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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Czech Republic

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Czech Republic, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa403c.html [accessed 22 August 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.
 

 

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 revolution.

The Ministry of the Interior oversees the police. The Internal Security Service (BIS) is independent of ministry control, but reports to Parliament and the Prime Minister's office. Foreign intelligence is under the authority of the Interior Ministry. Military intelligence agencies are integrated into the Ministry of Defense. Police and BIS authorities observe constitutional and legal protection of individual rights in carrying out their responsibilities.

Pursuing a consistent policy of transforming the former centrally planned economy, the Government had privatized some 80 percent of the economy by year's end. The nation experienced moderate economic growth in 1994, and macroeconomic indicators (balanced budget, low inflation and unemployment, current account surplus) were favorable.

The most important human rights problem is popular prejudice against the Roma minority, and the inability (or unwillingness) of the Government to counteract it. The Citizenship Law, whose provisions limited the access of many Roma residents to Czech citizenship after midyear, is the most celebrated example of such discrimination. Roma have also been victims of "skinhead" violence. Other human rights problems include the Law on Lustration (screening) which forbids certain Communist secret police collaborators from holding high public office, and the law criminalizing defamation of the State or the Presidency. Women's issues, including violence against women, are still rarely raised in mainstream political debate.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

There were no reports of such practices.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Czech Republic assumed Czechoslovak laws governing arrest and related rights. Courts issue arrest warrants. The authorities may hold persons without charge for 24 hours, during which time they have the right to counsel. There were no instances of incommunicado detention or preventive 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 bail will be granted pending trial. The law does not allow bail for certain serious crimes. Pretrial detention may not exceed 1 year, and in such cases monthly appearances before a judge are required. Counsel and family visits are permitted.

There have been occasional reports of police shakedowns and anecdotal stories of physical abuse and malfeasance, often directed at foreigners. According to press reports, police killed five persons not in detention, including two separate cases in which they shot and killed German tourists in roadside altercations, but the courts have not yet judged these cases.

The law prohibits forced exile, and the Government does not practice it.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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. Military courts, which have jurisdiction over police, intelligence, and military matters, were abolished at the end of 1993, and civil courts took over their functions.

The judiciary is impartial and independent. Judges are not fired or transferred for political reasons. Justice Ministry officials and press observers noted that the shortage of qualified judges (a problem under the Czechoslovak federation) is slowly being overcome.

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. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and have the right to refuse to testify against themselves. Defendants may appeal any judgments against them. These rights are observed in practice.

Foreign and domestic human rights groups expressed concern about the continued existence of the 1991 Lustration Law, which bars former Communist officials, members of the People's Militia, secret police, and collaborators from holding a wide range of elected and appointed positions for a period of 5 years. The law is rarely enforced. Although the Czechoslovak Federal Constitutional Court in 1992 eliminated the largest category from the Law, those listed as collaborators but who may only have been intelligence targets, observers continued to criticize it in principle for embracing employment discrimination and the concept of collective guilt. In perhaps the most celebrated lustration case, the Government in September dropped lustration charges against former federal parliamentarian Jan Kavan. News reports indicated that nearly all those who challenged lustration judgments in court cleared their names.

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, the Government rarely invoked it. Human rights monitors criticized this law, too, for adopting the principle of collective guilt. However, the Constitutional Court in December 1993 upheld the law.

There were no known political prisoners.

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

Electronic surveillance, telephone tapping, and interception of mail require a court order, and the Government complies with this requirement. There were no known cases of electronic surveillance reported in 1994. There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Czech law provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects these rights. Individuals may, and do, speak out on political and other issues and freely criticize the Government and public figures. However, the Constitutional Court in December 1993 upheld a provision in the Criminal Code forbidding "defamation" of the State and the Presidency. The law was not applied at any time in 1994, but represents a potential restriction of freedom of speech and press.

A wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and journals publish without government restriction or interference. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS)--the leading party in the ruling coalition--became embroiled in controversy in September when the editor of the nominally independent Denni Telegraf was dismissed by the paper's board, which said it had lost confidence in him. Other newspapers claimed that the firing took place on the Prime Minister's orders, noting that the editor and several board members were ODS members. The Prime Minister denied any role in the dismissal.

The electronic media are independent and free of censorship. Most television and radio stations are publicly funded and independently managed. The Television and Radio Council oversees these stations under parliamentary supervision. A leading television channel, Nova, is privately owned, partially by foreign investors.

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. Some public demonstrations require permits, but the Government rarely refuses to issue them. Police generally do not interfere with spontaneous peaceful demonstrations for which organizers lack a permit.

Nonetheless, domestic press editorials sometimes criticized police behavior. In a July commemoration held at the former concentration camp of Terezin (Theresienstadt), witnesses said that police stood by or even encouraged rightists who objected to the idea of reconciliation with Sudeten Germans transferred to Germany after the Second World War. The rightists disrupted the ceremony and destroyed wreaths and other property. The authorities fired five district police chiefs after this incident.

