Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Czech Republic

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Czech Republic, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4f8.html [accessed 12 July 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 constituent republics of Czechoslovakia became independent following the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. The victorious parties in the June 1992 Czechoslovak elections negotiated arrangements for the split during the latter half of 1992. The new Czech Constitution was ratified on December 16 of that year.

The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy. The coalition Government is led by the Civic Democratic Party, a conservative secular free market-oriented party whose leader, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, is the architect of the country's economic reform. The Czech Republic adopted the democratic civil structures created in the 3 years following the 1989 revolution in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, is an internationally recognized advocate of human rights and social justice.

The Ministry of the Interior oversees intelligence and police matters. The security structures are currently in flux, as the Government redefines the tasks and reduces the number (currently four) of intelligence agencies. Two of these agencies, the Intelligence Service of the General Staff and the Military Counterintelligence Service are integrated into the Ministry of Defense. The External Intelligence and Information Service is an integral part of the Ministry of the Interior. Parliament supervises the Internal Security and Information Service, which is independent of ministry control. During 1993, the press criticized this latter agency, casting doubts on the competence and loyalty of its leadership and focusing especially on purported organizational and managerial shortcomings.

Economic reforms continued to transform the Czech Republic in 1993, although the split from the Slovak Republic had a short-term negative effect, primarily in the volume of trade. Privatization of small enterprises was completed, but some of the most difficult challenges in restructuring large industrial firms remained. By the end of 1993, the private sector contributed approximately 45 percent of gross domestic product, up from less than 5 percent in 1989. The Government followed firm macroeconomic policies, resulting in a stable currency and a budget surplus. During 1993, the economic decline that had been a result of the transformation to a market economy bottomed out, and analysts foresaw slow but steady growth with continued low unemployment in the years ahead.

A number of independent human rights monitoring groups, as well as the Government, conducted studies of human rights issues, including the situation of the Roma (Gypsy) minority. Human rights abuses identified by these institutions – as well as by the press – included discrimination against the Roma minority; perceived attacks on press freedom; and the continued presence in Czech law of screening requirements aimed at those accused of collaborating with the pre-1989 Communist regime. Questions about women's rights, including violence against women, are still relegated to the margins of social and political debate.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

No political or extrajudicial killings were known to have occurred.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of abductions, disappearances, secret arrests, or clandestine detentions.

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

There was no evidence of any such practices.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Czech Republic assumed Czechoslovak laws governing arrest and related rights. Courts issue arrest warrants. Persons may be held without charge for 24 hours, during which time the arrestee has the right to consult with counsel. There was no evidence of any incommunicado detention or protective detention. A person charged with a crime has the right to appear before a judge for arraignment. At arraignment, if charges are formalized, the judge determines whether custody is necessary pending trial. Pretrial custody may not exceed 1 year, and in such cases monthly appearances before a judge are required. Counsel and family visits are available. These guidelines are followed in practice. There is no exile in law or in practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system consists of district, regional, and high courts. A Supreme Court, the highest court of appeal, was established early in 1993. In addition, a Constitutional Court, which rules separately on the constitutionality of legislation, was created early in the year and began deliberations in December. Military courts, which have jurisdiction over police, intelligence, and military matters, were abolished at the end of 1993, and their functions were taken over by the civil courts.

The judiciary is impartial and independent. Justice Ministry officials and press observers noted that the shortage of qualified judges (a problem under the Czechoslovak Federation) is slowly being overcome.

Persons charged with criminal offenses are entitled to fair and open public trials. They have the right to be informed of the charges against them and of their legal rights, to retain and consult with counsel, and to present a defense. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the State provides one. 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.

The Czech Republic adopted, with some modifications, the 1991 federal "lustration" law, and the Czech Parliament retained the commission created in 1992 to enforce its provisions. The law bars many former Communist party officials, members of the People's Militia, and secret police collaborators from holding a wide range of elective, nominative, and appointive offices, including appointive positions in state-owned companies, academe, and the media for a period of 5 years.

Late in 1992, the Czechoslovak Federal Constitutional Court eliminated the so-called Category C list (those listed as collaborators but who in fact may only have been intelligence targets). The Czech Republic accepted this federal ruling in 1993. Although the screening law is still on the books, it is rarely used. Many observers – including Communist party members and human rights monitors – consider the law a dead letter, though parliamentarians still claim that it can limit careers and affect the structure of public office. One Communist party official asserted that the most significant result of the screening legislation at present is that it hurts the international image of the Czech Republic.

