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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Slovak 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 - Slovak Republic, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa454.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 Slovak Republic became an independent state in 1993, following the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR). Its Constitution provides for a multiparty, multiethnic parliamentary democracy. Slovakia chose to carry over the entire body of CSFR domestic legislation and international treaty obligations, which gradually are being renewed or updated.

In March President Michal Kovac dismissed the government headed by Vladimir Meciar, chairman of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), following a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Pending early parliamentary elections on September 30/October 1, a coalition government headed by Jozef Moravcik, leader of the Democratic Union of Slovakia (DU), held office. In the elections, the HZDS obtained a plurality of 40 percent of the parliamentary seats and formed a working parliamentary alliance with the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS). On December 12, a government of those three parties, led by Vladimir Meciar, was sworn in by President Kovac.

The Slovak Information Service (SIS) is responsible for all civilian security and intelligence activities. A five-member parliamentary commission oversees the SIS. There were no reports of human rights abuses by the SIS or the military security apparatus of the Slovak Government.

Since independence, Slovakia has made intermittent progress in developing a market economy. The private sector accounts for some 40 percent of the gradually rising gross domestic product. After the elections, the HZDS announced that the second wave of voucher privatization, scheduled for December by the Moravcik government, would be postponed until late January 1995. Industry and construction employ 43 percent of the labor force, and agriculture 12 percent. Major exports are machinery and transport equipment, chemicals and fuels, minerals, and metals.

The Government respects freedom of assembly, association, and religion. Laws prohibiting defamation of the President and utterances fostering ethnic or religious hatred limit freedom of speech, and dismissals of media personnel following changes of government in March and December infringed on the freedom and independence of the media. Laws permitting bilingual road signs in areas inhabited by ethnic Hungarians and the registration of non-Slovak names eased some ethnic tensions. Skinheads occasionally attacked Roma and at times harassed Jews as well. Discrimination against minorities, particularly Roma, continued to be a problem. Violence against women is a serious problem.

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. The village policeman charged in 1993 with murder in connection with the abduction and killing of two Roma at Klenovec was remanded to psychiatric care.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

There were no reports of any such practices.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for protection against unlawful or unreasonable detention. A person accused or suspected of a crime must be given a hearing within 24 hours and either set free or remanded to the court. During this time, the detainee has the right to an attorney. If remanded to a court, the accused is entitled to a hearing within 24 hours, at which the judge will set the accused free or issue a substantive written order placing the accused in custody. Investigative detention may last up to 2 months and may be extended. The total length of pretrial detention may not exceed 1 year, unless the Supreme Court extends it by determining that the person constitutes a serious danger to society. The law allows family visits and provides for a court-paid attorney, if needed, although human rights observers point out that this applies only to defendants whose alleged offenses are punishable by more than 5 years in prison. A system of bail has existed since July 1990.

There is no exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for courts that are independent, impartial, and separate from the other branches of government. Some critics allege, however, that the dependence of judges upon the Ministry of Justice for logistical support, the granting of leave requests, and other services undermines their independent status. The President appoints Constitutional Court judges, while Parliament elects other judges, based on recommendations from the Ministry of Justice.

The court system consists of local and regional courts, with the Supreme Court as the highest court of appeals. In addition, there is a separate military court system, the decisions of which may be appealed to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

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 sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense, and to confront witnesses. They enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to refuse to testify against themselves. They may appeal any judgment against them.

The "lustration" law of the former CSFR, barring from high public office persons who previously collaborated with the Communist-era secret police, is technically still in effect in Slovakia, though not enforced. Opponents of enforcement consider the law discriminatory and a violation of due process because decisions would be based on unverifiable secret police records and no mechanism for appeal is available. The law's supporters cite the need to ban from public office those responsible for abuses of power and repression during the years of Communist rule. A challenge to the lustration law was filed in the Slovak Constitutional Court in May 1994, but the Court declined to hear the case citing a 1991 decision by the Czechoslovak court on this issue as a precedent.

With respect to the Roma minority, human rights monitors charged that police appeared reluctant to take the testimony of witnesses to skinhead attacks on Roma. Further, they reported that police used the device of countercharges to pressure Roma victims of police brutality to drop their complaints, that medical doctors and investigators cooperated with police by refusing to describe accurately the injuries involved, and that lawyers often were reluctant to represent Roma in such situations, for fear this would have a negative effect on their practice.

