European Commission against Racism and Intolerance Issues Report on Slovakia
28 May 2004
On January 27, 2004, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) made public its Third Report on Slovakia. In the Executive Summary, ECRI noted, "[…] progress made in dealing with the problems of racism, intolerance and discrimination remains limited in many respects. Racially-motivated violence, including serious acts of police brutality, continues and too frequently meets with impunity, due to an insufficient application of the law. The Roma minority remains severely disadvantaged in most areas of life, particularly in the fields of housing, employment and education. Various strategies and measures to address these problems have not led to real, widespread and sustainable improvements, and the stated political priority given to this issue has not been translated into adequate resources or a concerted interest and commitment on the part of all the administrative sectors involved. Public opinion towards the Roma minority remains generally negative." Specifically, in its report, ECRI included the following Concerns and Recommendations in relation to the Romani community in Slovakia:
"54. […] the employment situation of Roma remains extremely difficult, with around 80% unemployment among Roma across the country and in some settlements up to 100% unemployment. Roma women face particular difficulties in finding employment, affected by double discrimination on the basis of their gender and their ethnic origin. It has been commented by non-governmental organisations that not enough has been done to deal with long-term unemployment nor to tackle the problem of discrimination in the labour market.
55. ECRI recommends that further efforts be made to improve the employment situation of the Roma community. It considers that, given the long-term and endemic nature of disadvantage on the labour market for Roma, special measures to place them in a position in which they can compete on an equal footing with members of the majority population in the employment market are necessary. […]
58. ECRI is very concerned that the situation as regards housing for many Roma communities remains grave, with large numbers of Roma living in settlements lacking even the basic amenities such as water, sanitation and electricity. The conditions are so critical in some settlements that there is a real threat of health epidemics, while it seems clear that the families - and particularly children - living under such conditions cannot possibly hope to participate in society on an equal footing in other areas of life such as education and employment.
59. Indications that local communities remain hostile toward Roma settling in their villages continue, and it is reported by the non-governmental sector that active opposition to housing initiatives has proved a serious barrier to the effective use of internationally and State-funded projects in this area. Most concrete projects to carry out measures set out in the most recent Strategy for the Solution of the Problems of the Roma National Minority (hereafter: "the Strategy") are still in the pilot phase, including urgent measures to construct social housing and improve infrastructure in the settlements. Moreover, it has been commented by the non-governmental sector that more efforts should be devoted to relocating Roma communities into the majority communities rather than improving settlements and building social housing, since this may actually perpetuate and increase segregation.
60. ECRI recommends that urgent measures be taken to improve the housing situation of Roma, and particularly to ensure that Roma families who are currently living without access to even basic amenities are provided with a decent standard of housing and infrastructure.
61. ECRI also stresses the need to address the problem of segregation of Roma communities from the majority community, and the attitudes on the part of the majority community which have contributed to such segregation, and considers that the principle objective of housing policy should be to allow Roma communities to live as a part of majority communities. […]
64. The extent to which members of the Roma community are without identity cards is unclear. The authorities have stated that problems can exist in cases when persons move to other municipalities and then experience difficulty in obtaining registration of their permanent residence from the municipality to which they have moved. Persons living on land without property rights or housing rental agreements also experience problems in obtaining registration. The lack of permanent residence in a given municipality may lead to difficulties in obtaining social and welfare benefits and other services. A draft law was prepared in 1998 to solve the problem of identity cards: this law was passed by Parliament but its date of application has been postponed three times, as apparently it has needed to be amended in the light of reforms in the public administration service.
65. Recent changes to the way in which social benefits are allocated are said to have impacted particularly negatively on members of the Roma community. The new definitions of material hardship for "subjective" or "objective" reasons, with lower benefits allocated for "subjective" reasons, have meant that many Roma are now receiving lower levels of payment; moreover, it has been commented by the non-governmental sector that the definitions of these categories leave a wide margin of discretion for social workers and other officials, and thus may allow for discriminatory application of the regulation in force. The non-governmental sector has also reported that some social assistance offices have used the threat of stopping the payment of all benefits to deter Roma from pursuing legal cases against them with a view to securing their rights.
