ERRC Letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda Concerning Events in Zahorska Ves

13 February 2004

February 12, 2004, Budapest. The ERRC today sent a letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, expressing alarm at events in the village of Zahorska Ves in Western Slovakia, where in recent months Roma have been subjected to a number of serious human rights abuses, including violent racist attacks, destruction of property and threatened expulsion from the village by the local mayor. The ERRC called on Prime Minister Dzurinda to intervene to remedy abuses which have taken place and which are ongoing. The letter was copied to a number of other relevant Slovak authorities. The full text of the letter, including a description of the events of recent months in Zahorska Ves, follows:

Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is alarmed at reports it has received concerning the situation of Roma in the western Slovakia village of Zahorska Ves. According to documentation received by ERRC partner organisations, Roma in Zahorska Ves have recently been subjected to a number of serious human rights abuses, including violent racist attacks, destruction of property and threatened expulsion from the village by the local mayor.

According to information provided to the ERRC by its Bratislava-based partner organisation League of Human Rights Advocates (LHRA), which is providing legal representation to individuals involved in issues raised below, the situation of Roma in Zahorska Ves has deteriorated in recent months. The following outlines the most serious of the reported incidents and issues coming to the attention of the ERRC, as documented by the LHRA:

Violent Racist Attacks Against Roma
According to the testimony of Ms Olga Sarkoziova, the 56-year-old Romani resident of Plot 310/4 on Polna Street, Zahorska Ves, at around 9:00 PM on September 29, 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. The Sarkozi and Malik families comprise 16 people in total, including 7 children and one pregnant woman, all of whom were beaten during the assault. According to Mr Stefan Sarkozi, Ms Sarkoziovas 59-year-old husband, a medically certified invalid pensioner, one of the assailants took out a handgun and shot the screen of their television, causing it to explode. Ms Sarkoziova, Mr Sarkozi, and their sons - Mr Roman Sarkozi, aged 28, and Mr Josef Sarkozi, 25 - were seriously injured during the attack. According to their medical reports, Olga suffered a concussion and injury to her left arm, Stefan sustained a broken arm, contusions to his head and abrasions to his forehead, Roman sustained a broken arm, and Josef suffered concussion. The Sarkozis underwent 6 weeks of medical treatment for their injuries.

Later in the year, at about 8:30 PM on December 25, 2003, nine men wearing facemasks again jumped over the gate into the compound and violently attacked the inhabitants with baseball bats, iron bars and truncheons, according to the testimony of Mr Roman Malik. The perpetrators destroyed the belongings of the three families, then poured inflammable liquid substances throughout the houses and set them on fire. In the fire, Roman Malik Jr, a 2-year-old infant, sustained third degree burns to 25 percent of his body according to a medical certificate issued subsequently. The buildings and property inside belonging to the families were completely burned in the fire. All their personal documents, including birth certificates, identification cards and documents proving eligibility for state-provided social welfare and health insurance, were destroyed in the blaze. 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. During the assault, Mr Zeman and his children were able to unmask one of the assailants. They therefore subsequently stated that they know the identity of their attacker, but being afraid of retaliation, they would be willing to testify only if the police provides them with protection. Mr Malik, Mr Stefan Sarkozi, Ms Sarkoziova, Mr Roman Sarkozi, and Mr Josef Zeman were severely beaten during the assault.

According to the victims, the perpetrators shouted racial slurs such as, "You black dirty Gypsy, you will be slaughtered today" and "Gypsy black prostitutes" during both the September and December attacks.

Failure by Police Adequately to Investigate Alleged Crimes
According to the LHRA, the Malacky District Police Department officially opened an investigation into both racially motivated attacks described above, but has not undertaken any visible actions in the investigation. On October 3, 2003, the LHRA reportedly filed a complaint with the Malacky police regarding the September attack and, at the beginning of January 2004, the LHRA 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, reportedly refused to allow the Romani victims to enter the police station, alleging that they carried infectious diseases, as one of the children 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. A preliminary investigation by police set to begin on January 23, 2004 reportedly did not take place, allegedly at the instruction of Mr Simkovic, the mayor of Zahorska Ves. On February 5, the Malacky District Police Department informed the LHRA that it had closed its investigation into the September attack due to a lack of evidence. According to the LHRA, to date, police have not taken steps to investigate the December incident.

Arbitrary Actions by the Mayor of Zahorska Ves
From January 8 through 31, 2004, the municipality provided temporary accommodation in the form of one-room mobile homes to the Sarkozi and Malik families. On January 22, Mayor Simkovic sent a letter to Dr Columbus Igboanusi of the LHRA, asking his assistance in relocating the Sarkozi and Malik families to the village of Kubanova, over 350 kilometres away, because as to the affected families, "nobody wants them in the village, not even their own close relatives." Following consultations with the Sarkozi and Malik families, on January 23, the LHRA responded to Mayor Simkovic that the families, who had lived in the village for more than 100 years, did not want to move but rather wanted to rebuild their houses. The LHRA also reportedly offered to provide the Sarkozi and Malik families with temporary housing on the site of their former homes and to assist in rebuilding their homes.

