UN Committee Against Torture reviews Slovakia and the Czech Republic
15 August 2001
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued Conclusions and Recommendations concerning the compliance of Slovakia and the Czech Republic with the provisions of the Convention Against Torture on May 11, 2001, and May 14, 2001, respectively. The Committee was highly critical of both countries as regards the situation of Roma. In drawing their conclusions on Slovakia's compliance, the Committee expressed concern about "[a]llegations of instances of police participation in attacks on Roma [...] as well as allegations of inaction by police and law enforcement officials who fail to provide adequate protection against racially motivated attacks [...] by skinheads or other extremist groups." This conclusion followed a statement during the review session by Ms Felice Gaer, the Committee member who acted as rapporteur to Slovakia, that she had received information about acts of torture of Roma at the hands of law enforcement officials, that the authorities had failed to carry out adequate investigations of such actions and that the police failed to protect Roma from the violence of fellow citizens. Concern was also expressed at the excessive force used by police officers during interrogations aimed at securing confessions and at the phenomenon of "self-inflicted" wounds appearing during periods in police custody; Ms Gaer noted that this was particularly pertinent to Romani detainees.
As regards the adherence of the Czech Republic to their commitments under CAT, the Committee expressed concern about police abuse of Roma, the failure to extend to them the full protection of the law, and the failure to investigate crimes against Roma effectively. The Committee noted "continuing incidents of discrimination against Roma, including by local officials, and particularly about reports of degrading treatment by the police [...], continuing reports of violent attacks against Roma and the alleged failure of the police and judicial authorities to provide adequate protection, and to investigate and prosecute such crimes, as well as the lenient treatment of offenders." In response to questions concerning the treatment of Roma in the Czech Republic by members of the CAT, a delegation member replied that, whereas other minority groups shared the values and lifestyle of Czechs, "the only problem the Government encountered concerned the Roma minority." These problems were attributed to the "cultural differences [and] social behaviour" of the Romani population. The delegation also informed the Committee that, although the Czech Government had made the education of Romani children a priority, "the problem was that education did not represent a value for the Roma." This failure of Roma to value education was given by the Czech delegation as a reason for the large numbers of Romani children in remedial schools for the mentally handicapped. ERRC field research in the Czech Republic revealed systematic racial segregation in the Czech schooling system, precluding Romani children from being able to realise the right to education. Racial segregation in Czech schools is the subject of the 1999 ERRC Country Report, A Special Remedy: Roma and Schools for the Mentally Handicapped in the Czech Republic, available at www.errc.org, as well as of on-going ERRC legal action before the European Court of Human Rights.
In other news pertaining to human rights monitoring bodies, on April 3, 2001, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, an expert organ of the Council of Europe, issued reports detailing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance in five Council of Europe countries: Albania, Austria, Denmark, "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and the United Kingdom. The reports belong to the second monitoring round of member States' law, policies and practices to combat racism, examining the implementation of proposals made by ECRI in the previous report. While the Commission recognised that all five had made positive improvements, areas of concern were found in each of the five. Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom encountered criticism for the lack of effective provisions to protect those affected by racism and for attitudes towards immigrants and asylum-seekers. In their examination of Albania, ECRI highlighted the fact that "negative prejudices and stereotypes exist particularly to Roma." Macedonia was criticised for a widespread failure to recognise and confront racism and discrimination. The reports are available in full at ECRI's website: www.errc.org.