The screening process was criticized because it was based on the records of the Communist secret police, records many suspected were incomplete or unreliable. There is no judicial mechanism for appeal of screening decisions, though the Interior Ministry retained an internal board of appeals to review those decisions. The screening law was criticized, both domestically and internationally (it was cited in reports by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the Council of Europe) as a violation of human rights principles prohibiting discrimination in employment and condemning collective guilt. Foreign ministry officials claim that in 1993 both the CSCE and the Council of Europe informed them that neither organization viewed lustration as a serious human rights problem in the Czech Republic. Similarly, labor ministry officials note that in 1993 the International Labor Organization did not renew its previous criticism of lustration with the advent of the new Czech State.

In a July law, Parliament defined the pre-1989 Communist regime as criminal and expressly lifted the statute of limitations for crimes committed by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia during its 40-year rule. The law was criticized by human rights activists for adopting the principle of collective guilt. In late November, Parliament passed a new Criminal Code containing provisions forbidding defamation of the State and the Presidency. The Constitutional Court in December upheld both these controversial laws. There were no known 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. In September the press reported that listening devices had been found in the Justice Minister's office. 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 press. Individuals may, and do, speak out on political and other issues and freely criticize the Government and public figures. A wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and journals continued to be published in 1993. As an illustration, Prague, with a population of 1.25 million, is home to at least a dozen dailies with national distribution, as well as a variety of entertainment and special interest newspapers. Some newspapers are associated with the interests of political parties, but even most of these were sufficiently independent to criticize their main ideological backer on occasion. The print media enjoyed the right to publish without censorship or fear of government persecution, though the ruling Civic Democratic Party in public statements often criticized what it called the immaturity and lack of ethical behavior among print journalists.

The electronic media are independent. Some television channels are privately owned. A parliamentary commission has broad oversight and power to approve or reject candidates for the independent Television and Radio Council. The Council has responsibility for policymaking in television and radio as well as granting licenses. Since January 1993, under the media law the Television and Radio Council granted 1 television license, more than 10 radio licenses, and over 30 television cable licenses.

The Civic Democratic Party was critical of the electronic media as well. In January party figures criticized a decision by the Television and Radio Council to award a broadcast license to the Cet-21 firm for a Czech television channel. Some Civic Democrats had apparently hoped another bidder would win the contract and protested the decision. This lack of distinction between public and private interest was apparent in the stated desire of Prime Minister Klaus to acquire a government station so that the Government "has enough space to explain to the people what it deems necessary to explain."

Despite criticism from the Prime Minister and members of his party, the media, both print and electronic, continued to express a wide variety of views on most topical issues. There was no official censorship.

Universities have the authority to decide their internal affairs, including pedagogic and academic orientation and internal structure. Academic freedom is provided for by law, though the same law forbids activities by established political parties at the university.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Czech law provides for the right of persons to assemble peacefully. Permits for some public demonstrations are required by law but are rarely refused. Police generally do not interfere with spontaneous peaceful demonstrations for which organizers lack a permit. Such police behavior is perhaps due to sensitivity about the actions of police against peaceful assemblies in the not-too-distant Communist past.

The right of persons to associate freely and to form political parties and movements is also protected by law and respected 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 Communist Party is represented in Parliament and in local government and continues to own considerable assets throughout the Republic.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Czech Republic enjoys religious freedom. There is no official religion, and no religion is banned or discouraged by law. The Government has not yet resolved the problem of the restitution of church property, though the issue has been the subject of considerable debate inside the ruling coalition, which includes two Christian Democratic parties. Claims for the restitution of Jewish property are still outstanding as well, but a law has been drafted that would grant the Jewish community some property previously owned by Jews, not as a precedent for restitution, but as a gift from the State.

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

The Czech Republic has 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. A few localities have issued ordinances requiring nonresidents to prove that they have a place to live, a job, and no criminal record. These ordinances, specifically aimed at minorities (Roma or Asian) in the towns of Jirkov, Dubi, and Brandys nad Labem, have received extensive press coverage and criticism from human rights groups (see Section 5).

Refugees and asylum seekers are treated according to international norms. With the exception of over 2,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia, most migrants used the Czech Republic as a transit route toward the West. (The number of migrants crossing Czech territory en route to Germany peaked at midyear and fell drastically after the implementation of a new asylum law in Germany in July.) Those granted refugee status are given permission to reside in the Czech Republic for 5 years, followed by a formal review whereby they may obtain permanent residence. A lengthy procedure to apply for naturalization is also open to them. Nongovernmental organizations work closely with Interior Ministry officials to ease refugees' transition into Czech society. In practice, however, most potential refugees choose to apply for permanent settlement elsewhere.

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

Citizens of the Czech Republic have the right to change their government by democratic means. Citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in republicwide 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.