In a written response of the same date, Mayor Simkovic rejected the proposed solution and stated that temporary housing for the families in the village would not be allowed due inter alia to lack of space and the fact that the families had no land in the village. Mayor Simkovic reiterated his position that the Sarkozi and Malik families must be relocated outside the village since no one wants them in the village. The ERRC has seen copies of the correspondence at issue.

Members of the Sarkozi and Malik families have reported that Mayor Simkovic has refused outright to issue them a document confirming that they were born in the village, which is necessary to have replacement documents issued by the police. As of February 5, 2004, none of the documents lost in the fire had been replaced.

As of February 5, 2003, the Malik family was living on the street in Bratislava and the Sarkozi family had returned to Zahorska Ves to again ask Mayor Simkovic for temporary accommodation. The families are severely traumatised. Their children are no longer attending school, adults are unable to collect their social welfare benefit and no longer have access to their state-provided medical insurance.

Threats and Intimidation
According to the LHRA, Mayor Simkovic has reached an agreement with the Malacky District Department of Social Affairs whereby the latter is to take into state custody the children of the families who refused to leave the village. On January 20, 2004 the Malacky District Court granted the Department of Social Affairs permission to take the children of Ms Olga Sarkoziova Jr into state custody. In addition, since he asserted the ownership by the municipality of the land on which the Romani houses had been located on January 27, 2004, Mayor Simkovic has refused the Sarkozi and Malik families access to the land and has employed coercive tactics to force them to leave the village. During a telephone call to the LHRA on the same day, Mayor Simkovic threatened that any mobile homes brought to the village for the purposes of housing the persons concerned would be destroyed. Since that date, Mayor Simkovic has employed a private security company to guard the village. Members of the Zeman family claim to have been threatened with violence by Mayor Simkovic and his acquaintances should they get involved in the case. Further, 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, an act the LHRA regarded with suspicion, since none of the members of the Zeman family can read or write, and they do not own a typewriter.

Honourable Prime Minister Dzurinda, the violent racist attacks of September 29 and December 25, 2003, are of a most serious nature, as are the subsequent actions of Mayor Simkovic and the inaction of Slovak police in relation to the case. The ERRC is deeply concerned about the numerous possible violations of domestic and international law evidently committed by the perpetrators of the September and December 2003 racially motivated attacks and by Mayor Simkovic, including:

* Articles 158 (abuse of power by a public official), 179(1) (general threat to life and property), 221(1) (intentionally causing injury), 235(1 and 2) (threatening a person with the intent to prohibit him/her from giving evidence in a criminal investigation) and 238(1 and 3) (violation of the privacy of the home) of the Slovak Criminal Code;
* Article 3 (prohibition of torture), Article 8 (respect for private and family life), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the Convention (protection to property and the right not to be deprived of possessions) and Article 2 of Protocol 4 to the Convention (freedom of movement - right to choose residence);

The ERRC calls on your office to ensure a thorough investigation into the racially motivated attacks on the Romani families and that any and all implicated parties are brought swiftly to justice. We also request that an investigation be undertaken into the very serious allegations against Mayor Simkovic and that all criminal charges appropriate be brought against the Mayor, should he indeed be found to have violated domestic and/or international law. We also ask that disciplinary action be taken against the police officers thus far involved in the case for failure to properly perform their duties as law enforcement officials.

The ERRC further requests that your office intervene to ensure that the personal documents of the Malik and Sarkozi families be replaced with haste, and that any social benefits withheld due to the absence of such be paid expeditiously. The ERRC also asks that you act to ensure that the families be provided temporary accommodation pending the reconstruction of their homes. Finally, the ERRC urges that all legitimate property claims by local Roma be recognised. We respectfully request to be informed of all measures taken by your office in this case.

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Further information on the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia is
available on the Internet at:

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr Mikulas Dzurinda
Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic
Namestie slobody 1
813 70 Bratislava
Slovak Republic
Fax: +421 2 5249 7595

Mr Vladimir Palko
Minister of the Interior of the Slovak Republic
Pribinova 2,
812 72 Bratislava
Slovak Republic
Fax: +421 2 5094 4397

Dr Dobroslav Trnka
General Prosecutor of the Slovak Republic
Sturova 2
813 25 Bratislava
Slovak Republik
Fax: +421 2 55 560075

Mr Anton Kulich, Chief of Slovak Police
Presidium of the Slovak Police Force
812 72 Bratislava
Slovak Republic
Fax: + 421 2 6105 9061

Mr Boris Simkovic
Mayor of Zahorska Ves
Obec Zahorska Ves
Hlavna 29/184,
PSC: 900 65
Slovak Republic
Fax: + 421 34 7780211


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