There were no reports of political prisoners in 1994.

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

The Criminal Code requires police to obtain a judicial search warrant in order to enter a home. The court may issue such a warrant only if there is a well-founded suspicion that important evidence or persons accused of criminal activity are present inside or if there is some other important reason. Police must present the warrant before conducting the house search or within 24 hours after the search.

The 1993 police law regulates wiretapping and mail surveillance for the purposes of criminal investigation, which may be conducted, on the order of a judge or prosecutor, only in cases of extraordinarily serious premeditated crimes or crimes involving international treaty obligations. There were no reports of illegal surveillance of persons or communications or of mail tampering.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution prohibits censorship and provides for freedom of information and the right of expression. In a December speech introducing his new Government, Prime Minister Meciar said that "We recognize that a free and independent media is also the foundation of a democratic society" and thus "the Slovak Government shall, in the spirit of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, consistently protect the freedom of expression as one of the fundamental human rights." However, the law prohibits public utterances fostering ethnic or religious hatred.

Human rights monitors objected to Article 103 of the Slovak Criminal Code, which prohibits defamation of the President, on the grounds that it was being implemented in a manner that limited freedom of the press. They cited the case of a newspaper editor under investigation in 1994 for publishing the letter of a reader who was indirectly critical of the President. Observers voiced concern over proposals by some nationalist politicians for a law on the protection of the Republic, fearing that such a law would undermine freedom of speech.

During 1994 numerous newspapers, magazines, and journals spanning the entire spectrum of political views were published freely. The print media continued frank and occasionally critical coverage of government activities, but the HZDS renewed its call for increased government regulation of journalism, promising in its election program that it would not allow "tendentious fabrications and reporting by people in the mass media."There is no civil service law protecting jobs after a change of government. In March the Moravcik government took steps to restore employment to two persons who had lost their jobs in 1993 on free speech grounds. Lubomir Lintner, the Slovak radio journalist fired in 1993 because of alleged government pressure, was named press spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister. Slovak Press Agency Chief Dusan Kleiman, dismissed by the incoming Moravcik government in March was reinstated in his position by the incoming Meciar Government in December. The director of the National Oncology Institute, fired in 1993 after he had spoken critically of the health care system on television, regained his post in 1994 in a competitive selection process.

Councils made up of nine members elected by Parliament to 6-year terms administer the government-sponsored Slovak Radio and Slovak Television. Slovakia has one government-sponsored television station broadcasting on two channels. One of 17 radio stations is government sponsored; the remainder are privately owned and controlled.

The pro-HZDS majority in November replaced the members of both councils. Simultaneously, the Radio Council fired the director of Slovak Radio, who had served continuously since 1989. A new director of Slovak Television--the seventh since the 1989 revolution--was appointed in January. Subsequently a number of other staff changes were made at both radio and television. Listeners report that coverage of internal political news was greatly reduced, with the views of opposition politicians reported only minimally, if at all. Early in 1994, agreement was reached for Radio Free Europe (RFE) to continue its medium-wave broadcasts to Slovakia. At an HZDS demonstration on the day of the Meciar government's March ouster, an angry crowd viciously beat RFE journalists covering the event after a speaker at the rally identified them. Police refused to aid the journalists, who subsequently reported they were afraid to cover HZDS meetings. The Government later replaced the police chief of Bratislava.

Just prior to the Meciar government's fall, reception of some Radio Free Europe (RFE) broadcasts was blocked for several hours. The Meciar government denied responsibility, and reception subsequently was restored.

After the fall of the Meciar government, the new government dismissed the general director and chief editor of the government-owned Slovak Republic Press Agency (TASR). TASR soon thereafter divested itself of its ownership of the pro-HZDS newspaper Republika, which continued its activities under private ownership as Slovenska Republika. Some HZDS representatives criticized these actions as interference in the media. Subsequently the HZDS hired the editor as its press spokesman. (HZDS restored him to his former position when it returned to power in December.)The law provides for academic freedom, which is generally respected, and grants universities the authority to decide their internal affairs, including pedagogic and academic orientation and internal structure.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right of persons to assemble peacefully. The Government requires permits for some public demonstrations, but there were no reports of refusals, nor of police interference with public demonstrations.

