UN and Council of Europe express concern about Roma Rights in Slovakia
03 October 2000
Recently United Nations and Council of Europe bodies monitoring racism and intolerance issued reports expressing concern about the situation of Roma in Slovakia on several counts: violence against the Romani community and allegations of poor response by police and prosecutors, segregation and discrimination in housing and schooling, and discrimination in employment and health care. The 57th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), held in August 2000, reported concern at the "persistence of acts of violence by groups, particularly skinheads, directed towards Roma and other ethnic minorities; and about allegations that the police and prosecutors had failed to investigate acts of racially-motivated violence promptly and effectively, and had been reluctant to identify racial motive behind attacks." The report stated that the number of charges and convictions were "low relative to the number of incidents reported; and that perpetrators of racial crime were often lightly punished." The Committee recommended that the Slovak government strengthen procedures for timely and thorough investigations and effective prosecutions against racist organisations, and that clear guidelines and instructions be developed to assist police and prosecuting authorities in identifying racially-motivated crimes.
The CERD also expressed concern that a disproportionately large number of Romani children were not enrolled in schools, had high drop out rates, did not complete higher education or were segregated and placed in schools for mentally disabled children. The Committee criticised segregation in settlement patterns, and particularly "the fact that two municipalities had issued decrees banning Roma from their territory and the duration of proceedings to lift them." Concern was expressed about the absence of legislation expressly prohibiting discrimination in employment, and the disproportionately large number of Roma suffering high mortality rates, poor nutrition levels, and low awareness of maternal and child health. Moreover, the Committee was concerned about poor access to clean drinking water, adequate sanitation, and high exposure to environmental pollution in Romani settlements. Among its recommendations, the Committee urged Slovakia to review legislation regulating local residence permits, to investigate promptly and thoroughly incidents of discrimination in access to housing, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that Roma enjoyed the full right to health and health care.
On June 27, 2000, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released a report detailing problems faced by the Romani community in Slovakia. The report stated that a "pressing problem in Slovakia is posed by racial violence and harassment, often perpetrated by skinheads against members of the Roma/Gypsy community [...] More alarming still is the apparent lack of police response to such incidents: in fact, several cases of reported violence against members of the Roma/Gypsy community have allegedly been carried out by police officers themselves." The ECRI report noted that police are reported to participate in raids and searches in Romani settlements, often without the appropriate legal authorisation, and to use violence in conducting such searches. The report stresses that immediate steps should be taken to investigate all alleged abuses and punish offenders. The report stated that "problems of implementation of the legislation in force are evident at all stages in the criminal justice system." For example, police are reportedly reluctant to record crimes as racially-motivated and unwilling to record the testimony of witnesses to skinhead attacks on Roma. Medical doctors are sometimes reluctant to describe accurately injuries sustained by Romani victims, while some lawyers are reportedly reluctant to represent Roma, for fear this would have a negative effect on their practice. ECRI also noted that signs of racism and intolerance are present in Slovak society and that certain political parties use openly racist discourse, and certain media continue to contribute towards prejudices and stereotypes as regards the Romani community.
ECRI reports that discrimination against Roma in the field of employment remains widespread. The unemployment rate in Romani communities ranges from 80 to 100 percent, compared to the national unemployment rate of 4 to 36 percent, depending on the region. ECRI suggests efforts to remedy this situation, including effective implementation of relevant legislative provisions against discrimination in employment, and increased access for Roma to education and specific training programs to qualify them for entry in various areas of employment. The report also expressed concern over discrimination in the area of housing. Ghetto-like Romani settlements, with poor living, health and safety standards, exist and are growing on the outskirts of some cities and towns.
ECRI's report stressed the crucial nature of overcoming discrimination in the field of education, "given the need to ensure that Roma/Gypsies can compete in terms of qualifications and skills with the majority population, and given the importance of empowering the Roma/Gypsy population to play an active role in determining its own future and to participate as an integral part of Slovak society." Of particular concern is the over-representation of Romani children in "special schools" for children with mental disabilities. Once placed in such schools it is almost impossible for Romani children to later integrate into mainstream schooling. The report noted with concern that Romani parents may not always be fully informed or involved in decisions involving their children. ECRI urged Slovak authorities to examine the placement of Romani pupils in special schools, and to ensure that testing procedures for entry into such schools are fair and fully evaluate the true capacities of each child. ECRI also stresses the importance of educational initiatives targeted at adult members of the Romani population and specially designed with their needs in mind. In conclusion, the ECRI report pointed out the "need to adopt a range of measures to combat discrimination and racism against the Roma/Gypsy community in all fields of life, and to empower this community to participate as an equal member of society; and the need to raise awareness among public servants and among the general public of the problems of racism and discrimination which exist in Slovakia." CERD additionally reviewed the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovenia during its August session. Information on CERD conclusions concerning the Czech Republic and Slovenia appear in other "snapshots" in this issue. Information on a recent ECRI report on Greece appears on pp.18-21.