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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Czech Republic

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Czech Republic, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3324.html [accessed 20 April 2014]
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.
CZECH REPUBLIC

 

The Czech Republic came into existence on January 1, 1993, when the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic dissolved, and its constituent republics became independent. It is a parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and his Civic Democratic Party lead the coalition Government. The Czech Republic has essentially completed the reform of political and economic structures initiated after the 1989 "velvet revolution." Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, is an internationally recognized advocate of human rights and social justice.

The Ministry of the Interior oversees the police. The civilian Internal Security Service (BIS) is independent of Ministry control, but reports to Parliament and the Prime Minister's office. Police and BIS authorities generally observe constitutional and legal protection of individual rights in carrying out their responsibilities. However, there were occasional reports of abuses by some members of the police.

The market-based economy showed solid growth in 1995, with over two-thirds of the gross domestic product (GDP) produced by the private sector. Most macroeconomic indicators (budget surplus, low inflation and unemployment, continued export growth) were favorable. A significant trade deficit developed which was financed by strong capital inflows. The work force was employed primarily in industry, trade/retail, and construction. Leading exports were intermediate manufactured products, machinery and transport equipment, primarily to European Union countries. GDP per capita reached about $4,400.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, popular prejudice and violence against Roma posed a continuing problem, despite increased government engagement, as did the 1992 citizenship law. Other human rights problems include the law on lustration (screening), which forbids certain pre-1989 Communist officials and secret police collaborators from holding certain positions, and the laws criminalizing defamation of the state and presidency. There is increasing public awareness about violence against women.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

A.Political and other Extrajudicial Killing

Frantisek Kahanek, the confessed rapist and murderer of a 10-year-old child, was found dead in his jail cell while awaiting trial in April. A government investigation failed to rule out the negligence or complicity of his prison guards in the death, and the national chief of prison guards was subsequently removed from his post. Four wardens have been charged with assault and abuse of public office and are currently being tried (see Section 1.c.). There were no other reports of possible political or extrajudicial killings.

In two separate instances from 1994, police caused the death of German tourists in roadside altercations; in 1995, one of the policemen received an 8-month sentence for accidental shooting. The other case is still under investigation.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no reports of such practices. Torture is prohibited by the Constitution, and in 1995 the Czech Government lifted a ban, in place since 1988, against visits by the U.N. Committee Against Torture. However, Frantisek Kahanek died while in official custody under unclear circumstances (see Section 1.a.).

In May police in Brno were accused of using excessive force in breaking up a late-night party outside a theater. The investigation is continuing. According to press reports, in October the same officers harassed and injured Radek Necas, who had given evidence against them in connection with the May event. The police allegedly sprayed tear gas in Necas' eyes, beat him with a truncheon, and tied him down in a jail cell for 3 hours before a doctor secured his release.

The police force has undergone significant restructuring and have brought many new officers onto the force. In 1995 they continued to have a poor reputation among the public, in part a heritage from the Communist era. There have been reports of police shakedowns and anecdotal stories of physical abuse and malfeasance, often directed at foreigners and Roma. An Interior Ministry initiative is attempting to bring more Roma into police work.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors, although on occasion with significant bureaucratic delays. According to the Justice Ministry, prisons are at 107 percent of capacity; prison authority data show that a quarter of prisons are 25-50 percent over capacity. The elimination of forced labor has left many prisoners unemployed. In its 1995 annual human rights report, the Czech Helsinki Committee called attention to overcrowding in some prisons. According to the prison service, the ratio of employees to prisoners is somewhat below the 2:1 ratio recommended under European guidelines.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition. Authorities may hold persons without charge for 24 hours, during which time they have the right to counsel. There was no evidence of incommunicado detention or protective detention. A person charged with a crime has the right to appear before a judge for arraignment. At arraignment, if the prosecution files charges, the judge determines whether custody is necessary pending trial. The law does not allow bail for certain serious crimes. Pretrial custody may last as long as 4 years for criminal charges, and in such cases monthly appearances before a judge are required. Since 1989 the average length of pretrial detention has increased from 89 days to over 200 in 1995. According to the prison service, the average time before a case goes to trial is 222 days, and 42 percent of prisoners are currently awaiting trial. The lack of experienced judges and investigators, working in a still-evolving legal environment, has led to a backlog of court cases. Attorney and family visits are permitted. The authorities follow these guidelines in practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is impartial and independent in practice. Judges are not fired or transferred for political reasons. The court system consists of district, regional, and high courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal. In addition, a Constitutional Court rules separately on the constitutionality of legislation. The shortage of qualified judges is being gradually overcome. Nonetheless, public opinion polls indicate that about half the population does not fully trust the courts and observers ascribe this attitude in part to suspicions left over from 40 years of manipulation of the judical system by the Communist Government.

