Czech Republic amends anti-Romani law

05 September 1999

The Czech press reported that on July 29, 1999, the Czech Senate, the upper house of the Czech parliament, had approved amendments to the controversial 1993 Czech citizenship law. MPs of most parliamentary parties voted in favour of the amendments, with MPs from the Civil Democratic Party, the ruling party of the 1992-1998 coalition voting primarily against. The law has been criticised by many non-governmental and European inter-governmental bodies as discriminating against Roma. The original law, adopted just prior to the split of Czechoslovakia, provided that citizenship would be allocated on the basis of the previously unimportant legal designation of "republican citizenship". The law did not take into account place of residence, either factual or legal, a legally much more important designation under Czechoslovak law. Additionally, the law required that persons applying for Czech citizenship under a simplified procedure for Slovak republican citizens demonstrate a five year clean criminal record. The law was criticised as applying ex post facto punishment, as having a disproportionate impact on Roma and, by some, of having been drafted with the intent of ridding the Czech Republic of Roma. The immediate effect of the law was that tens of thousands of Roma with effective ties to the Czech Republic were rendered de facto stateless when the law went into effect on January 1, 1993. An estimated 5000-10,000 Roma in the Czech Republic remain stateless today. The law has been amended several times since 1993; a 1996 amendment to the law provided the Interior Ministry discretionary powers to waive the clean criminal record requirement if authorities so chose. However, Czech authorities refused to amend the law according to recommendations by the NGO community and the Council of Europe until the change of government in 1998.

The present amendment provides that former citizens of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic who were not citizens of the Czech Republic but were on the territory on December 31, 1992, can acquire citizenship by declaration. The amendment also resolves a number of issues which had precluded especially adopted children and children in state care from acquiring citizenship. One remaining concern is that the amendment requires persons to have remained on the territory of the Czech Republic since the split, thus precluding persons who went abroad, including persons who sought asylum as well as persons expelled by Czech police or the Czech judiciary since 1993, from acquiring citizenship. The law does not provide compensation to persons unjustly deprived of Czech citizenship or the benefits thereof for over six years. President Havel signed the bill into law in late August.



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