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Human Rights Watch World Report 1996 - Czech Republic

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1996
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1996 - Czech Republic, 1 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8a54.html [accessed 20 October 2014]
Comments This report covers events of 1995
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Human Rights Developments

The Czech Republic had a mixed record on human rights in 1995. The government demonstrated its commitment to human rights by, for example, ratifying the European Convention on the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman Treatment in September. Parliament also passed an amendment to the criminal code on June 29, 1995, under which perpetrators of hate crimes will face tougher sentences. At the same time, however, "skinhead" violence increased and became increasingly brutal, especially against the Roma minority. A restrictive citizenship law, which negatively affects the Roma minority, codified widespread resentment against that minority.

Provisions of the Law of the Czech National Council on Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship, which had granted citizens of the Slovak Republic more favorable conditions than non-Slovak citizens for acquiring citizenship, expired in July 1994. Yet, the government did not resolve the fate of many Roma who were effectively left without Czech citizenship by the law. The Tolerance Foundation, a human rights organization in Prague, has documented more than 400 cases in which Slovak citizens of Roma ethnicity living in the Czech Republic have not been able to acquire Czech citizenship. The majority of those Roma who were denied Czech citizenship are long time or lifelong residents of the Czech Republic.

Although the law does not specifically refer to Roma, its requirements on residence, ancestry, and petty criminality appear to have a disproportionate impact on Roma, and as such are discriminatory. What is more, the law imposes criminal penalties that were not in existence at the time the crime was committed. Those denied citizenship are unable to vote, run for office or receive full social benefits.

There continued to be reports of violent attacks on Roma. In May, four youths armed with a baseball bat forced their way into the home of Tibor Berki, a Roma, in the town of Zdar nad Sazavou. Mr. Berki, a bakery worker, was clubbed to death in front of his wife and five children. On October 7, ten "skinheads" armed with baseball bats attacked and severely injured a Roma couple who were waiting for a bus in Breclav. Approximately thirty Roma have been killed by racist violence in the Czech Republic since the fall of communism in 1989. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received credible reports that police failed to protect Roma from racist violence and rarely conducted a prompt and thorough investigation into such incidents.

On September 27, the Czech parliament extended the 1991 "lustration law"(screening law) that bans former high-ranking Communist Party officials and secret policemen from holding important political, economic, and judicial posts until the year 2000. The lustration law, which was to have expired at the end of 1996, has affected some 140,000 people since its adoption. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki is concerned that persons prosecuted under the lustration law are not being prosecuted for acts that were criminal at the time they were committed, but for having belonged to a now-discredited group. With regard to evidence provided in the former communist government's police files, the law does not take into consideration the possibility that false information might have been planted. Hundreds of people have protested that they were registered as police collaborators without their knowledge. Many have sued the Ministry of Internal Affairs and won, because there was inadequate evidence of their guilt.

The Right to Monitor

Human Right Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any attempt by the government of the Czech Republic to impede human rights activists in their monitoring activities.

U.S. Policy

Several high-level meetings between representatives of the Czech Republic and United States were held during the year to discuss privately such issues as the citizenship law and its effects on the Roma minority, as well as the extension of the lustration law. The section on the Czech Republic in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994 was accurate in reporting on the human rights situation, giving a particularly comprehensive evaluation of abuses against the Roma minority.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki's primary concern in the Czech Republic continued to be the treatment of the Roma minority and, in particular, the impact that the citizenship law has on Roma. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki maintained contacts with local human rights organizations throughout the year, especially with regard to the Roma situation.

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