The law stipulates that persons charged with criminal offenses are entitled to fair and open public trials. They have the right to be informed of their legal rights, of the charges against them, to consult with counsel, and to present a defense. The state provides lawyers for indigent defendants in criminal and some civil cases through the bar association. However, the international Helsinki Committee reported to the implementation meeting in Warsaw in October of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that many eligible parties fail to complete the demanding process of applying for such representation. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to refuse to testify against themselves. They may appeal any judgments against them. The authorities observe these rights in practice.

Foreign and domestic human rights observers expressed concern about the extension of the 1991 lustration law, which bars many former Communist Party officials, members of the people's militia, and secret police collaborators from holding a wide range of elective and appointive offices, including appointive positions in state-owned companies, academia, and the media, for a period of 5 years; some other employers have also required applicants to produce proof of noncollaboration.

Late in 1992 the Czechoslovak federal Constitutional Court eliminated the largest category of offenders from the law (those listed as collaborators but who in fact may only have been intelligence targets). Some of those accused of collaboration have submitted themselves to the lengthy appeals process; of approximately 500 appeals, over 75 percent have been won. In January 1996, Jan Kavan, a former member of the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly and longtime dissident publisher in London who had been accused of collaboration with the Czechoslovak secret police, was completely exonerated by the court. Many of those unjustly accused of collaboration feel they have suffered diminished career prospects and damaged personal reputations.

The screening process was criticized because it was based on the records of the Communist secret police, records many suspected were incomplete or unreliable. International criticism of the screening law was muted in 1995, as most organizations who had criticized lustration in the past, such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now the OSCE) and the Council of Europe (COE), rarely if ever received complaints from aggrieved parties. Still, the law continued to be criticized as a violation of human rights principles prohibiting discrimination in employment and condemning collective guilt. In 1995 Parliament voted to extend the law to the year 2000, overriding a veto by President Havel.

Although a 1993 law defining the pre-1989 Communist regime as criminal and lifting the statute of limitations for crimes committed by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia during its 40-year rule remained on the books, it was rarely invoked. Several charges filed by the office responsible for the law were criticized by human rights activists for adopting the principle of collective guilt. Many were also dismissed by the state Prosecutor's Office for procedural errors or lack of evidence. The anti-Communist law was upheld by the Constitutional Court in December 1993.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Electronic surveillance, the tapping of telephones, and interception of mail require a court order. The Government complied with this requirement.

Allegations that the apartment of Green Party leader Jaroslav Vlcek was bugged, made after a meeting there in July between Civic Democratic Alliance President Jan Kalvoda and Social Democratic Party President Milos Zeman, led to an investigation which found no evidence of surveillance. There were no other cases of possible electronic surveillance reported in 1995.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects this right in practice. Individuals can and do speak out on political issues and freely criticize the Government and public figures. However, "defamation" of the state and presidency are forbidden under provisions of the Criminal Code upheld by the Constitutional Court in 1993. In 1995 Pavel Karhanek was given a 9-month suspended sentence under the law on defamation of the state for displaying posters in a local government office calling the President a former alcoholic, a swindler, and a Communist collaborator. After he pulled down pictures of the President from the walls of the same office, he was again charged and may face a prison sentence of up to 2 years. Also in 1995, two persons were charged under a separate law on the defamation of the President. One was given a suspended sentence of 18 months, and the other a suspended sentence of 4 months.

A wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and journals publish without government interference. The capital, Prague, is home to at least a dozen daily newspapers with national distribution, as well as a variety of entertainment and special interest newspapers and magazines. These publications are owned by a variety of Czech and foreign investors. Some newspapers are still associated with the interests of a political party; others are independent.

The electronic media are independent. There are 4 television stations, 2 public and 2 private, and more than 60 private radio stations in addition to Czech Public Radio. The leading television channel, Nova, is privately owned, partially by foreign investors.

A parliamentary commission has broad oversight and power to approve or reject candidates for the Television and Radio Council. The Council has limited regulatory responsibility for policymaking and answers to the parliamentary media committee. The Council can issue and revoke radio and television licenses, and monitors programming.

At year's end, Parliament was wrestling with two proposed media laws: one for print and one for broadcast media. New laws are needed because the print law on the books dates from 1966 and the current broadcast law, dating from 1991, did not envision private media. The print media law has gone through several drafts in the process of working its way through various parliamentary committees. Czech journalists criticize the draft law for not affirming the right of a journalist not to reveal sources and for not requiring government officials to supply information to the media.

The law provides for academic freedom but also forbids activities by established political parties at universities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right of persons to assemble peacefully. Permits for some public demonstrations are required by law but are rarely refused. However, the law forbids political party activity at universities (see section 2.a.). Police generally do not interfere with spontaneous peaceful demonstrations for which organizers lack a permit.

Police behavior at assemblies occasionally came under fire for being too restrained, specifically at gatherings of extremists. At an October congregation of skinheads in Ceske Budejovice, youths making the heil Hitler salute--a punishable offense under the law--met with no interference from police, according to press reports.

The right of persons to associate freely and to form political parties and movements is also provided for by law, and the Government respected this right in practice. Organizations, associations, foundations, and political parties are required to register with local officials or at the Interior Ministry, but there is no evidence that this registration is coercive. The Government moved in 1995 to disband approximately 30 smaller political parties and movements that failed to meet the legal requirements for continued registration, chiefly an annual financial disclosure statement. The Communist Party, although fragmented, is represented in Parliament and in local government. Following the May murder of the Rom Tibor Berki (see Section 5), the Interior Ministry reviewed the registrations of organizations that could be called extremist. Two such groups were publicly identified; their registrations were examined but not revoked.

The leaking of internal security service lists of extremist organizations by Parliament in the summer led to a protracted public discussion of the definitions used by the Ministry of Interior. Much controversy centered on the inclusion of environmental groups on this list.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for religious freedom, and the government respects this right in practice. The State provides support to all religions that are registered with the Ministry of Culture. There are currently 21 registered churches. A church must have at least 10,000 adult members to register. Two Christian political parties, the Christian Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union-Czech Peoples Party, are junior members of the governing coalition.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on domestic or foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Passports are readily available to all wishing to travel abroad. Czechs who emigrated during the period of Communist rule frequently return to visit, or even to settle, and are able to regain Czech citizenship if they wish, though to do so they must relinquish claim to any foreign citizenship. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons. Nonetheless, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concern to the Government that its 1992 citizenship law has created a stateless problem which may lead to irregular movements (see Section 5).

Refugees and asylum seekers were treated according to international norms. Most migrants used the Czech Republic as a transit route toward the West; however, the country is becoming the final destination for increasing numbers of migrants. According to the Ministry of Interior, acceptance rates for asylum applications have decreased from over 35 percent in 1991 to just over 3 percent in 1995. This trend reflects the country's increasingly restrictive attitude toward accepting economic migrants. There are 4 refugee camps and 10 integration centers. In addition, there are officially 1,330 refugees from the former Yugoslavia in country. Refugee status is granted for 5 years, after which refugees may apply for residency. A lengthy procedure for naturalization is also open to them. Nongovernmental organizations work closely with the Interior Ministry to ease refugees' transition into society. In practice, however, most potential refugees choose to apply for permanent settlement elsewhere.

In 1995 the Government devoted increased attention to illegal migration into the country and took steps with its neighbors to control the movement of people across its borders. The Government has signed repatriation agreements with Romania, Hungary, and Germany.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government.