The law provides for the right of persons to associate freely and to form political parties and movements, and this law is respected in practice. The Interior Ministry or local officials register organizations, associations, foundations, and political parties, but this procedure is routine. The Communist Party is represented in Parliament and in local government and continues to own considerable assets throughout the Republic.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

The Government does not restrict domestic or foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation.

Refugees and asylum seekers are treated according to international norms and are not forcibly repatriated. Most migrants use the Czech Republic as a transit route to the West. The law outlines lengthy procedures for granting refugee status and eventual citizenship, but very few of those who make applications remain in the country long enough to complete the procedure.

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

Citizens have the right to change their government by democratic means. Those over the age of 18 are eligible to vote by secret ballot in nationwide and local elections. Opposition groups, including political parties, function openly and participate without hindrance in the political process.

The Constitution mandates parliamentary elections at least every 4 years, based on proportional representation within eight large electoral districts. There is a 5-percent threshold for parties to enter Parliament. The President is elected by Parliament for a 5-year term. He has limited constitutional powers but may use a suspensive veto to return legislation to Parliament, which has the right to override the President's veto.

The Constitution also calls for an upper house of Parliament, the Senate, which in 1994 had yet to be constituted; the first senatorial election may take place in 1996, although legislation defining its procedures remains to be adopted. As long as no Senate is created, the Czech Republic's parliamentary system could be open to accusations of operating extraconstitutionally.

There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on women's participation in politics. However, they appear to participate less in politics and government since the overthrow of the Communist regime, which used quotas to include women in large governing bodies such as the Federal Assembly. Relatively few women hold high public office in the Czech Republic, though 19 of 200 parliamentary deputies are women. In the November local elections, voters elected a woman mayor of Brno, the Republic's second largest city, and women serve on both the Supreme and Constitutional courts. Women achieve the same educational level as men and attend institutions of higher education in roughly equal numbers.

The country's two significant minorities--Roma and Slovaks--are not represented in Czech politics. No minority leader holds significant elective office at the national level. The estimated 300,000 Slovaks are primarily "Czechoslovaks" who elected to live in the Czech Republic after the split, and who largely define their interests in the context of Czech politics rather than along ethnic lines. Many serve in high positions in the civil service.

Not all the estimated 200,000 Roma have integrated into Czech society, and the party that represented their interests immediately following the demise of communism, the Roma Civic Initiative, is in disarray. Other local Roma political groupings have not gained national prominence, although they continue to strengthen their ties with international Roma groups. 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 principles that would allow them to represent their interests within the country's democratic structures (see Section 5).

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

The Government encourages the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The presidency of former dissident and human rights monitor Vaclav Havel serves as an important symbol for these groups, which work without government restriction or interference. Government officials generally cooperate with official and unofficial visits by foreign human rights monitors.

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

The law provides for the equality of citizens and prohibits discrimination, and the Government respects this law. In practice, Roma face discrimination in such areas as education, housing, and job opportunity.

Women

The law provides for equality for women, and they receive pay equal to that of male colleagues for the same job, although the median wages for women in 1994 lagged significantly behind those of men. Women appear to be concentrated in professions in which the median salary is generally low: medicine, teaching, and white-collar clerical jobs.

Violence against women does exist, but public debate about the problem is rare, despite the efforts of a handful of women's groups to bring this and other issues to the attention of the public. According to 1993-94 police statistics, 12 percent of Czech women over the age of 15 have experienced some sort of sexual assault, and only 3 of every 100 women raped 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. Police and human rights groups sometimes link violence toward women with economic hardship and excessive drinking but without concrete substantiation. Human rights groups acknowledge that the Government effectively enforces laws against violence.

A more public issue--and one that has gained considerable attention in the press--is the growth of prostitution, which has become increasingly visible. For the most part, prostitutes are in business for themselves, but police report that underground elements, often also involved in smuggling and petty crime, coerce some women into prostitution. The law does not explicitly protect prostitutes against trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Children

The Government is committed to children's welfare through programs for health care, compulsory education, and basic nutrition. However, some Roma children do not receive these benefits owing to the Government's inability to counteract cultural differences and instances of social prejudice. Child abuse as a social problem received growing attention in the press. According to the Ministry of Justice, courts judged 164 cases of child abuse in the first 6 months of 1994. An independent organization claims that 50 Czech children die at the hands of their parents each year, but this number could not be confirmed.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Roma population, estimated at about 200,000, is the most significant minority. Roma live throughout the country but are concentrated in the industrial towns of Northern Bohemia, where many of them settled more than 40 years ago in the homes of Sudeten Germans transferred to the West. They suffer disproportionately from poverty, crime, and disease. Efforts by foundations and government education and health workers to improve their living conditions, especially the conditions of Roma children, have had only minimal impact. Efforts by local leaders to mobilize local Roma communities, especially in the north, generally have failed.

