Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 - Czech Republic

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 - Czech Republic, 1 January 1997, available at: [accessed 16 December 2018]
Comments This report covers events of 1996
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Human Rights Developments

The Czech human rights record for 1996 was mixed. Despite the generally laudable reforms of Czech democracy, the government failed to ensure many basic human rights to the Roma minority. The continued effects of a discriminatory citizenship law and the state's unwillingness to combat growing racist violence revealed a pattern of discrimination along ethnic lines.

The biggest problem stemmed from the local police, who sometimes displayed an open sympathy for "skinheads," allowing them to hold unauthorized marches and threaten non-ethnic Czechs. Police were often slow to respond to Romani calls for help and hesitant to make arrests, even after a violent attack. In some cases, police themselves used excessive force against Roma.

Despite noticeable improvements in 1996, the judicial system did not always punish the perpetrators of racially motivated violence to the fullest extent of the law. When cases did go to court, the attack was often viewed as a "personal fight" rather than a premeditated act of violence against an individual on account of his race, ethnicity or color. Sentences were often light, which sent the message that such attacks are not considered serious.

Racist attacks – and the government's lack of response – were the most serious concern of Roma in the country. But Roma also continued to face state discrimination in other areas of daily life, such as education, housing and employment. They were often segregated in "special schools," denied residency permits and refused jobs, solely because of their race or ethnicity.

The issue that received the most international attention is the country's controversial citizenship law, which came into effect after the division of Czechoslovakia in January 1993. Although the law does not specifically refer to Roma, its requirements on residence, ancestry and criminality had a clearly disproportionate impact on Roma, and as such are discriminatory. In addition, many Roma who met all of the requirements of the law were arbitrarily denied citizenship by local officials.

As a result, many Roma living in the Czech Republic in 1996 did not have Czech citizenship even though they are long-time or lifelong residents of the republic. Those denied citizenship were unable to vote, run for office, participate in the privatization process or seek redress for wrongs committed against them during the communist regime. Some non-citizens had difficulty receiving permanent residence, which is necessary to receive social benefits from the state. An undetermined number of people were deported to Slovakia, while others became stateless altogether. Although it is difficult to prove with certainty, evidence suggests that the law was drafted with the specific intent of hindering citizenship for Roma and facilitating their removal from the Czech lands.

Parliament passed an amendment to the law in April 1996 after substantial international criticism. According to the amendment, the Ministry of Interior may waive the five-year clean criminal record requirement, which is the clause that had prevented many Roma from obtaining citizenship. As of August, the ministry had waived the requirement for all sixty-two people who had applied. Even as amended, however, the law remains inconsistent with the Czech Republic's international commitments.

Parliamentary elections in June kept Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus in power. The far-right Republican Party won eighteen seats (an increase of four seats) with a blatantly anti-Roma program. Former high-ranking communist party officials and secret policemen were banned from running for office under a "lustration law" (screening law) that was extended until the year 2000 in September 1995. In February, the minister of the interior proposed that the Party of Czechoslovak Communists be prohibited from participating in the elections, since the party was banned in 1993, but the government took no action.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any attempts by the Czech government to impede human rights monitoring and reporting in 1996.

The Role of the International Community

United States

Relations between the U.S. and the Czech Republic remained friendly throughout 1996. However, the U.S. Helsinki Commission did express frequent and pointed criticism of the citizenship law and its effect on the Roma minority. The section on the Czech Republic in the State Department's Country Reports for Human Rights Practices for 1995 was largely accurate.


The Czech Republic is, together with Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, considered a leading candidate for early membership in NATO and the European Union because these countries meet, or are close to meeting, essential conditions set out by NATO in 1995. These condition, among others, include internal democracy and civilian control of the armed forces.

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