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government by peaceful democratic means, and citizens exercise this right in practice. Citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in republic-wide and local elections. Voting is carried out by secret ballot. Opposition groups, including political parties, function openly and participate without hindrance in the political process. No republic-wide elections were held in 1995, but free and fair municipal elections took place in November 1994 throughout the country. However, international observers have noted that former Czechoslovaks who elected representatives to the Czech National Assembly in 1992 and whose current citizenship is unclear continue to lack voting rights (see Section 5).

The ruling four-party, center-right coalition was formed in June 1992 following Czechoslovakia's final nation-wide elections. There are also a number of left-of-center opposition parties and one party of the radical right. The Czech Constitution mandates elections to Parliament at least every 4 years, based on proportional representation in eight large electoral districts. There is a 5-percent threshold for parties to enter Parliament. The Constitution also calls for a Senate to be established. The first senatorial election is scheduled for 1996. Until the Senate is established, the parliamentary system could be open to accusations of operating extraconstitutionally. The President, who is elected by Parliament, serves a 5-year term. The President has limited constitutional powers but may use a suspense veto to return legislation to Parliament, which can override the President's veto by a simple majority.

There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on women's participation in politics. Relatively few women nevertheless hold high public office. The state attorney and the mayor of Brno are women, and there are 19 women parliamentary deputies in the 200-member Parliament.

The government-sponsored Council on National Minorities has representatives from all minority groups. Slovaks, of whom there are an estimated 300,000, are almost all "Czechoslovaks" who elected to live in the Czech Republic after the split, and who for the most part define their interests in the context of Czech politics, not along ethnic lines. Many serve in high positions in the civil service.

Many of the estimated 200,000 Roma have not been fully integrated into society, and the party that represented their interests immediately following the demise of communism, the Romani Civic Initiative, is no longer in the Government and is in disarray. The political culture of the Czech Republic generally defines Roma as outsiders, and the Roma themselves have been unable to unite behind a program or set of ideals that would allow them to represent their interests in the democratic structures of the country (see Section 5). In 1995, however, the Roma became increasingly galvanized on the issue of interethnic violence against them. There is one Romani deputy in Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights groups operate without government restriction, and government officials are generally cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. The presidency of former dissident and human rights monitor Vaclav Havel serves as an important symbol for these groups. While the Government has demonstrated a willingness to examine and redress individual cases of human rights abuse, it has been less flexible when considering larger systemic changes. Moreover, ministries occasionally exhibited some reticence to release statistics and other information potentially embarrassing to the Government. Several speakers at the May seminar on tolerance sponsored by the OSCE and the COE in Bucharest, and at the October OSCE Human Dimensional Meeting in Warsaw, criticized the 1992 citizenship law for its disproportionate impact on Roma (see Section 5).

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status.

The law provides for the equality of citizens and prohibits discrimination. Health care, education, retirement, and other social services generally are provided without regard to race, sex, religion, disability, social status, or sexual orientation. In practice, Roma face discrimination in such areas as education, housing, and job opportunity.

Women

The true extent of violence against women is unknown, and public debate about it is rare, despite the efforts of a handful of women's groups to bring this issue to the attention of the public. The existence of any public discussion at all is a marked change since before 1989. Official police statistics show a decline in violence against women since 1990, yet these statistics' reliability is uncertain. Recent studies by the Sexology Institute have found that 12 percent of women over the age of 15 have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime and that only 3 percent of rape victims report the crime. Gender studies experts say that women are ashamed to speak about rape and that the police are not equipped, either by attitude or training, to help. There are state-supported shelters that accept women in most major cities and towns. According to nongovernmental organizations, the situation has improved in recent years, but there are still not enough spaces to meet demand.

While prostitution is illegal, it is much in evidence, and the law does not explicitly protect women against trafficking and sexual exploitation. In 1995 police found evidence of trafficking in women in clubs in several cities and closed several "erotic salons.

