Human Rights Watch World Report 1996 - The Slovak Republic

Human Rights Developments

The political in-fighting between President Michal Kovac and Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar during 1995, had a decidedly negative impact on respect for human rights and the rule of law in Slovakia, particularly with regard to governmental interference with the independence of the media. Tensions between the Slovak majority and the ethnic Hungarian and Roma minorities also ran high during the year.

Friction among the political parties was highlighted on August 31, when President Michal Kovac's son was abducted from Slovakia, beaten and given electric shocks by eight unidentified men, and dropped in front of an Austrian police station. After Austrian police took him to a hospital for treatment, they detained him on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by a Munich court for suspicion of fraud. However, because the Slovak courts had not yet pronounced on the issue of extradition to Germany, Kovac was returned to Slovakia where his extradition case is currently pending.

During the course of the investigation into the kidnaping, Slovak police said they suspected the Slovak Information Service (SIS) had been involved. SIS chief, Ivan Lexa, a close associate of Prime Minister Meciar, refused to allow SIS members to be relieved of their oath of secrecy in order to give evidence to the police. He accused the regular police of revealing state secrets and demanded that the investigation team be replaced. As a result, three senior police officials investigating the kidnaping were dismissed from the case. The government made little effort to ascertain the truth about the SIS involvement and did not adequately investigate the serious allegations made by the police. Parliament refused to open debate on the circumstances leading up to the kidnaping.

Since the return to power of Prime Minister Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (KDH) after the parliamentary elections in November 1994, there has been a crackdown on free expression and the press. Shortly after the elections, parliament replaced most of the members of the State Television and Radio Council with members who were political allies. The Slovak government also used various means to prevent journalists from criticizing its policies. On March 9, thousands of demonstrators demanded the return of three widely-televised political satires, which had been taken off the air by the government.

Tensions between the Slovak majority and the Hungarian minority throughout the year reflected tensions between the Slovak and Hungarian governments. Although a basic agreement on the rights of minorities was signed by both countries in March, the Slovak government has yet to ratify the agreement, and has expressed disagreement with provisions concerning the autonomy of national minorities. Slovakia's controversial draft language law also delayed ratification of the bilateral treaty between Hungary and Slovakia. The draft language law limits the use of other languages in schools, state institutions, and both state- and privately-owned media, and was to have gone into effect on September 1, 1995. However, in September Meciar announced that the draft law would be discussed with the Council of Europe before being submitted to parliament.

The Roma minority, the second largest minority in Slovakia, experienced numerous incidents of"skinhead" violence in 1995. On September 1, 1995, a dozen Czech and Slovak "skinheads" broke into the Nevsvady home of a fifty-seven-year-old Roma man and beat him with a baseball bat and police truncheons. The Roma man suffered severe chest and elbow injuries. As of November 1995, the investigation was continuing.

In Ziar nad Hronom, the death of Mario Goral, a Roma, sparked public debate about violence against Roma. Mario Goral was set on fire on July 21 by a gang of forty youths. Goral suffered burns over 60 percent of his body. He died ten days after the attack. On August 10, in response to the incident, the Slovak government's Council for Nationalities held an extraordinary session at which it addressed the issues of racism and violence against Roma.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any interference with the work of human rights monitors by the government of the Slovak Republic during 1995.

U.S. Policy

Defense Secretary William Perry visited Slovakia in September and took that important opportunity to mention that Slovakia needed to strengthen democratic principles before it would be able to join NATO. After his meeting with government leaders, Mr. Perry said that "a test of progress toward democracy is the government tolerating diversity of opinion, fully supporting constitutional rights and providing transparency of government."

President Michal Kovac met with U.S. Vice President Al Gore on August 8, 1995. Kovac told Slovak radio that U.S. representatives were interested in the progress of democracy in Slovakia and had stressed that Slovakia is not living up to the same standards as other countries in the region. However, the U.S. did not issue a public statement concerning the meeting.

The State Department accurately commented on human rights in the Slovak Republic in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued closely to monitor the treatment of the Roma and Hungarian ethnic minorities, as well as efforts by the Slovak government to address serious problems of discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also closely monitored developments regarding restrictions on the press in the Slovak Republic.

This report covers events of 1995

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