The ruling four-party right-of-center coalition was formed in June 1992, at the time of the last election in Czechoslovakia. There are also a number of left-of-center opposition parties and one party of the radical right. The Czech Constitution mandates elections at least every 4 years to the Parliament, based on proportional representation within eight large electoral districts. There is a 5-percent threshold for parties to enter the Parliament. The Constitution also calls for an upper house of Parliament, the Senate, which in 1993 had yet to be constituted; the first senatorial election should take place in 1994, although legislation defining its procedures remains to be adopted. The President, who is elected by the Parliament, serves a 5-year term. The President 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.

There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on women's participation in politics. Women appear to participate less in the public sphere, both in the work force and in public office since the overthrow of the Communist regime. Relatively few women hold high public office in the Czech Republic, though women serve as mayors and parliamentary deputies.

The two significant minorities – Roma and Slovaks – are not represented as such in Czech politics. The government- sponsored Council on National Minorities, which has representatives from all minority groups, plans to release a comprehensive minority policy paper early in 1994. No minority leader holds significant elective office at the republic or local level. Slovaks, of whom there are an estimated 300,000, are primarily "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.

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 republicwide prominence. 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).

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

The Czech Republic encourages the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The Presidency of former dissident and human rights monitor Vaclav Havel serves as a powerful moral magnet for these groups, which work without government interference or difficulty. Czech officials generally cooperate with official and unofficial visits by foreign human rights monitors or human rights officials representing countries or multilateral organizations. A study of human rights in the Czech Republic by the CSCE concluded there were no significant violations of international human rights standards, and a Council of Europe report determined that there were no human rights obstacles to Czech admission to the Council.

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, or social status. In practice, Roma sometimes face discrimination in such areas as educational opportunity.

Women

Women are equal under the law and receive pay equal to that of male colleagues for the same job, though the median wages for women in 1993 lagged significantly behind those of men. In the Czech economy, women appear to be concentrated in professions in which the median salary is generally low: medicine, teaching, white-collar clerical jobs. Women enjoy equal property, inheritance, and other legal rights with men. Public debate about violence towards women remains nearly nonexistent, despite the efforts of a handful of women's groups to bring this and other issues to the attention of the public. Police and human rights groups sometimes link violence toward women with economic hardship and excessive drinking but without any hard facts. Justice officials claim that laws against violence are effectively enforced, and human rights groups do not contradict them.

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 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

Government expenditure on children's welfare is adequate. Children generally receive sufficient health care, compulsory education, and basic nutrition. Some Roma children do not receive these benefits, but this is less the result of government policy than of cultural differences and instances of social prejudice. Child abuse as a social problem began to receive attention in the press in 1993.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

By far the most significant minority in the Czech Republic is the Roma population, 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 disproportionally from poverty, crime, and disease. Efforts by foundations and by persons in the education and health fields 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 in the Czech Republic. Roma leaders claim that Roma are discriminated against in employment, housing, and everyday life. A significant example was the passage late in 1992 of decrees in the town of Jirkov (northern Bohemia), which assessed fines against those who had not gained prior permission from the owner to live in an apartment and gave the town council the right to evict apartment occupants without a court order, if the council determined they were in violation of hygienic rules and local regulations. Furthermore, the decree required those who could not prove they belonged in a residence to leave town. The town council openly admitted the ordinance was aimed at dealing with the overcrowding of apartments by Roma. The district prosecutor in the Jirkov area said that the ordinance violated Republic law and should be rescinded. They were in fact ruled invalid by the courts but not explicitly rescinded by the municipality. These decrees were followed later in the year by similar proclamations in the towns of Dubi and, closer to Prague, Brandys nad Labem. In Brandys, local officials told the press that the decrees were aimed at regulating the influx of Asian immigrants who illegally occupied local housing.

Another celebrated incident took place in March at the Miss Czech Republic beauty pageant, at which one aspirant for the crown described her goal as ridding her (North Bohemian) town of dark-skinned people. Such attitudes were encouraged by the rightwing SPR-RPC (Republican) Party, which offered an expensive sports car to the authorities of any city hall who rid their town of Roma. In some instances, fighting has occurred, and, in at least four cases, an ethnic Czech or Roma has been killed. Newspapers reports often link such violence with skinhead provocations. Such was certainly the case in incidents in Plzen and Pisek in the fall, in each of which a young Roma died as a result of skinhead violence. There are credible reports that police ignore or condone incidents of violence against the Roma, although the Government has denounced such violence.