Women are equal under the law and in principle receive the same pay for the same job. Women's median wages lagged significantly behind those of men in 1995, although the gap is narrowing. Women are concentrated in professions in which the median salary is low: medicine, teaching, and white-collar clerical jobs. At the same time, women have made deep inroads into the private sector since 1989, and the number of women in agricultural work has fallen by 50 percent over the last decade. Women have steadily represented roughly half of the labor force over the same period. Unemployment among women is low at around 4 percent (2.5 percent for men). They enjoy equal property, inheritance, and other legal rights with men.

Children

The Government is committed to children's welfare through programs for health care, compulsory education, and basic nutrition. Some Romani children do not receive these benefits for a variety of reasons, and the Government's largely bureaucratic and administrative approach has been inadequate to the task of eliminating continued social prejudice against Roma in many municipalities. In addition, some segments of the Romani community want as little to do as possible with "white" society.

Child abuse as a social problem received increased attention in the press in 1995. A children's crisis center was founded and is 70 percent state-supported. According to its director, around 1 percent of children are neglected, maltreated, or sexually abused, and police register about one-tenth of all cases. An increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse appears to be the result of an increased awareness of the problem. There is no evidence of a societal pattern of abuse.

Girls and boys enjoy equal access to health care and education at all levels. According to the Ministry of Edcuation, Romani children comprise roughly 60 percent of pupils in special schools for those who suffer from mental and social disabilities.

People with Disabilities

A heretofore generous government policy of support for the disabled is being reduced for financial reasons. The disabled suffer disproportionately from unemployment (13 percent vs. the national average of 3 percent), and the physically disabled have unequal access to education, especially in rural areas. This is less the result of government policy than of a lack of barrier-free access to public schools. Numerous nongovernmental organizations are actively working to diminish these disadvantages. The Government has not placed a high priority on the issue of ensuring access for the disabled, nor has discrimination against the disabled been the subject of significant policy or public debate. The law encourages but does not require architects to take the needs of the handicapped into consideration. There is one disabled member of Parliament.

Religious minorities

The Jewish community numbers a few thousand. There were isolated incidents of vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, but many, including Jewish leaders, remained unconvinced that this was necessarily a manifestation of anti-Semitism. In October two 17-year-old skinheads threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a synagogue in Prague; there was no further damage. The suspects have been apprehended and are awaiting trial. A new history of the Catholic church was quickly removed from the Ministry of Education's recommended reading list for elementary schools after public outcry over allegedly anti-Semitic statements it contained. The police confirmed the existence of over 20 underground magazines with small circulations propagating Fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

After ethnic Slovaks, the most significant minority is by far the Romani population, officially estimated at about 200,000. Roma live throughout the country but are concentrated in the industrial towns of northern Bohemia, where many of them were settled more than 40 years ago in the homes of Sudeten Germans transferred to the West. They suffer disproportionately from poverty, interethnic violence, illiteracy, and disease. Efforts by foundations and individuals in the education and health fields to improve their living conditions, especially the conditions of Romani children, have had only minimal impact. There is a Czech-language program for Roma on state television, although it is consistently broadcast at hours when most people are asleep. Romani leaders have met with little success thus far in organizing their local communities, which are often riven by conflicting loyalties.

Roma suffer from serious popular prejudice, as is repeatedly affirmed by public opinion polls. According to the state Attorney General and a 1995 COE report, racially motivated violence against Roma, usually by skinheads, has risen steadily over the last three years. Local authorities have been unable (or, according to some observers, including Roma, unwilling) to curb this violence. In May four skinheads in Zd'ar Nad Sazavou forced their way into the home where Tibor Berki, a Rom, lived with his family. Berki was attacked with truncheons in front of his wife and children and died shortly thereafter from his injuries. The central Government responded with unprecedented speed, forcefully condemning the attack. The state attorney instructed prosecutors to pursue the strongest penalties available by law for racially motivated crime, and Parliament passed legislation to stiffen those penalties. In December the regional court in Brno sentenced one of the four Berki assailants to 12 years in prison for murder, but failed to identify his act as racially motivated. Police, state attorneys, and Romani groups criticized the ruling, as did the Prime Minister, and the State Prosecutor lodged an appeal. A second assailant received an 18-month sentence; the other two received suspended sentences of 2 and 6 months.

