Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 - The Slovak Republic

Human Rights Developments

Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the rights of minorities were under continuous attack by the government of Vladimir Meciar in 1996. The secret service, police force and state media were all used by the government for political purposes. The government continued to impede an impartial investigation into the 1995 kidnapping of Michal Kovac, Jr., son of President Kovac, who has been a strong critic of Prime Minister Meciar. In May, a policeman and key witness in the case was killed when his car exploded on the outskirts of Bratislava. The government claimed that it was an accident, but allegations of Slovakia's first political murder quickly arose. Editor of the independent newspaper Sme (Bratislava), Peter Toth, accused the Slovak Information Service and government circles of involvement in the death. The government filed libel charges against him for "intolerance and gross and ungrounded attacks against the cabinet." On May 20, the police announced the case's adjournment for lack of evidence, despite credible charges of the government's involvement. In April, parliament approved amendments to the penal code that were intended for the "defense of the republic." While the amendments were allegedly intended to protect the state, their vague terminology opened the door for the state to restrict freedom of speech, assembly and expression. The articles in question restrict the right of Slovak citizens and, in some cases, foreigners living in Slovakia to organize activities or express opinions that are deemed damaging to "state interests" or "subversive to the republic." As of October, no one had been charged under these articles. On June 20, parliament passed a controversial Law on Foundations to regulate the work of nongovernmental organizations that the government claimed were "destroying Slovakia's image." The law required all foundations to have a minimum U.S.$3,200 endowment, an amount which may force some of the smaller, local foundations to close. More seriously, foundations must now register with the government, which may arbitrarily decide which foundations may operate in the country. According to the Third Sector, a local nongovernmental organization, one foundation was already refused registration. In May, the Slovak parliament ratified a Slovak-Hungarian friendship treaty, which had been signed by the country's two prime ministers in March 1995. Despite this, the Hungarian minority still experienced discriminatory treatment by the government. The most controversial development was the January enactment of a new language law, which made it illegal to use any language other than Slovak in official state business. The country's estimated 300,000 Roma also continued to suffer from state discrimination, especially in education, housing and employment. Violent crimes against Roma by "skinheads" continued to rise, and the police and local courts often did not take adequate steps to apprehend and punish those responsible. The government maintained control of Slovak television and radio, using it to present its political views rather than objective information. On May 22, Ivan Lexa, head of the Slovak Intelligence Service, accused the independent media, including Radio Free Europe (RFE), Sme and Radio Twist, of creating an "anti-Slovak atmosphere." In February, the government threatened not to renew RFE's license, but a one-year license was granted on February 15. In March, the government's legislative council approved a restrictive media bill, although, as of October, it had not been passed by parliament.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki is not aware of any attempt by the Slovak government to hinder the monitoring or reporting of human rights during 1996.

The Role of the International Community

The international community expressed concern about human rights violations in Slovakia on a number of occasions. The foundations law, language law and penal code amendments all provoked statements of concern from the European Union, the Council of Europe and the U.S. government. In February, European Commissioner Hans van den Broek warned that a lack of democratic reform could threaten Slovakia's acceptance into the European Union. The European Union and American ambassadors to Slovakia reiterated this position in October. The U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 accurately reflected the human rights situation in the country.
This report covers events of 1996

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