UN HR Comm deeply concerned about the Czech government's treatment of Roma
15 August 2001
Veronika Leila Szente Goldston1
In July 2001, on the occasion of the UN Human Rights Committee's2 examination of the Czech Republic's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ERRC submitted written comments documenting that Roma in the Czech Republic continue to be the victims of a wave of racially-motivated violence and pervasive racial discrimination in virtually all spheres of public life3.
In its submission, ERRC demonstrates that the Czech government has failed to comply with its obligations under the Covenant to prevent, punish and remedy the widespread abuse systematically perpetrated against Roma, both by state authorities and by private actors. In particular, the submission highlights the following areas of concern:
As to Article 2 (requiring states to provide victims an effective remedy), notwithstanding the numerous breaches of the Covenant perpetrated against Roma in the Czech Republic, protection is lacking or ineffective, and remedies non-existent or inadequate. In the overwhelming majority of cases monitored by the ERRC, the judicial system continues to render inadequate decisions, in particular by failing to take into account racial motivation even where evidence has clearly shown that the victims were attacked only because they were Roma. As a result, countless Romani victims of human rights abuse remain without redress.
As to Articles 6 and 7 (requiring states to protect the right to life and prohibiting torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment respectively), Roma are the victims of an unchecked wave of racially-motivated violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities, skinheads and others. In 1998 alone, skinheads killed at least two Roma in the Czech Republic and violent attacks against Roma, including women and minors, continue to be reported at an alarming rate. Law enforcement authorities, meanwhile, systematically fail to provide effective protection to Roma.
As to Article 14 (requiring states to ensure that all persons are equal before the courts and tribunals), Roma are discriminated against in the judicial system, both as victims pursuing justice for violations perpetrated against them (their complaints are not adequately investigated and prosecuted), and in the capacity of defendants (they are subjected to pre-trial detention more often and for longer periods of time than non-Roma, and receive disproportionately severe sentences). As a result, the Covenant's right to equal treatment before law enforcement and judicial authorities rings hollow for Roma.
As to Article 20 (requiring states to prohibit incitement to racial discrimination, hostility or violence), in failing to acknowledge and condemn widespread anti-Roma policies, practices and attitudes, government authorities have undertaken insufficient efforts to ensure effective implementation of legislation prohibiting dissemination of racism and incitement to racial discrimination. Prominent public officials have continued to disseminate racist speech targeting Roma, thereby encouraging racism rather than combating it.
As to Article 26 (requiring states to prohibit discrimination and guarantee equality before the law and equal protection of the law), notwithstanding Constitutional provisions guaranteeing equality, the government has failed to ensure Roma equal protection of the law. Roma suffer widespread discrimination, amounting in some areas to racial segregation, in virtually all fields of public life, most egregiously and systematically, education, housing, employment, and access to public accommodations, while legal prohibitions against racial discrimination remain inadequate and provide for ineffective remedies. The problem of insufficient legislative provisions aimed at combating racial discrimination is further compounded by the failure to ensure effective implementation of those few legislative prohibitions which do exist.
ERRC's concerns with regard to the Czech government's compliance with the Covenant were illustrated with concrete cases providing evidence of recent and repeated violence and discrimination against Roma.
In view of the serious deficiencies addressed in the submission, ERRC recommended that the Czech government adopt a comprehensive body of legislation prohibiting discrimination in all fields of public life and providing civil, criminal and administrative remedies for breach thereof; establish an effective enforcement body empowered both legally and through the provision of adequate resources to effectively secure full compliance with the new law; abolish the practice of race-based educational segregation of Romani children in special schools; investigate promptly and impartially incidents of racially-motivated violence against Roma and duly prosecute perpetrators of such crimes, whether committed by law enforcement officers or private parties; adopt effective measures to prevent and punish manifestations of racial bias in the judicial system; conduct systematic monitoring of access of Roma and other minorities to education, housing, employment, health-care and social services, and establish a mechanism for collecting ethnic data in these fields; and at the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.
In addition to the ERRC, the Prague-based "Counselling Centre for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights" and the Geneva-based "World Organisation Against Torture" also provided comprehensive written contributions on the occasion of the Committee's review of the Czech Republic.
ERRC's and its partner organisations' concerns were well reflected in the resulting Concluding Observations concerning the Czech Republic, issued by the Human Rights Committee towards the conclusion of its three-week session in Geneva. The Committee said its was "deeply concerned about discrimination against minorities, particularly the Roma," and concluded that "[t]he steps taken by the State party to improve the […] conditions of the Roma do not appear to be adequate to address the situation and de facto discrimination persists." It requested the Czech government to take all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination against members of minorities, particularly the Roma, and to enhance the practical enjoyment of their rights under the Covenant," and asked to be provided with "full details on policies adopted and their results in practice."