Two further incidents of violence against Roma in October led the Romani leadership to stage a peaceful demonstration outside the Prime Minister's office, the first protest of its kind by Roma. By year's end, this demonstration had been followed by several other peaceful protests in cities and towns throughout the country.

The court system approached racially motivated crime with more vigor in 1995. In March the district court in Ceske Budejovice overturned the acquittal of 16 skinheads who drove Tibor Danihel, an 18-year-old Rom, into the river in Pisek in September 1993 and caused him to drown. However, in November the state investigator in Pisek decided to drop the charges, citing a lack of conclusive evidence against the accused. In August the Liberec regional court sentenced four skinheads to 18 to 28 months in prison for firebombing two Romani homes in the summer of 1994. Two women suffered burns in the attacks; one of them, a 12-year-old girl, was left permanently scarred. In September the Prague municipal court gave the six members of the musical group Branik, which was disbanded in 1991, an 8-month suspended sentence for propagating racial hatred in their lyrics. The lyrics were saturated with racist epithets referring to Roma. The court has also charged the group's music publisher with inciting racial hatred. The trial is scheduled to begin in early 1996. In October nine skinheads attacked a group of young Roma in Karvina, threw three of the girls to the ground and beat and kicked them severely. One of the victims was hospitalized with a concussion and a fractured skull. Seven of the nine skinheads have been apprehended and charged. Beginning in June 1995, the number of those charged with racially motivated crimes rose sharply, and state prosecutors sought stiffer sentences for them.

Central government officials became more engaged in problems affecting the Romani community in 1995. The Government accepted visits by a COE delegation which had come to investigate the citizenship law. Prime Minister Klaus met with Romani representatives in October to discuss their concerns. President Havel and three cabinet ministers attended a memorial service at the former concentration camp site of Lety to pay tribute to the Czech Roma who perished during World War II. In October, when Roma Josef and Jarmila Polak were attacked by skinheads in Breclav--causing each to suffer a concussion and Josef Polak to lose an eye--the cabinet issued a swift denunciation of the attack. Four suspects were charged in the Polak case and are awaiting trial.

Roma face discrimination in employment, housing, schools, and the rest of everyday life. Unemployment among Roma is universally acknowledged to be high; nongovernmental organizations estimate credibly that it is as high as 70 percent in some areas. In 1995, some restaurants and other venues throughout the country routinely refused service to Roma and posted signs prohibiting their entry. In many cases, local authorities intervened to have the offending signs removed.

International legal and human rights organizations and Roma activists continued to criticize the discriminatory impact on Roma of the 1992 citizenship law. This law, created at the time of the Czech-Slovak split, gave Czechoslovaks living in the Czech Republic until the end of December 1993, later extended to June 1994, to apply for Czech citizenship under more favorable conditions than non-Czechoslovaks faced. Unlike its Slovak counterpart, which awarded Slovak citizenship to all former Czechoslovak citizens living within its borders regardless of their previous nationality (after 1970, Czechoslovaks were required to choose whether they were "Czechs" or "Slovaks," a choice with virtually no significance at the time), the Czech law posed conditions: "Slovak" applicants were required to prove they had a clean criminal record over the previous 5 years and were resident in the Czech Republic for 2 years. Romani leaders protest that these provisions of the citizenship law were designed to discriminate against Roma. In a broader sense, the very fact that conditions were set whereby former "Czech" or "Slovak" nationality became the basis by which one qualified for post-1992 Czech citizenship quickly became the issue in international fora. The practical result of the citizenship law was that an unknown number of former Czechoslovaks of Slovak nationality resident in the Czech Republic at the time of the split--nearly all of them Roma--found themselves without Czech citizenship. Government sources estimate that there are about 10,000 "unresolved" cases of citizenship, and nongovernmental organizations estimate as many as 24,000 or more. The actual number is unknown.

