Mayor Expels Roma from a Village in Slovakia in the Aftermath of Violent Racist Attacks
28 May 2004
On March 3, 2004, according to information provided by the Bratislava-based non-governmental organisation League of Human Rights Advocates (LHRA), the Romani families Šarkozi and Malik from the village of Záhorská Ves in western Slovakia, were told by police officers that they had to leave the village and were escorted by the police outside the village. By that time, the members of the two families - sixteen people, including seven children, who had been subjected to two racist attacks and the destruction by fire of their dwellings -- were living in the house of a relative in Záhorská Ves. In the period after the second attack on the families in December 2003, according to testimonies of the members of the families to the ERRC, they had been subjected to coercion on the part of the municipal authorities of Záhorská Ves to move out of the village. According to information provided by the LHRA, the mayor had undertaken a number of illegal actions in order to expel the Romani families from the village. Moreover, the mayor had threatened staff members of the LHRA in order to prevent them from interfering in the case and helping the two Romani families with accommodation in Záhorská Ves.
According to field research carried out independently by the ERRC and LHRA, on September 25 and December 25, 2003, masked assailants brutally assaulted two Romani families in the western Slovak village of Záhorská Ves. According to the testimony of Ms Olga Šarkoziová, a 56-year-old Romani resident of Záhorská Ves, at around 9:00 PM on September 25, 2003, approximately seven men wearing facemasks jumped over the fence surrounding the homes of her family and the Romani family Malik and attacked members of both families with baseball bats and other unidentified objects. According to their medical reports, Olga suffered a concussion and injury to her left arm, her husband Stefan had his arm broken, and sustained contusions to his skull and abrasions to his forehead, her son Roman had a broken arm, and her son Josef suffered a concussion. The Šarkoziová underwent six weeks of medical treatment for their injuries.
Later in the year, at about 8:30 PM on December 25, 2003, nine men wearing facemasks, shouting racial slurs again violently attacked the two families with baseball bats, iron bars and truncheons, according to the testimony of Mr Roman Malik. The perpetrators destroyed the belongings of the families, then poured inflammable liquid substances throughout the houses and set them on fire. Roman Malik Jr, a 2-year-old infant, sustained third degree burns to 25 percent of his body according to his medical certificate because his parents were unable to pull him from the house in time. The buildings and properties, including the personal documents of the Roma were completely destroyed in the fire. The attackers then moved to the home of Mr Josef Zeman, a Romani man living nearby, and attacked his family, breaking windows and doors in the house.
Threats by the Mayor
In the aftermath of the attacks, the village council provided the Romani families with temporary accommodation between January 8 and 31, 2004. On January 31, 2004, the mayor of Záhorská Ves, Mr Boris Simković, ordered that the mobile homes be taken away from the Romani families. A couple of days prior to that, the mayor had asked in writing Dr Columbus Igboanusi of the LHRA to assist the village council in relocating the Šarkoziová and Malik families to the village of Kubanova, over 350 kilometres away, because the affected families "are the worst Roma in the village and that nobody wants them in the village, even their own close relatives." Following consultation with the Šarkozi and Malik families, who wanted to remain in Záhorská Ves where they had been born and had lived all their lives, the LHRA refused the mayor's request and offered to provide the families with temporary housing on the site of their former homes and to assist in rebuilding their homes. Mayor Simković rejected this proposal on the grounds that there was no space and the families had no land in the village. During a telephone call to the LHRA on January 27, Mayor Simković threatened that any mobile homes brought to the village would be immediately destroyed. Members of the illiterate Zeman family claim to have been threatened with violence by Mayor Simković and his acquaintances should they get involved in the case, and on February 5 members of the Zeman family sent a typed letter to the LHRA requesting that its representatives not go to their home anymore or get involved in their affairs. The LHRA also informed the ERRC that Mayor Simković threatened members of its staff with violent repercussions should they continue their involvement in the case during telephone conversations on two separate occasions.
Coercion and Fraud
On January 27, Mayor Simković registered the land at Plot 310/4 Polna Street (the location of the Šarkozi and Malik homes before they were burned down) in the name of the Záhorská Ves Village Council at the Malacky District Registry Office. Prior to this action, Mr Stefan Šarkozi's ownership of the plot had not been registered in the official registry of the District; it had only been registered in the records of the Záhorská Ves Village Office. Like many other property owners, Mr Šarkozi had not registered his property in the system put in place following the end of Communism. Mayor Simković has denied Mr Šarkozi access to the village records in order to prove his ownership of the land. He has also reportedly approached a further five Romani families about purchasing their land; further Roma are apparently listed for expulsion from Záhorská Ves.