66. Access of Roma communities to health care remains problematic. Many settlements are located at some distance from health care facilities, while at the same time the poor conditions prevailing in such settlements mean that the health status of Roma communities is threatened. Discrimination in health care, including practices such as segregating Roma from other patients in hospitals, is also a problem.
67. ECRI recommends that legislative or other measures should be taken to ensure that problems linked to the obtaining of residence and identity documents are resolved. It recommends that an early solution be found to the obstacle created by the uncertainty surrounding the rights to land on which Roma have settled, for example by granting such rights to the families in question. […]
69. ECRI recommends that measures be taken to ensure that Roma communities enjoy equal access to health care, including preventive health care such as vaccination programmes. ECRI also recommends awareness-raising and training among health care personnel to combat stereotypes and prejudices which can lead to discriminatory treatment of Roma patients. […]
72. […] the participation of Roma in public affairs at the national level remains limited. No Roma political party has achieved representation in Parliament despite the large size of the community in question, while, with a few notable exceptions such as the Plenipotentiary, few Roma hold positions in governmental structures. Their representation in other important societal elites such as the legal profession and judges is also extremely limited, although it is difficult to monitor such representation due to the prohibition of the collection of data based on ethnic origin.
73. As regards initiatives taken specifically to improve the position of the Roma, such as the Strategy, it has also been commented by the non-governmental sector that more needs to be done to ensure that Roma are consulted and involved in initiatives and projects involving them.
74. ECRI recommends that further emphasis be placed on ensuring that the Roma community is involved at all stages of the planning and implementation of measures which concern them, at as local a level as possible. In particular, the preparation and appointment of persons who can act as mediators between Roma communities and the authorities could be most opportune. ECRI stresses the importance of encouraging projects and initiatives which emanate from the Roma community itself, through the on-going provision of funding and the widening of successful projects to other areas."
"93. ECRI is very concerned by reports which came to national and international attention at the beginning of 2003 claiming that Roma women have, in recent years and on an on-going basis, been subject to sterilisations in some hospitals in Eastern Slovakia without their full and informed consent. [...]
96. ECRI is of the opinion that the possibility of sterilisations of Roma women without their full and informed consent necessitates immediate, extensive and thorough investigation. [...] in such investigations, attention should be focused not on whether a signed form can be produced, but on whether the women involved were fully informed of what they were signing and the actual implications of sterilisation. [...] It would also be necessary to ascertain the extent to which Roma women and women from the majority community may have received differential treatment, both as regards the issue of sterilisation and in general access to health care during pregnancy and birth.
97. Given the public and serious nature of the reports concerning sterilisations of Roma women without their full and informed consent, it is necessary to ensure that the investigation is seen to be as impartial and transparent as possible: the involvement of international experts might be valuable in this respect. [...]
98. [...] Clear, detailed and coherent regulations and instructions should thus be issued immediately to ensure that all sterilisations are being carried out in accordance with best medical knowledge, practice and procedures, including the provision of full and comprehensible information to patients about the interventions proposed to them.
103. [...] ECRI is extremely concerned to learn that high proportions of Roma children are still being channelled into special schools and that in fact in some settlements, there is no other school available. In some areas, up to 80% of Roma children attend special schools. Moreover, Roma parents are not always fully-informed concerning the different educational possibilities open to their children and may therefore concur with decisions to send their children to special schools believing that it is in the best interests of their child. The authorities have acknowledged that the tests and criteria used to determine which children should attend special schools are not satisfactory and that individual inspectors may be taking decisions which are not justified, and work is currently underway to devise new assessment techniques which are culturally-sensitive. [...]
106. ECRI recommends that immediate steps should be taken to end the over-representation of Roma children in special schools, including the preparation and implementation of culturally-fair assessment measures, training for teachers and other persons involved in assessment to ensure that they are making correct decisions, the integration of Roma children currently in special schools into the mainstream school system, and the provision of other schools in settlements where only special schools exist."
The full text of ECRI's Third Report on Slovakia is available on the Internet at: http://www.coe.int/t/E/human_rights/ecri/1-ECRI/2-Country-by-country_approach/Slovakia/Slovakia_CBC_3.asp#P273_33411. (ERRC)