In 1994 an official of the Karvina district office was found to have accepted improper payments to expedite citizenship applications, primarily from Roma. Nongovernmental organizations assert that many applicants were unaware that this was an irregular procedure, but authorities believe otherwise. A police investigation is scheduled to begin in early 1996. Karvina officials subsequently revoked all citizenship papers signed by this individual. As a result, upwards of 300 people, according to the Ministry of Interior, had to begin the lengthy and expensive process of application for citizenship anew. The Tolerance Foundation, a Czech nongovernmental organization, estimates the number of applicants adversely affected by this decision to be over 600. The official and her immediate superior no longer work at the district office, yet many of those whose citizenship was revoked face dire economic hardship until their cases are resolved. Without citizenship or residency they do not have the right to work, health insurance, or any of the other social benefits enjoyed by nearly all citizens and residents. Moreover, those with uncertain citizenship may not vote and could not participate in the coupon privatization program.

Application for both citizenship and residency are demanding processes, and social workers report that many formerly Czechoslovak Roma have difficulty obtaining the necessary documentation. Workers at district offices where these applications are processed are not always well-informed of the requirements or well-disposed toward Romani applicants. The clean criminal record requirement is interpreted inconsistently. Even applicants who have never visited Slovakia must produce proof of release from Slovak citizenship and that they owe no debts there. Nongovernmental organizations report that this requirement is also applied to school-aged children.

Fears that the situation would lead to mass deportations of Roma have thus far proven exaggerated, yet the Justice Ministry reported that 460 persons had been deported to Slovakia since the passage of the citizenship law by year's end, generally following an arrest. The rate of expulsion is growing. Police who come across formerly Czechoslovak individuals without proper citizenship or residency papers have been known to expel them to Slovakia, and this is within their authority. While the criticism that persons had been deprived of the right to citizenship in the Czechoslovak successor state of their choice persisted, in 1995 Parliament passed an amendment to the Citizenship Law to expedite the citizenship applications from ethnic Czechs from the Volhynia region of Ukraine.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides workers the right to form and join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization, and the Government respects this right. The work force was 45 to 50 percent unionized in 1995, although the number of workers belonging to unions continued to fall steadily. Most workers are members of unions affiliated with the Czech- Moravian Chamber of Trade Unions (CMKOS). CMKOS is a democratically oriented, republic-wide umbrella organization for branch unions. It is not affiliated with any political party and carefully maintains its independence.

Workers have the right to strike, except for those whose role in public order or public safety is deemed crucial. The law requires that labor disputes be subject first to mediation and that strikes take place only after mediation efforts fail. There were no major strikes in 1995, although an estimated 50,000 union members took to the streets of Prague in March to protest proposed government social policies. The Government narrowly averted a major railway workers' strike in June. Some doctors and health workers staged an administrative strike in November.

Unions are free to form or join federations and confederations and affiliate with and participate in international bodies. This freedom was fully exercised.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining. The Law on Collective Bargaining is carried out in the tripartite system, a voluntary arrangement in which representatives of unions, government, and employers set the parameters of labor relations. Wage regulation was abolished in 1995.

There are 11 free trade zones. Their workers have and practice the same right to organize and bargain collectively as other workers in the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code stipulates a minimum working age of 15 years, although children who have completed courses at special schools (schools for the severely disabled) may work at age 14.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets minimum wage standards. The current minimum wage is about $95 (2,500 crowns) per month. The minimum wage provides an adequate, if sparse, standard of living for an individual worker and, when combined with allowances available to families with children, provides an adequate standard of living for a worker and a family. Major efforts at retraining, carried out by district labor offices, seek to provide labor mobility for those at the lower end of the wage scale. Because of a continuing tight job market, the enforcement of minimum wage standards was rarely an issue.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 42 1/2 hours. It also requires paid rest of at least 30 minutes during the standard 8- to 8 1/2-hour workday, as well as annual leave of 3 to 4 weeks. Overtime ordered by the employer may not exceed 150 hours per year or 8 hours per week as a standard practice. Overtime above this limit may be permitted by the local employment office. The Labor Ministry enforces standards for working hours, rest periods, and annual leave.

Government, unions, and employers have agreed to promote worker safety and health, but conditions in some sectors of heavy industry are problematical, especially those awaiting privatization. Industrial accident rates are not unusually high. The Office of Labor Safety is responsible for enforcement of health and safety standards. Workers have the right to refuse work endangering their life or health without risk of loss of employment.

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