances banning Roma in two Slovak villages violated provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination guaranteeing freedom of movement and residence. The applicant, a member of a legal defense foundation in the eastern Slovak town of Kosice, was represented by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC).
In 1989, members of seven Romani families who were permanent residents in the towns of N'agov and Rokytovce in Medzilaborce County, northeastern Slovakia, were forced from their homes when their employer an agricultural cooperative ceased operations. Two years later, in 1991, no village in the county would allow Roma to settle within its territory. In 1993, temporary dwellings built by some of the Roma were torn down, forcing them to flee. Their return to Medzilaborce in 1997 sparked a series of meetings by local political leaders, culminating in the passage of resolutions on July 9 (Rokytovce) and July 16 (N'agov) expressly stating that Roma were banned from settlement in the two municipalities. The Rokytovce resolution states that Roma who settle in the village would be "with the help of the village inhabitants, expelled [...]". The N'agov municipal council resolved "not to allow the Roma citizens [...] to enter the village of N'agov, or to settle in shelters in the district of the village."
Legal challenges brought to the Prosecutor General and to the Constitutional Court were unsuccessful, resulting in the filing of applications with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in December 1998 and with the European Court of Human Rights in March 1999. After the applications were filed with these international tribunals, the two municipalities held extraordinary meetings in April 1999 and revoked the resolutions, but did not acknowledge that the resolutions were illegal or provide any form of compensation to the victims. During the winter months of 1999-2000, according to reports by Slovak NGOs, a number of Roma from the municipalities concerned were camped in extreme conditions on the bank of a river in the nearby municipality of Cabiny. The ERRC complaint is currently pending with the European Court of Human Rights.
In its response to the ERRC action, Slovak authorities admitted to the CERD that the resolutions were unlawful, but argued that they had never been enforced against anyone. The Committee accepted the ERRCs argument that the point and effect of the resolutions was to deter Roma who might otherwise consider coming to those towns, and that this deterrence in itself interfered with their rights under the Convention. The Committee concluded that, although the wording of the resolutions referred explicitly to Roma previously domiciled in those municipalities, the context in which they were adopted clearly suggests that other Romas would have been equally prohibited from settling, which represented a violation of the Convention.
The Committee urged Slovakia to fully and promptly eliminate practices restricting the freedom of movement and residence of Roma under its jurisdiction. Copies of the decision are available from the ERRC.