The government again failed to implement adequate anti-discrimination provisions. The Roma continued to experience discrimination, particularly in accessing education, housing and health, as well as threats of attacks by far-right groups. There were concerns over inhuman and degrading treatment of people with mental disabilities.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation providing legal aid for victims and effective monitoring mechanisms was not enacted. In May the President vetoed anti-discrimination legislation alleging, according to news reports, that it was “unnecessary, counter-productive and of a poor quality, and its impact … very questionable”. This was despite a government pledge to introduce a law safeguarding the right to equal treatment and protection against discrimination, in line with EU directives.
"...Roma frequently could not obtain housing, even when they were able to present financial guarantees. "
Discrimination – Roma
Roma continued to suffer discrimination from public officials and private individuals in education, housing, health and employment. Localities with marginalized Romani communities became targets of far-right groups; public officials continued to use racist language against the Roma.
- In August, four Romani clients and non-Romani staff of a bar in the town of Rokycany were assaulted by a group of approximately 15 young people. Staff at the bar were attacked allegedly because they served Romani customers. Czech police denied the attack had been racially motivated. Five men were prosecuted for lesser crimes of disorderly conduct, delinquency and intention to cause bodily harm. Romani local residents rejected the outcome as openly racist. Anti-Roma leaflets appeared on the streets in the following days. The tense situation in Rokycany led some Roma to seek asylum outside the country.
- On 17 November, demonstrators linked to the far right Czech Workers Party (CWP) chanted anti-Roma slogans at a rally in Litvínov. About 500 demonstrators armed with stones, firecrackers and petrol bombs were reported to have clashed with police while attempting to reach the mainly Roma neighbourhood of Janov. Twelve people were arrested. The CWP had previously tried to organize similar demonstrations against the Romani community in Litvínov on 4 and 18 October, and again on 29 November, but had been banned by local authorities. The Minister of Interior submitted a proposal to outlaw the CWP in November which was approved by the government. On 24 November the Supreme Administrative Court was asked to dissolve the CWP. Following the events in Litvínov, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism stated on 20 November that “such actions reveal serious and deep-rooted problems of racism and discrimination against Roma at the heart of modern Europe that must be addressed in the most vigorous manner and through the rule of law.” On 13 December, another rally was organized by the CWP in Litvínov. About 100 far-right demonstrators, including locals, were eventually dispersed by mounted and anti-riot police.
- In April, the Ostrava state attorney’s office brought defamation charges against Jiří Jizerský, Ostrava’s former deputy mayor, and Liana Janáčková, a member of the Senate and former mayor of the district, for racist statements regarding Roma in 2006. However, as the Senate did not strip Liana Janáčková of parliamentary immunity, her prosecution was impeded.
The practice of segregating Romani children in Czech schools for children with mental disabilities continued despite a European Court of Human Rights ruling in November 2007 that it amounted to unlawful discrimination. Two NGOs – the European Roma Rights Centre and the Roma Education Fund – reported in November that many Romani children continued to attend segregated schools with inferior curriculums. The report demonstrated that legal changes from 2005, where the category of “special schools” for children with minor mental disabilities had been replaced by “practical schools”, offered students the same restricted curriculums and so limited their educational and employment opportunities. The report also showed that Romani children continued to be over-represented in these schools.
The Ministry of Education acknowledged during the year the system’s shortcomings and took some preliminary steps to address them.
Roma suffered from racial discrimination and deliberate segregation policies within some municipalities. In their submission to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April, the Czech NGOs Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Life Together, and the Peacework Development Fund reported that “Roma are frequently forced to reside in segregated ghettos, which constitute substandard and inadequate housing.” The review pointed out that discriminatory practices in public and private rental markets meant that Roma frequently could not obtain housing, even when they were able to present financial guarantees.
In January, the Agency for Social Inclusion of Roma Communities was established to pilot projects in 12 localities in order to improve the situation in socially excluded Romani communities.
Forced sterilization of Romani women
In March, in the national report prepared for the UPR, the Czech authorities acknowledged that some cases of sterilization of Romani women had in the past not strictly complied with Ministry of Health law and guidelines. However, they did not regard them as “motivated by a racial or national bias”.
- Iveta Červeňáková, now 32, was illegally sterilized without her consent in 1997 after she gave birth to her second daughter by caesarean section. In November the Olomouc High Court overturned a 2007 decision by the Ostrava Regional Court ordering the Ostrava municipal hospital to pay compensation of 500,000 korunas (20,460 euros) and to apologize for violating her rights. The judgement was overturned because the case’s three-year statute of limitations had expired, and the hospital was only required to apologize.
Torture and other ill-treatment – mental health
In January, the UK television channel BBC One broadcast secret footage of the use of “cage beds” for young people with severe mental and physical disabilities in several social care homes. The use of enclosed restraint beds for psychiatric patients continued. By the end of 2008 the authorities had still not announced any intention to discontinue the use of “net beds”, despite calls from the UNHRC in April for them to be abolished. The National Defender of Rights (Ombudsperson) made unannounced visits to psychiatric institutions in the first half of the year. The visits revealed that restraint beds were being used in geriatric psychiatric units, not only in situations of acute endangerment but also as longterm solutions.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
On 28 June, in Brno, around 500 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists took part in the first Pride parade in the Czech Republic. Despite two counter-demonstrations being banned by the city authorities, an estimated 150 far-right demonstrators gathered to protest against the parade. Several counter-demonstrators were arrested.
In October, the Czech parliament recognized the International Criminal Court. The decision followed formal approval by the Czech Senate in July, 10 years after it was originally agreed. The Czech Republic was the only EU member state not to have approved the Rome Statute although representatives had signed it in April 1999. The parliamentary decision had yet to be ratified by the President.
Amnesty International visit
Amnesty International visited the Czech Republic in November.
Amnesty International reportsEastern Europe: Eighth session of the UN Human Rights Council, 2-20 June 2008: Review of the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania under the Universal Periodic Review: Amnesty International’s reflections on the outcome (1 June 2008)
Oral statement on the outcome on the Czech Republic under the Universal Periodic Review (11 June 2008)
UN Human Rights Council Eighth Session, 2-18 June 2008: Compilation of statements by Amnesty International (including joint statements and public statements) (18 July 2008)