Czech activists win government commitment to Romani programme; racist violence against Roma continues unabated
15 July 1999
Roma rights activists scored a victory in the Czech Republic when on April 7, 1999, the Czech government adopted Resolution No.279, „On the Conception of Government Policy Towards Members of the Romani Community, Assisting Their Integration into Society". The Resolution adopts a Proposal of the same title, which includes a twelve-point programme, including explicit commitment to the following:
- combating all forms of discrimination for the reasons of race, nationality, ethnic origin, or colour of skin;
- a form of affirmative action;
- explicit recognition of the Roma as a national minority of the Czech Republic;
- integration in schooling;
- multicultural education;
- support for Romani language and culture;
- participation in the affairs of government;
- advisory centres offering legal and social counselling;
- reduction of Romani unemployment.
The Resolution set a deadline of April 30, 1999, for the creation of a specialist group for the elaboration of the „Conception"; a deadline of December 31, 1999, for the group to present draft resolutions of new legislation before parliament; and a deadline of December 31, 1999, for the „removal of possible disadvantages of members of the Romani community". Romani and non-Romani human rights activists are now left the task of bringing pressure to bear on the specialist group to ensure that their agenda is realised and properly funded. On June 29, Czech government Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Petr Uhl criticised the government of which he is a part for implementing the resolution too slowly.
Racially motivated violence against Roma in the Czech Republic continues. On June 15, Mladá Fronta Dnes reported that unknown perpetrators had twice attacked flats inhabited by Roma in the area of the town of Tanvald in the northern Czech Republic. During the weekend of June 12-13, unknown persons threw two molotov cocktails at the window of a flat known to be inhabited by Roma in the village of Plavy, near Tanvald. One of the bottles exploded just under the window of the flat. The second landed in the flat where a Romani woman was sleeping with her three children. All escaped without injury and the fire was extinguished by a fire brigade and inhabitants of the house. During the previous week, police investigators told the ERRC that on the night of June 4, unknown persons threw a molotov cocktail through the window of a flat occupied by the Romani family of Mr Josef Kino in Tanvald proper. In the latter attack, a curtain caught fire, but this was extinguished by the owner of the flat. No one was injured in either incident. Police had made no arrests and had no suspects as of June 14. Police refused either to rule out a racist motive in the attack or to conclude that the crimes had been racially motivated. The mayor of Tanvald, Mr Polák, told the ERRC on June 23 that Mr Kino had previously been attacked in the summer of 1998, and had therefore been moved to a new flat. Police investigators told the ERRC that they had no record of the earlier attack. Municipal police spokesperson Jirí Pelc rejected the idea that Tanvald was witness to an outbreak of racist violence with the assertion that, „There is an on-going situation here."
Many recent and older cases of racially motivated violence against Roma remain without remedy. On June 16, the Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes (MFD) reported that a second instance court in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava had returned the murder case of Mr Milan Lacko to the first instance court for retrial. Mr Lacko was killed on May 15, 1998, when skinheads beat him senseless and left him lying in a road where he was reportedly killed by a truck. In October 1998, the first instance court found four skinheads - 16-year-old David J., 20-year-old Petr D., 17-year-old Leoš F., and 17-year-old Pavel F. - guilty of damage to health and racially motivated damage to health under Articles 221(1) and 221(2b) and disturbing the peace under Article 202(1). The court handed down suspended sentences for all four men. MFD of June 16 quoted Mr Jirí Matoušek, the chairman of the appeal senate of the second instance court, as stating that the justification for its decision was deficiencies in the investigation.
On June 8, 9 and 23, 1999, a first instance regional court in the northern Moravian town of Bruntál conducted hearings in connection with the firebomb attack in January 1998 on the flat of 62-year-old Mr Milan Kovác. Mr Kovác's common law wife, 49-year-old Ms Emília Rigová was severely burned in the attack. Doctors in Ostrava fought for several weeks for her life. Three men, 19-year-old Mr Jan B., 18-year-old Mr Radek B., and 16-year-old Jaroslav B. are indicted for the crime of general danger to public safety under Penal Code Article 179(1); violence against a group or individual under Penal Code Article 196(2); and racially motivated intentional bodily harm under Penal Code Article 222(2)(b). Only one of the defendants, Jan B., was over 18 years of age at the time of the crime. All of the accused are in custody, according to the regional daily Den. Further hearings have been postponed until August 8.
Radio Prague reported on May 28 that the Czech Supreme Court had overruled the verdict of the High Court in Prague in the case of the 1993 drowning of a Romani youth named Tibor Danihel in the southern Czech town of Písek (see „Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, Autumn 1998). The High Court had annulled verdicts by a regional court in the southern Czech town of Tábor in January 1999 which had sentenced three skinheads to 8.5, 7.5 and 7 years respectively. Witnesses state that approximately forty skinheads took part in the 1993 killing. The case now returns to the High Court for retrial.
In other Czech news, on May 26, the government issued a resolution stating its opposition to the construction of a wall between non-Romani houses and a primarily Romani housing estate on Maticní street in the northern Czech city of Ústí nad Labem (see „Snapshots from Around Europe", Roma Rights, Summer 1998). On May 28, the ERRC sent a letter to Prime Minister Miloš Zeman, urging his government to prohibit construction of the wall. On June 6, Radio Prague reported that Ústí nad Labem city hall had received „dozens of letters" from all over the Czech Republic in support of construction of the wall. On June 17, the Czech media reported that, although the city had earlier planned to construct a „ceramic fence", it now intended to put up a high concrete barrier. On June 30, Radio Prague reported that the chairperson of the Ústí nad Labem city council, Mr Leoš Nergl, had cancelled the decision to build the wall and requested that Czech parliament render a decision on this issue.
Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA), Roma Section in the southeastern city of Brno reported to the ERRC that a non-Romani member of HCA was witness to an incident on May 29, 1999, in which a guard at the swimming pool in Dobrovského street in Brno demanded health certificates from each member of a Romani family queuing at the swimming pool before he would allow them in to bathe. As no one in the family could produce the requested certificate, they were not allowed in to bathe. The guard was not requesting similar documents from non-Roma in the queue. When members of the family protested that they had bathed at the swimming pool in the past without showing health documents, the guard reportedly responded that now there is a new set of rules whereby Roma can only be let into the pool after showing a certificate documenting their good health.
In other news pertaining to discrimination in the provision of public services, police informed the ERRC on April 28 that they had closed investigation without bringing charges in relation to a complaint filed when Romani consultants of the ERRC were refused service at a bar called Klub Vegas in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava. The ERRC has appealed the decision.
(Den, ERRC, HCA, Mlada Fronta Dnes, Romano Hangos, Radio Prague)