The law also provides for the right of persons to associate freely and to form political parties and movements, a right which was respected in practice. Some organizations, including political parties, are required to register, but there were no reports that this requirement presented an obstacle to free association.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and faith, and the Government respects this provision. Under existing law, only registered churches and religious organizations have the explicit right to conduct public worship services and other activities, although no specific religions or practices are banned or discouraged by the authorities. The State provides financial subsidies only to registered churches and religious organizations, of which there are 15. There are no special laws or regulations governing foreign missionaries desiring to enter the country and proselytize or foreign clergy entering to serve expatriate congregations; they fall under the general provisions concerning the entry of foreigners.

Based on a law passed in 1993, the property of religious organizations that was confiscated during World War II and the Communist period was returned to them.

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

There are no restrictions on the freedom of movement of citizens within or outside the country. Former Czechoslovak citizens who emigrated during the period of Communist rule are free to return for visits and may obtain Slovak citizenship if they wish.

Refugees and asylum seekers are treated in accordance with international norms. There were no reports of refugees being forced to return to countries in which they feared persecution.

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

Citizens have the constitutional right to change their government through the periodic free election of their national and local representatives. Citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote, and voting is by secret ballot. The Constitution reserves certain powers to the President as Chief of State (elected by the Parliament), but executive power rests with the Government. Legislative power is vested in the National Council of the Slovak Republic (parliament).

There are no official restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics, but they are underrepresented in government. A total of 22 women were elected to the 150-member Parliament in October, a reduction from 26 in the previous parliament.

The ethnic Hungarian coalition gained 17 seats in Parliament. Ethnic Hungarian calls for greater local self-government, or "autonomy," in the January 1994 Komarno declaration, which were repeated in the Hungarian political parties' coalition agreement, caused anxiety among Slovaks that the Hungarians intended eventually to secede from Slovakia and become a part of Hungary. The Slovak National Party (SNS) reacted by calling for a ban on ethnic Hungarian political parties, but no action was taken in 1994.

Some members of the opposition have charged that, in its rush to implement changes following the election, the HZDS violated the Constitution on a number of occasions, for example, by nominating a new Prosecutor General before waiting for the President to act on Parliament's proposed recall of the then current prosecutor general. Opposition members have also voiced serious concern over HZDS attempts to deprive deputies from former Prime Minister Moravchik's DU of their electoral mandates by claiming that they failed to gain enough voter signatures, despite the fact that the DU obtained significant voter support in the election itself. Critics assert that the HZDS violated citizens' right to privacy after a HZDS-led parliamentary committee broke the seals on the signature petitions.

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

Representatives of local and international nongovernmental human rights organizations worked freely, without government interference. The Commissioner for Minorities of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) visited the country to study conditions facing ethnic Hungarians (see Section 5).

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

The law prohibits discrimination and provides for the equality of all citizens. Health care, education, retirement benefits, and other social services are provided regardless of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status.

Women

Women in Slovakia are equal under the law. They enjoy the same property, inheritance, and other legal rights as men and receive pay equal to that of male colleagues for the same job. Women are well represented in the judicial and administrative professions but are underrepresented in other public service areas. Despite the lack of overt discrimination, some cultural barriers to their advancement remain. Labor law prohibits women from engaging in certain types of work considered dangerous to their health.

The Democratic Union of Women of Slovakia monitors observance of the rights of women and their families in light of internationally accepted documents and the Constitution, especially as they affect the social and family spheres. At a conference in Bratislava in October on intolerance and violence against women, participants reported that 80 percent of women frequently experienced family violence; 90 percent faced various forms of intolerance; and 25 percent had experienced sexual harassment and extortion in the workplace.

Police deal with spousal abuse, child abuse, and other violence against women in the same way as other criminal offenses. They believe that two-thirds of female rape victims fail to report the cases for personal reasons. Once reported, police investigate such cases as they would any other under the Criminal Code.

As a result of amendments to the Criminal Code which took effect during 1994, prostitution is not an illegal act. However, the Code prohibits activities related to prostitution, such as renting apartments for conducting prostitution, spreading contagious diseases, or trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution. The authorities prosecuted several cases involving prostitution-related offenses.