The Committee also expressed "particular concern about the disproportionate number of Roma children who are assigned to special schools designed for mentally disabled children, which would seem to indicate the use of stereotypes in the placement decisions in contravention of […] the Covenant" and called upon the government to "take immediate and decisive steps" to eradicate what it termed "the segregation of Roma children in its educational system."
The Committee further noted the inadequacy of existing legislation prohibiting discrimination and requested the government to "adopt measures to ensure the effectiveness of existing legislation against discrimination" as well as to "adopt further legislation in fields not covered by the current legislation in order to ensure full compliance with […] the Covenant." Specific fields identified by the Committee as lacking legal protection in this regard included education, health care, housing and the provision of goods and services.
Among the Committee's "principal subjects of concern and recommendations" to the Czech government were also the following:
- "the failure on the part of the police and judicial authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish hate crimes," with respect to which the Committee called upon the government to "take all necessary measures to combat racial violence and incitement, provide proper protection to Roma and other minorities, and ensure adequate investigation and prosecution of cases of racial violence and incitement to racial hatred;"
- "the persistent allegations of police harassment, particularly of the Roma minority and aliens," with a corresponding recommendation to undertake "firm measures to eradicate all forms of police harassment of aliens and vulnerable minorities;"
- the fact that "complaints against police are handled by an internal police inspectorate, while criminal investigations are handled by the Interior Ministry which has overall responsibility for police," a system the Committee termed as "lack[ing] objectivity and credibility and would seem to facilitate impunity for police involved in human rights violations." The Committee requested the government to "establish an independent body with authority to receive and investigate all complaints of excessive use of force and other abuses of power by the police;"
- "the lack of independent mechanisms for monitoring the practical implementation of rights." While "welcoming the creation of the institution of the Ombudsman for investigating individual complaints," the Committee noted that "his or her powers are limited to recommendations covering the public sector," and that "the Commissioner for Human Rights is a government official and the Council of Human Rights an advisory body" with "no mandate to deal with individual complaints relating to human rights." In view of these deficiencies, the Committee asked the government to "adopt measures to establish effective independent monitoring mechanisms for implementation of Covenant rights, particularly in the area of discrimination;"
- the "apparently low level of awareness amongst the public of the provisions of the Covenant and the Optional Protocol procedure." In this regard, the Committee emphasised the obligation of the government to "publicise the provisions of the Covenant and the availability of the individual complaints mechanism provided in the Optional Protocol" as well as "the present examination of its initial report by the Committee, and, in particular, these concluding observations."
Finally, pursuant to the Committee's rules of procedure, which authorise requests for additional information on specific issues which state reports fail to adequately address, the Committee asked the Czech government to "forward information within twelve months on the implementation of the Committee's recommendations regarding [inter alia] special schools […] and the investigation of complaints against police officials." As to the "information concerning the remainder of [the Committee's] recommendations," it clarified that these should be included in the second periodic report, due on August 1, 2005.
ERRC welcomes the Committee's strongly-worded Concluding Observations on the Czech government's compliance with international human rights standards. The fact that a UN Committee not specialised in racial discrimination focused almost exclusively on the plight of Roma when examining the Czech government's record confirms that their treatment remains the single most disturbing human rights problem affecting that country. The government must now undertake urgent action to remedy the many shortcomings identified by the Committee and bring the Czech Republic into compliance with international law.
- Veronika Leila Szente Goldston is Advocacy Director of the ERRC.
- The Human Rights Committee is a United Nations body charged with responsibility for overseeing compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Covenant was ratified by the Czech Republic, as successor state to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, in 1993. Composed of eighteen internationally-recognised experts, the Committee reviews state implementation of the Covenant through a reporting procedure which obliges governments to submit reports on a periodic basis. The July session marks the first time that the Committee has reviewed a report submitted by the Czech government.
- “Written Comments of the European Roma Rights Center Concerning the Czech Republic, For Consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Committee at its 72nd Session, July 11-12, 2001.” The full text of the ERRC written comments to the HRC concerning the Czech Republic is available on Internet at http://www.errc.org/publications/legal/index.shtml, or from ERRC upon request. Additional information on the Roma in the Czech Republic is available at http://www.errc.org/publications/indices/czechrepublic.shtml.