Roma suffer from serious popular prejudice and from discrimination, particularly in employment, housing, and everyday life. The central authorities have intervened to eliminate overt discrimination by local jurisdictions; for example, the Constitutional Court invalidated the anti-Roma decrees adopted in 1992 by the Jirkov (northern Bohemia) town council.

Local authorities have been unable (or, according to some Roma, unwilling) to curb skinhead intimidation and violence against Roma. In December perpetrators accused of anti-Roma violence were acquitted by a court in Pisek, and the next day skinhead assailants attacked Roma there. The Government has denounced such violence, but has failed to prevent it. Human rights organizations and articles in the Czech press accuse the Government of serious neglect in this area. International legal and human rights organizations and Roma activists strongly criticized the discriminatory impact on Roma of the 1992 citizenship law, which required Czechoslovaks living on the territory of the Czech Republic to apply for citizenship by June 30, 1994. Slovaks had to prove they had a clean criminal record over the previous 5 years and had lived in the territory of the Czech Republic for 2 years. Czechs were automatically granted citizenship. Because the majority of Roma were considered Slovaks, based on a 1969 Communist law, the Czech citizenship requirements have had a disproportionate impact on them. No accurate estimates are available on the number of Roma who were unable to obtain Czech citizenship; Roma activists and human rights groups cite figures in the tens of thousands. No deportations or large-scale refugee migrations have been documented as a result of the law, and Czech authorities note that those who fail to obtain citizenship are granted permanent resident status and can eceive state benefits. But they are also denied the right to vote or serve in the government, the military, police, or the judiciary. The Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe has criticized this law as contrary to human rights norms, noting that it is inconsistent with Article 11(2) of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Religious Minorities

The Jewish community numbers only a few thousand. There were, however, isolated instances of public anti-Semitism. For example, in April, 24 graves in a Jewish cemetery in the Moravian town of Prerov were defiled with Nazi markings; in June the far-right Republican Party called the new Culture Minister, who is of Jewish background, the "Jewish destroyer of Czech culture," for which the media roundly condemned the Republicans.

People with Disabilities

The Government does not place a high priority on ensuring access for the disabled, nor has discrimination against the disabled been the subject of significant policy or public debate. The law does not mandate accessibility to public buildings and services for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides workers with the right to form and join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization, and the Government respects this right. For example, after trade union leaders protested a law drafted by the Government that would have forbidden civil service workers from joining unions, claiming that such a law violated not only International Labor Organization statutes but the Czech Constitution as well, the Government withdrew the proposal. More than 50 percent of the work force is unionized, although the number of workers who are members of labor organizations 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, nationwide umbrella organization for branch unions. It is not affiliated with any political party and carefully maintains its independence.

The law provides workers with the right to strike, except for those in specific professions whose role in public order or public safety is deemed crucial, e.g., judges, prosecutors, members of the armed forces and the police, air traffic controllers, nuclear power station workers, workers with nuclear materials, and oil or gas pipeline workers. The law also places some limitation on the right to strike of firefighters, rescue workers, telecommunications workers, and health workers. 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 1994.

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

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining. The basic collective bargaining instrument is the Law on Collective Bargaining. It is carried out in a tripartite system, a voluntary arrangement in which representatives of unions, government, and employers set the guidelines for labor relations. Union leaders complained repeatedly that the Government intended to sabotage the tripartite arrangement, and the Government stated repeatedly that the tripartite "steering process" had outlived its usefulness. Despite such complaints, wages were set in free negotiations, although the Government imposed an upper limit on wage growth (levying penalties on inflationary increases).

Union leaders may file charges of antiunion discrimination in court. Union and Labor Ministry officials reported that no such charges were filed in 1994.

The Czech Republic has one export processing zone. Its workers have and practice the same rights 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 complete courses at special schools (i.e., schools for the severely disabled) may work at the age of 14. There are no legal limits on the hours children may work, although they may not work at night.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets minimum wage standards at roughly one-fourth of the average monthly wage. The current minimum wage is about $75 per month. This 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 worker retraining, carried out by district labor offices, seek to provide labor mobility for those at the lower end of the wage scale. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to enforce minimum wage standards and does so, as needed.

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 may not exceed 150 hours per year or 8 hours per week as standard practice. The Labor Ministry enforces overtime regulations but reports that the rapid growth of the private sector, especially in small service enterprises, makes it very difficult to assess abuses and enforce the law.

Health and safety conditions in some sectors of heavy industry remain substandard, especially in those sectors awaiting the process of privatization, but industrial accident rates are not unusually high. The Office of Labor Safety is responsible for enforcement of health and safety standards and carries out its responsibilities effectively.

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