Children

The Constitution, the Law on Education, the Labor Code, and the system of child welfare payments to families with children each provide in part for children's rights. There is no evidence of a pattern of abuse or denial of rights to children.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitution provides minorities with the right to develop their own culture, receive information and education in their mother tongue, and participate in decisionmaking in matters affecting them. The Government continued to provide funding for cultural, educational, broadcasting, and publishing activities for the major ethnic minorities. A November proposal by ethnic Hungarian parliamentarians to create a parliamentary committee for human rights, ethnic minorities, and religion was defeated. In December incoming Prime Minister Meciar told the diplomatic corps, "The new Government of the Slovak Republic considers as its fundamental duty towards all citizens of Slovakia, regardless of their nationality ..., the fulfillment and protection of human rights as stipulated in the Constitution of the Slovak Republic." He continued, "The Slovak Government denounces all manifestations of intolerance, above all chauvinism, aggressive nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia ... That is why we shall tryto suppress and remove them."During 1994 educational benefits were extended in different forms to different minority groups, depending on the nature of their requests and the availability of government resources. For example, while German- and Ukrainian-speaking representatives preferred and were granted a mixed form of schooling only partly in the mother tongue, ethnic Hungarians actively sought complete mother-tongue education through university level. (Currently Hungarian-language education is available only through secondary school.)The ethnic Hungarian minority, which is the most numerous, is concentrated primarily in southern Slovakia, with a population estimated at 570,000 (many of whom are Roma). During 1994 Hungarians participated successfully at all levels in the political, economic, and social life of the country, although none rose to government ministerial posts. Most ethnic Hungarians and ethnic Slovaks living in mixed areas continued to coexist peacefully, although political frictions were evident over the minority's legal status, and there were occasional outbreaks of anti-Hungarian feeling. In March, on the day Parliament voted to recall the Meciar government, an angry crowd attacked two leading officials of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement (MKDH) as they exited the Parliament building. Police at the scene declined to intervene, saying they lacked sufficient force. The MKDH filed a complaint, but the authorities apparently took no disciplinary action against the police.

After his 1994 visit to Slovakia, the CSCE Commissioner for Minorities expressed confidence in the ability of Slovakia's democratic institutions to handle minority rights issues without external assistance. He also noted that ample opportunities exist for the use of Hungarian as a minority language in Slovakia.

Although the Government provides elementary and secondary education in Hungarian, some 20 percent of ethnic Hungarian families choose to send their children to Slovak-language schools. During 1994 the Government suspended plans to institute a number of "alternative" schools in which ethnic Hungarian students could choose to study some subjects in Slovak (aimed, according to the plan's advocates, at offering those students a chance to achieve a level of proficiency in technical fields that would enable them to compete more effectively for technical jobs later in life). Some Hungarian representatives had criticized the plan as aimed at eroding the Hungarian-language educational base.

Controversy arose during 1994 when ethnic Hungarian parents sought to prevent a Slovak nationalist known for his negative attitudes toward Hungarians from teaching as a substitute in their children's class at their ethnically mixed local school. Slovak activists immediately protested, appealing to the Ministry of Education to prevent what they considered a violation of the teacher's rights. The school's parent- teachers' association, after considering the case, retained the teacher.

During 1994 Slovakia fulfilled two commitments made in connection with its acceptance into the Council of Europe: it altered legislation so as to allow towns to post road signs in the Hungarian language and to authorize Hungarians to register names officially in their Hungarian form, without Slovak grammatical endings. By year's end, regulations were in place to implement both laws, and no complaints were reported.

Although Hungarian activists in the past had criticized a number of passages in the Constitution, including a phrase in its preamble ("we, the Slovak nation,") which they felt relegated nonethnic Slovak citizens to second-rate status, during 1994 they did not press for changes in the Constitution itself. They did, however, call for a constitutional law protecting the rights of the non-Slovak minorities.

Roma constitute the second largest ethnic minority, although many do not officially declare their ethnicity because of social prejudice against them. Thus, the official census figure of 81,000 is considered low; estimates of their actual numbers range as high as 500,000. Roma are economically disadvantaged, and their situation worsened somewhat when the budget-strapped Government cut the Communist-era welfare subsidies on which many had come to depend. In his December speech to the diplomatic corps, Prime Minister Meciar said, "The Government shall devote special attention to the economic, social, and cultural advancement of the national minority of the Roma, while using extensive possibilities of international cooperation."Although the nation's higher pedagogical school has a division to train teachers for schools with a high Roma population and the first Roma-language primers and readers were published in 1994, Education Ministry officials report that Roma have not requested separate mother-tongue instruction and Roma-language classrooms do not exist. A 2-year pilot project for Roma preschoolers in six towns, designed to prepare them for successful entry into the Slovak school system, yielded impressive results, but resources may not be available for its continuation. Both human rights monitors and Slovak officials report that many Roma pupils do not complete their secondary education because of poverty, unavailability of transportation from Roma settlements, and family and social pressures.