According to the LHRA, Mayor Simković has reportedly reached an agreement with the Malacky District Department of Social Affairs whereby it is to take into state custody the children of the families who refused to leave the village. On January 20, the Malacky District Court granted the Department of Social Affairs permission to take the children of Ms Olga Šarkoziová Jr into state custody. In addition, since he appropriated their land on January 27, Mayor Simković has refused the Šarkozi and Malik families access to the land and has employed coercive tactics to force them to leave the village.
On February 20, 2004, the ERRC met members of the two families who were living in the house of Ms Zaneta Šarkoziová, daughter of the Šarkozi family, and her husband. According to the testimony of Ms Olga Šarkoziová, on February 17, 2004, Mayor Simković called her and her husband to his office to sign a contract for the purchase of a house located in the village of Diva Sarkan, about 150 kilometres away from Záhorská Ves near the Hungarian border. The signing of the contract was done in the presence of two police officers and one guard. Ms Šarkoziová told the ERRC that they did not want to live in Diva Sarkan because it was too far from Záhorská Ves where their relatives live. The Šarkozis signed the contract for the purchase of the house because they felt intimidated by the mayor and were afraid for their security and for the security of their relatives.
That same day, twelve members of the Šarkozi and Malik families were taken on a bus, provided by the mayor, to Diva Sarkan. All family members with whom the ERRC spoke stated that they were very upset by the fact that they had been taken so far away. Moreover, they said the conditions in their new house were far from satisfactory. The house is located outside the village near a forest. The house itself was in bad condition: One window was broken and there was much rubbish in it. In addition, the people in the village spoke pre-dominantly Hungarian, which the Šarkozis do not speak. On the following day, February 18, the members of the Šarkozi and Malik families returned to Záhorská Ves and went to live in the house of Zaneta Šarkoziová. On the same day, according to the testimony of Zaneta, the mayor came to her house and told her that he would complain to the police that her relatives were still in Záhorská Ves.
Failure to Investigate the Racist Attacks
According to the LHRA, the Malacky District Police Department officially opened an investigation into both racially motivated attacks, but has not undertaken any actions in the investigation, despite its efforts to move the investigation along. On October 3, the LHRA filed a complaint with the Malacky police regarding the September attack and at the beginning of January 2004, filed a complaint regarding the December attack. After having called the victims to give testimony, the investigating officer, Captain Jan Paucik, and the head on-duty police officer, refused to allow the Romani victims to enter the police station, alleging that they carried infectious diseases as one of the children reportedly had Hepatitis. On January 21, 2003, the LHRA complained to Mr Jaroslav Spisak, vice-president of Slovak police, about the failure of Slovak police to properly investigate the attacks and requested that Mr Spisak ensure thorough investigation into the attacks.
On February 5, the Malacky District Police Department in-formed the LHRA that it had closed its investigation into the September attack due to a lack of evidence.
On February 12, 2004, the ERRC sent a letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulaš Dzurinda, expressing alarm at the situation in Záhorská Ves. The ERRC called on Prime Minister Dzurinda to ensure a thorough investigation into the racially motivated attacks, the actions of Mayor Simković and the police officers involved in the case and that individuals responsible for human rights violations be brought swiftly to justice. In a separate letter of concern addressed to the General Prosecutor of Slovakia, the ERRC requested a meeting with the General Prosecutor's Office to discuss the measures to be undertaken to guarantee the security of the two Romani families.
In response to the ERRC's letter of concern to Slovakia's Prime Minister, the Director of the Slovak Police and the Slovak Minister of Interior sent letters to the ERRC, dated March 24, 2004 and April 5, 2004, respectively. The letters, which have identical contents, provide information about the investigation into the attacks on the Romani families Šarkozi and Malik. According to the information provided by the Slovak authorities, as of April 5, two investigations are underway - one into the at tack of September 25, 2003 and another one into the attack of December 25, 2003. The investigators work on several versions of the attacks, including attacks by extremist groups and attacks by private security guards employed by the municipality. The letters do not provide information about an investigation into the alleged offenses committed by the Mayor of Záhorská Ves.
In addition, the Prosecutor General of Slovakia invited the ERRC to discuss the human rights situation of the two Romani families from Záhorská Ves on May 13, 2004. (ERRC, LHRA)