Roma protest the Czech Republic's citizenship law, which prevents persons who have had a criminal conviction in the last 5 years from gaining citizenship. The central issue, as in most issues affecting Roma, is cultural: ethnic Czechs see 5 years as reasonable, Roma see it as punitive. Roma comprise a disproportionate percentage of those arrested, charged, and convicted of criminal offenses. Roma leaders protest that this provision of the law is designed to discriminate against Roma. The Czech Government in 1993 established a Commission on Minorities, which is widely regarded as ineffective in dealing with problems facing the Roma. The Government is not overtly anti-Roma, although domestic policies tend to neglect the seriousness of the Roma issue. In a well-known incident, one high official, Prosecutor General Jiri Setina, publicly criticized Roma. (Setina lost his job later in the year for reasons unrelated to his statements about the Roma.)

Religious minorities

The Jewish community in the Czech Republic numbers a few thousand. Legal charges of slander and infringement of the rights of others, brought against the editor of the openly anti-Semitic magazine Politika, which ceased publication late in 1992, are still pending in a local Moravian court. In November a Brno man was sentenced to prison for extortion and scaremongering for telephone threats against Jewish citizens and community buildings. There was little additional evidence of public anti-Semitism, and the leaders of the Jewish community enjoyed close relations with government officials and other political leaders.

People with Disabilities

A heretofore generous government policy of support for the disabled is being reduced for financial reasons. Standards for receiving disability pensions are reportedly applied more strictly to Roma than to other citizens, though anecdotal evidence suggests that in the past a higher percentage of the Roma qualified for disability payments than of the population at large. 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Czech Republic preserved legislation passed by the Czechoslovak Parliament between 1990 and 1992 guaranteeing workers the right to form and join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. 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 (ILO) statutes but the Czech Constitution as well. At year's end, the draft law had not yet been debated in Parliament. More than 60 percent of the work force is unionized, though 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), which took over the central union role held by the Czech and Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions (CSKOS) following the dissolution of the federation. CMKOS is a democratically oriented, republicwide umbrella organization for unions not affiliated with political parties.

CSKOS continued to represent some elements of Czech (and Slovak) trade union interests, especially in contacts with international organizations, until it was disbanded in November. Some small independent trade unions outside of CMKOS also exist, including one principally led by former Communist trade union officials and one based on Christian union principles.

Workers have the right to strike, except for those in specific professions whose role in public order or public safety is deemed crucial: 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 firefighting and 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. Strikes were almost unheard of in 1993. In one instance, CSKOS and CMKOS leaders alleged that the Government sought to intimidate subway workers who threatened to strike by publishing their names in the press. The issues over which the strike was to occur were settled before it could take place. Railway workers threatened a major strike in December over government rollbacks of traditional union benefits. The strike was averted at the last minute by the Government's decision to negotiate about these benefits.

Czech unions are free to form or join federations and confederations and affiliate with and participate in international bodies. This freedom was fully exercised. The International Labor Organization's complaint against the Czechoslovak Federation – that the lustration law (which prevents former leaders of the Communist regime from holding high public office) represented an instance of employment discrimination – was dropped in 1993 with the accession of the Czech Republic to the ILO, according to Labor Ministry officials.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law guarantees collective bargaining. The basic collective bargaining instrument in the Czech Republic is the law on collective bargaining. It is carried out in the tripartite system, a voluntary arrangement in which representatives of unions, government, and employers set the parameters of labor relations. At various times throughout the year, CMKOS pointed to what it saw as Government violations of tripartite agreements. Union and Government leaders generally settled such disagreements by negotiation. Wages are set by free negotiation, though an upper limit was established by law in July, much to the consternation of some union leaders. Charges of antiunion discrimination may be filed in court. Labor Ministry officials were unable to say if court proceedings had led to reinstatement or other actions.

The Czech Republic has one export processing zone. Its 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

Legislation inherited from the federation, which enshrined elements of international human rights agreements, prohibited forced or compulsory labor. There was no evidence that such practices occurred.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code stipulates that children must be 15 years of age before they may work in the Czech Republic. Those who have completed courses at special schools (that is, schools for the severely disabled) may work at the age of 14.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets minimum wage standards. The established minimum wage provides an adequate 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. The minimum wage is roughly equal to $75 per month (thus around one-third of the average monthly wage of $220). Major efforts at retraining, also carried out by district labor offices, seek to provide labor mobility for those at the lower end of the wage scale. Because positive trends in the economy in 1993 led to a 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 may not exceed 150 hours per year or 8 hours per week as standard practice. The Labor Ministry, responsible for enforcement of overtime regulations, said the phenomenal growth of the private sector, especially in small service enterprises, made it very difficult to assess overtime abuses.

Government, unions, and employers have agreed to advance worker safety and health, but conditions in some sectors of heavy industry remained substandard, especially in those sectors awaiting the process of privatization. Industrial accident rates are not unusually high. In contrast, the incidence of long-term health problems in areas suffering from heavy industrial pollution is, in fact, unusually high by international standards. The Office of Labor Safety is responsible for enforcement of health and safety standards.

Search Refworld

Countries