Discrimination against Roma
Despite anti-discrimination programmes, discrimination against Roma continued, especially in housing, education, healthcare and employment. A poll conducted in April revealed the prevalence of prejudice against Roma, with nine out of 10 respondents indicating they believed that having Romani neighbours would constitute a “problem”. In August, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) expressed regret that the Czech Republic had failed to adopt an anti-discrimination bill.
In April, Roma rights activists lodged a criminal complaint regarding hate speech against Deputy Prime Minister and Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek, mayor of the town of Vsetín, when Romani families were evicted from the municipality in 2006. He was quoted in the tabloid Blesk (Lightning) as saying that “in order to be entitled to state subsidies like Roma, other people would need to get a suntan, behave in a disorderly way and light fires in town squares before politicians would regard them as badly off.”
In October, the police shelved the criminal complaint. In response several Romani NGOs filed a constitutional complaint against the police. Jiří Čunek resigned in November, following allegations of corruption.
Housing and forced evictions
Ombudsperson Otakar Motejl concluded that the eviction of several Romani families to very isolated parts of the country from the town of Vsetín in 2006 was a “mistake”. Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN Rapporteur for Housing Rights Miloon Kothari issued a joint statement in October saying that the Czech Republic was in violation of the right to housing, where Roma were concerned. They also criticized local public offices for supporting escalating intolerance of Roma and pointed out that forced evictions of Roma from city centres to isolated areas had become part of public policy. In November, it was announced that a governmental Agency for Removing Social Segregation in Roma Localities would start working in 12 localities in January 2008.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern that Czech law failed to clearly prohibit racial discrimination in the right to housing, and the HRC condemned the persistent evictions and continued existence of Roma “ghettos”.
In November, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights concluded, in a landmark case, that the Czech Republic had discriminated against Romani children by placing them in special schools for children with learning difficulties solely on the basis of their Romani origin. Following the ruling, the European Commission called on the Czech Republic to take concrete measures on the ground to “bridge segregation” and to end discrimination against Roma children.
Although the HRC and the CERD acknowledged that the Czech Republic had phased out placing Romani children in “special schools” for children with learning difficulties, concerns remained that a disproportionately large number of Romani children were segregated into Roma-only classes in mainstream schools, where they followed different curriculums to the majority of the population. In addition, the curriculums lacked sensitivity to the cultural identity and circumstances of Romani children.
The HRC expressed concern at reports that high numbers of Roma children were being removed from their families and placed in social care institutions.
The CERD and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture raised concerns about allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police officers, in particular against Roma and children, including their detention and coercion into confessing minor crimes. In July, the Supreme Court upheld a two-year prison sentence on a former Brno police officer for blackmail and misuse of power by law enforcement officials against a 14-year-old Romani boy. Reports of police misconduct continued, particularly against Roma and other marginalized groups, especially at the time of arrest and detention. The CERD regretted the failure to establish an independent body with authority to investigate complaints of unlawful conduct by the police.
- In July the Prague City Court of Appeals acquitted Yekta Uzunoglu, a German citizen of Kurdish origin convicted of the blackmail and torture of a foreigner. Yekta Uzunoglu alleged that he had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment when he was arrested by police in 1994. Amnesty International urged the authorities to investigate alleged procedural violations of Yekta Uzunoglu’s right to a fair trial.
The HRC and the CERD expressed concern that women, most of them Roma, had been subjected to sterilization without their consent. Despite a 1991 ruling to stop such operations, sterilizations without the informed consent of women were carried out as late as 2004.
- In January the High Court in Olomouc delivered a ground-breaking verdict in the 2001 case of the illegal sterilization of Helena Ferenčíková, requiring the hospital which performed the sterilization to issue a formal apology. However, the High Court did not award Helena Ferenčíková the 1 million Czech koruna (approx €35,400) which she had sought as compensation for physical and psychological damage.
The HRC concluded in August that mental health care in the country was inhuman and degrading, and called for far-reaching reforms. The Committee expressed concerns about the persistent use of enclosed cage beds in psychiatric institutions. Another concern was the forcible detention of those with mere “signs of mental illness” and inadequate control by courts of the process by which individuals were committed to psychiatric institutions.
There were allegations by HRC and other organizations that Czech airports had been used as transit points for rendition flights to countries where detainees were at risk of torture or ill-treatment. The HRC requested an investigation of possible transits through Czech airports. The government denied any knowledge of such incidents.
The Czech Republic remained the only European Union member state not to have ratified the Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty International visit/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited the Czech Republic in February.
- Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International’s concerns in the region, July-December 2006 (EUR 01/001/2007)
- Czech Republic: Fair trial concerns in the case of Yekta Uzunoglu (EUR 71/001/2007)
- Czech Republic: European Court decision on discrimination in education (EUR 71/002/2007)