Czech Republic - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in CZECH REPUBLIC

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Head of state: Václav Klaus
Head of government: Mirek Topolánek (replaced Ji¦í Paroubek in August)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: signed

The Romani minority faced severe discrimination in housing, education, health care and employment. Roma and other vulnerable groups were reportedly subjected to police ill-treatment and to racist attacks by private individuals. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the use of anonymous witnesses breached the right to a fair trial.

Background

The Civic Democratic Party won inconclusive elections to the Chamber of Deputies in June. Mirek Topolánek was appointed to head a minority government. An offer to resign his post after a vote of no confidence in the Chamber in October was declined by President Klaus.

On 26 January, the Senate returned an anti-discrimination bill to the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate opposed the introduction of affirmative action to assist disadvantaged groups, and considered the bill too vague. The proposed law was intended to fulfil obligations following the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union in 2004. Approval of the bill was pending.

On 10 July, the Czech Republic ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

Discrimination against Roma

Roma face discrimination in access to housing, education and employment, according to the final report on the human rights situation of the Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Europe by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, published in February. The report found that Romani children were unjustifiably placed in special schools for children with mental disabilities, and recommended mechanisms to enable women who had been sterilized without informed consent to obtain compensation.

The number of Roma in low-standard housing has risen over the last 10 years, according to a report by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in August. The study found no comprehensive government programme combating social deprivation.

In October, the Chief of Police apologized for the misuse of police powers in the town of Bohumin on 4-6 October 2005. Private security guards hired by the municipality had prevented independent observers from entering a hostel where several hundred residents, many of them Roma, were being targeted for expulsion by the municipality.

Concerns that Romani children were being taught in segregated classes in primary schools and were over-represented in special schools were highlighted by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in a report on Roma and Travellers in public education in May. While recognizing improvements, such as the government's decision in January to collect anonymous data on the Roma community, the report pointed to the need for more active state policies.

On 7 February the European Court of Human Rights rejected a complaint of discrimination in education brought by 18 Romani people from Ostrava who had been placed in special elementary schools for children with learning difficulties. The Court concluded that the Czech Republic had not breached the prohibition on discrimination and the right to education in the European Convention on Human Rights and the related Protocol. The Court said that it could assess only individual complaints, not their social context. An appeal against the ruling was pending before the Great Chamber of the Court.

Forced sterilization of women

In May the government criticized a recommendation in the last Ombudsman's report in 2005 that a law be introduced to provide compensation for women who were sterilized without their consent. The recommendation was not implemented.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in August urged the government to implement the Ombudsman's recommendations. It called for a legal definition of informed, free and qualified consent; mandatory training of medical professionals and social workers on patients' rights; and measures to enable victims of involuntary or coercive sterilization to obtain compensation. The Committee commended the adoption of a national action plan to promote gender equality and new employment legislation prohibiting discrimination and sexual harassment, but urged stronger efforts to overcome persistent and discriminatory stereotypes of women.

The European Roma Rights Centre and two local human rights groups, the League of Human Rights and Life Together, in a report in August, concluded that legal protection against discrimination was insufficient and that women remained vulnerable to serious human rights abuses.

An appeal lodged in December 2005 was still pending in the case of Helena Feren½iková, who was sterilized in 2001. In November 2005, a court found that Vitkovice hospital had violated her personal rights but refused to award financial compensation on the grounds that the three-year statute of limitation had expired.

Police ill-treatment

Reports continued of police ill-treatment of vulnerable groups, particularly Roma. An independent body was still not available to investigate complaints of police abuses.

A police officer severely beat Kate¦ina Jacques, a Green Party electoral candidate and senior government human rights official, at a demonstration against the far-right National Resistance Movement in Prague on 1 May. The officer allegedly threw her to the ground, kicked her, beat her with a truncheon and continued to assault her at the police station where she was taken for questioning in handcuffs. After an internal investigation, the Chief of Police acknowledged that the police action against Kate¦ina Jacques was inappropriate. The Prime Minister said the officer's intervention was "inexcusable" and he should leave the police. The officer was reportedly dismissed. Charges against him were withdrawn in November on the grounds that the arrest had followed police regulations. Kate¦ina Jacques lodged an appeal against the withdrawal of the charges.

On 30 June, two municipal policemen were alleged to have detained a young Romani man in Brno, driven him to the outskirts, beaten him, put an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. They reportedly suspected him of attacking and robbing the son of one of the officers and other schoolchildren. In November, they were convicted of beating and torturing the man, and given a suspended two-year prison sentence and banned from serving as police officers for five years. Both lodged appeals.

Racially motivated attacks on Roma

Roma were often the target of racially motivated attacks, and penalties handed down by the courts did not reflect the seriousness of the crimes or the racist motives of the assailants.

On 17 May, three young members of the National Resistance Movement broke into a block of flats in Neratovice, banging on the doors of Romani residents and threatening to kill them. Police detained the men on the spot.

On 31 August, three young men had their sentences for an attack on a Romani couple in Jeseník increased by the regional appeals court in Olomouc. Two were given prison terms of three years and three months and three years respectively, and the third received a suspended three-year prison sentence. A public outcry had greeted the original suspended sentences on all three, passed by the district court in Jeseník in January 2004.

A two-year suspended sentence on a soldier convicted of beating a Romani man, imposed by the Regional Court in Plzeò in September, was met with protests by five Romani organizations.

Fair trial rights denied

On 28 February the European Court of Human Rights found the Czech government had violated the right to fair trial by allowing witnesses to remain anonymous

in breach of cross-examination requirements under

the European Convention on Human Rights. In

response to an appeal lodged on behalf of Hasan Krasniki on 2 September 1999, the Court found that, while the use of anonymous witnesses could be compatible with the Convention, in this case it was not. The reliability of anonymous witnesses should be tested and the conviction should not rely exclusively or determinedly on anonymous statements. Czech law has since been amended.

Same sex partnership

In March a law was passed that allowed same-sex couples to register their partnership after the Chamber of Deputies overrode a veto by President Klaus. The law accorded some of the same rights and obligations as married couples have, including the rights to raise children, to inherit property and to information on the health of the partner, and the mutual obligation to pay maintenance. It did not provide the right to adopt children.

AI country reports/visits

Report

Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January-June 2006 (AI Index: EUR 01/017/2006)

Visits

AI representatives visited the Czech Republic in March and September.