Roma representatives report that many employers are reluctant to hire members of the group, and that Roma unemployment soared when the Communist-era practice of universal mandatory employment ended in 1989. Unemployment is highest in areas heavily populated by Roma. During 1994 officials in one locality reportedly exerted psychological pressure on a hotel owner to revoke a residence permit he had given to two Roma families, on the grounds that allowing them to stay would stimulate a further influx of Roma into the town.

During 1994 several incidents of skinhead street violence against Roma were reported. Human rights monitors charged that police often were absent during such incidents, seemed reluctant to take action, and in some cases were guilty themselves of brutality toward Roma. Observers report that attempts to improve the poor relationship between Roma and the police by hiring Roma into the police force foundered when few Roma with clean police records could meet the minimum educational requirements.

Isolated incidents of verbal harassment of Jews by skinheads and others occurred during the year. Jewish spokesmen voiced concern over a number of news articles with an anti-Semitic slant. In the one reported case of the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, in which gravestones were overturned, local authorities apologized, and the juvenile perpetrators were sentenced to community service.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution and implementing legislation provide for health protection and special working conditions for mentally and physically disabled persons, including special protection in employment relations and special assistance in training. The law also prohibits discrimination against physically disabled individuals in employment, education, and provision of other state services. Nevertheless, experts report discrimination in such areas as accessibility of premises and access to education (especially higher education). Although not specifically required by law, existing government executive orders mandate the provision of accessibility for the disabled. However, the Government does not enforce these provisions effectively due to budgetary constraints.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right to form and join unions, except in the armed forces. In 1994 between 70 and 75 percent of the work force was organized. Unions are independent of the Government and political parties. There are no restrictions on the right to strike, but there were no reports of strikes during the year.

There were no reported instances of retribution against strikers or labor leaders, but the law and regulations do not explicitly prohibit such retribution. There were no reports of human rights abuses targeted against unions or workers.

Unions are free to form or join federations or confederations and to affiliate with and participate in international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The collective bargaining law provides for collective bargaining, which is freely practiced throughout the country. Employers and unions set wages in free negotiations. The Law on Citizens' Associations prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. Complaints may be resolved either in collective negotiations or in court. If found guilty of antiunion discrimination, employers are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The Customs Act of 1992 regulates duty-free stores and free customs zones. Firms operating in several such zones must comply with the Labor Code; to date, there have been no reports of special involvement by the trade unions. Slovakia has no special legislation governing labor relations in free trade zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Both the Constitution and the Employment Act prohibit forced or compulsory labor. There were no reports of violations. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family, as well as district and local labor offices, have responsibility for enforcement.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law sets the minimum employment age at 15 years of age. Under a law amended in 1994, children must remain in school for 9 years, or until age 15. Workers under age 16 may not work more than 33 hours per week; may not be compensated on a piecework basis; may not work overtime or night shifts; and may not work underground or in specified conditions deemed dangerous to their health or safety. Special conditions and protections, though somewhat less stringent, apply to young workers up to the age of 18. The Ministry of Labor enforces this legislation. There were no reports of violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage, effective October 1993, is $82 (2,450 Slovak crowns) per month. Even when combined with special allowances paid to families with children, it does not provide an adequate standard of living for workers and their families. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and the Family is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage; no violations were reported.

The standard workweek mandated by the Labor Code is 42.5 hours, although collective bargaining agreements have achieved reductions in some cases. The law requires overtime payment up to a maximum of 8 hours per week and 150 hours per year, and it provides 3 weeks of annual leave. There is no specifically mandated 24-hour rest period during the workweek. The trade unions, the Ministry of Labor, and local employment offices monitor observance of these laws, and the authorities effectively enforce them.

The Labor Code establishes health and safety standards which the Office of Labor Safety effectively enforces. For hazardous employment, workers undergo medical screening under the supervision of a physician. They have the right to refuse to work in situations which endanger their health and safety and may file complaints against employers in such situations. In February the Government adopted a resolution on work safety, which created a timetable for taking the steps necessary to bring Slovakia into conformity with European Union norms.

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