Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Czech Republic
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||1 December 2000|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Czech Republic , 1 December 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8de4f.html [accessed 10 July 2014]|
|Comments||This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.|
Human Rights Developments
The Czech government announced the formation of a Human Rights Council in January to prepare legislative proposals and advise the government on human rights issues. The council submitted proposals to counter discrimination in education, housing, and employment in May. Despite these positive steps, increasing racial violence against the ethnic Roma minority demonstrated an alarming pattern of neglect on the part of police and legal authorities in failing to investigate and prosecute hate crime. This pattern included lenient sentences for perpetrators of hate crimes, incompetent and protracted investigations, and little recourse for victims who in many cases feared reprisals.
On February 5, "skinhead" thugs allegedly physically attacked and shouted racist insults at five Roma and one non-Roma in the town of Nachod. The victims identified some of the attackers to the police but later said the police had neither made arrests or even taken down the suspects' names. Local officials claimed that there was no evidence indicating a racially motivated attack. As of August 1, the investigation remained open.
In a July ruling, a Czech soldier who attacked an American teacher in November 1998 in Hodinin was found guilty of "hooliganism and assault" and sentenced to a suspended two-year prison term. The victim was beaten after defending a group of Roma, whom the soldier had insulted; nevertheless, the judge ruled out any racial motivation.
On April 18, the parents of eighteen Romani children from the city of Ostrava lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg accusing the Czech state of practicing "discrimination" and "segregation" by channeling disproportionate numbers of Romani children into special schools designed for children with mental disabilities. Although Romani children represent less than 5 percent of primary school students in Ostrava, they constitute over 50 percent of the special school population. Nationwide, 75 percent of Romani children attend special schools, comprising over half of the population of all special schools. Last October, the Czech Constitutional Court dismissed the case, arguing that it lacks the authority to rule on societal discrimination as a whole and can consider "only particular circumstances of the individual cases." In January, the Parliament eliminated a 1984 Schools Law provision that had barred students attending special schools from enrolling in secondary schools. The applicants charge that this amendment only served "to remove the formal but not the practical prohibition against admission to non-vocational [secondary] schools" and failed to address de facto discriminatory policies.
In January, the Ministry of the Interior responded to E.U. accession demands to tighten border controls by setting new restrictions on asylum and procedures for foreigners to establish legal residence, introducing visa requirements for certain visitors and requiring them to show proof of secured accommodation, financial resources, and health insurance. The new policy came under attack from human rights organizations for making unreasonable demands on asylum applicants by forcing them to apply for visas in their home country rather than upon arrival in the Czech Republic. The Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC) observed that the law singles out people from so-called problem countries among them, all of South America, Africa, and the Ukraine for especially tight restrictions. An amendment to the January law that relaxes some of these restrictions was approved by the cabinet in July and sent to the Parliament; critics of the earlier law argue that the proposed changes fail to address several key issues.
The Czech Republic's position as a country of origin, transit, and destination for trafficking in women drew attention from the press and international bodies. In January, Ukrainian and Czech police successfully broke a gang trafficking women into forced prostitution in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, law enforcement's efforts to curb trafficking tended to disregard the legitmate fears of retaliation and needs expressed by trafficking victims. Similarly, legislators failed to adopt legal protections to facilitate victims' cooperation as witnesses in cases against traffickers. La Strada, a local NGO, struggled to provide protection for victims and educate women on the dangers of trafficking.
Attention focused on Czech police conduct in September when Prague hosted the annual IMF and World Bank meetings, along with an estimated 9,000 protestors. On September 26, protesters clashed violently with police, leading to some six hundred injuries and more than eight hundred arrests. Following the meetings, the Czech Helsinki Committee undertook an investigation into accusations of police brutality and abuse of power against detained protestors. Its initial investigation had found that many detainees were denied access to the telephone, legal assistance, interpreters, and food or water for many hours after their arrest, and some complained of physical abuse by the police. The Interior Ministry announced that it would conduct an internal investigation into police actions; the police denied the charges of systematic abuse while refusing to rule out misconduct by individual officers.
Defending Human Rights
Human rights groups operated relatively freely, despite efforts by Prime Minister Milos Zeman's government to deflect media criticism. The Counseling Center for Citizenship/Civil and Human Rights (CCC/CHR) issued recommendations on reducing discrimination. The Czech Helsinki Committee released reports on the protection of children, the police and prison system, and the new asylum and foreigners legislation. A coalition of gay and lesbian activists organized "Aprilfest," a series of discussions and events on gay and lesbian issues. With the support of Commissioner for Human Rights Petr Uhl and the Human Rights Council, the festival urged legislators to support a new bill authorizing partnership registration, although the Parliament had rejected a similar bill in December 1999.
The Role of the International Community
In its August concluding observations, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) praised the Tolerance Project, a public awareness campaign to curb racial discrimination. However, the report voiced concern over the continued subjection of Roma to discrimination and violence and urged the government to implement existing hate crime legislation and eradicate racial segregation in education and housing.
The Czech Republic remained in the forefront among states in line for accession to the E.U. In its September review of the Czech Republic's preparation for accession, the E.U.-Czech Republic Association Council noted that while the Czech Republic continued to fulfill the Copenhagen political criteria, progress was still needed in reforming the judiciary and improving the human rights situation of Roma. Although the E.U. accession process proved a positive incentive on most human rights issues, it pressured Czech authorities to introduce worrisome restrictions on asylum.
Council of Europe
The European Commission on Racism and Intolerance's (ECRI) "Second Annual Report on the Czech Republic" expressed concern about the continuation of racist violence directed toward Roma. The report recommended that Czech authorities take further actions to combat racism and intolerance by enacting anti-racist legislation in education and employment.
At a June hearing before the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), witnesses testified that current laws to protect Roma fall short of their intended goals. These concerns were echoed in the State Department's annual report on human rights practices.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The high commissioner on national minorities' March report on the situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area criticized the Czech government for failing to enforce laws proscribing racially motivated violence, despite having the largest number of skinhead attacks reported in the region. It called on the government to adopt affirmative action measures in employment and to address the persistent negative stereotyping of Roma in the media and in statements.