Roma continued to face discrimination in education, housing and health. The acceptance of diplomatic assurances against torture and other ill-treatment remained a cause of concern.
In February, the European Parliament’s Party of European Socialists lifted a ban on the senior coalition partner in the government of Slovakia, Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD), following a commitment by the Prime Minister to improve minority rights. After elections in June 2006, Smer-SD had formed a three-party coalition government with the Slovak National Party (SNS), and the People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS).
Discrimination – Roma
The government publicized various measures to improve access to education for Romani children, but there was no practical commitment to reversing segregation in schools. The authorities continued to claim that the disproportionately high number of Romani children in special schools for children with mental disabilities was due to their socially disadvantaged background.
In March, the government adopted a five-year programme aimed at improving the lagging standards of living and education of its large Romani minority. Measures outlined included compulsory nursery schooling for all five-year-olds by 2013, providing Romani language school books, and stricter rules governing placement of Romani children in special schools.
"...new housing maintained, and often increased, the existing segregation of Romani beneficiaries."
In May, the Slovak Parliament (National Council) passed the new Act on Upbringing and Education (the Schools Act), valid for the school year 2008/2009. The act prohibits all forms of discrimination, including segregation. A provision allowing temporary placement (diagnostický pobyt) of pupils at special schools after an inconclusive assessment, often leading to arbitrary placements, was removed from the law. In September the government abolished the motivational scholarships provision from its law on social assistance. The provision, weighted on pupils’ performance, gave Romani parents a financial incentive to enrol their children at special schools. It will be replaced by a universal benefit, conditional on school attendance, for all pupils from families in material need.
However, the Schools Act does not include effective measures to eliminate the discrimination faced by Roma. International and national NGOs called for measures such as the compulsory provision of preparatory year classes and teaching assistants to be considered, and for a clear definition of the criteria and procedure for the placement of a child in special education.
The category of “socially disadvantaged children” remained in the list defining special educational needs in the Schools Act. Consequently, the association of social disadvantage with mental disability remained in practice.
- In Pavlovce nad Uhom, 99.5 per cent of the approximately 200 pupils at the special school were Roma. They constituted more than half of the Romani children attending primary school in the town. Following inspections in 2007, 17 pupils at the special school were formally acknowledged to have been wrongly assessed and were transferred to mainstream schools. Officially, children can only be placed in special schools after diagnosis of a mental disability and with full parental consent. However, many children had not been assessed at all and parental consent was often neither free nor informed. At the beginning of school year 2008/2009, the special primary school of Pavlovce nad Uhom continued in practice to be a segregated school.
In January, the Slovak Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights, Nationalities and the Status of Women adopted a resolution on forced evictions resulting from rent arrears, which disproportionately affect the Roma. Under the resolution, the government must undertake a range of measures to guarantee the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion, and to adequate housing.
In June, the Milan Šimečka Foundation published an evaluation of 57 social housing projects targeting inhabitants of Romani settlements. In 91 per cent of the localities studied, new housing maintained, and often increased, the existing geographic segregation of Romani beneficiaries.
Forced sterilization of Romani women
In February, the Regional Prosecutor’s Office of Košice again halted the investigation into the case of alleged illegal sterilizations of three Romani women in eastern Slovakia in 1999, 2000 and 2002 respectively. The Prosecutor’s Office considered that the sterilizations had been performed with the women’s free and informed consent. The criminal investigation, begun in 2003, was halted three times but reopened following complaints to the Constitutional Court, which found that no effective investigation had taken place. In April a new complaint on behalf of the three women was filed with the Constitutional Court by the NGO Center for Civil and Human Rights, but was dismissed in July.
In July, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that Slovakia “take all the necessary measures to ensure that complaints filed by Roma women on grounds of coerced sterilization are duly acknowledged and that victims of such practices are granted effective remedies”.
Torture and other ill-treatment
- In March, Banská Bystrica Regional Court sentenced seven police officers for the ill-treatment and death of Karol Sendrei, a 51-year-old Romani man, while in police custody in 2001. Two of the officers, Ján K. and Miroslav S., were found principally responsible, and sentenced to eight and a half years each in prison on charges of torture and cruel conduct. Ladislav K., an officer who jumped on Karol Sendrei’s chest, received seven years for the same offences. The officer on duty, Roman R., was sentenced to four years for torture. The court found that although he had not participated in the torture of Karol Sendrei, he had failed in his duty to prevent the incident. Three other officers received suspended sentences of one to two years. All of the defendants appealed their sentences to the Supreme Court.
Counter-terror and security
- On 26 June, the Constitutional Court issued its decision in the case of Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian national held in Slovakia originally on the basis of an extradition request by Algeria. The Court concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision of 22 January, allowing the extradition of Mustapha Labsi to Algeria, had violated his right to judicial protection and had failed to fully consider the human rights situation in Algeria.
The Court reaffirmed the absolute duty of the authorities not to return anyone to a country where they face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment. Slovakia’s obligation not to rely on diplomatic assurances was also implicit in the judgement’s criticism of Regional and Supreme Court decisions.
The Supreme Court subsequently reconsidered Mustapha Labsi’s case and ruled on 7 August that he could not be deported to Algeria where he faced serious human rights violations including torture and other ill-treatment. He was released but immediately detained again on the basis of a deportation order dating from 2006. Mustapha Labsi applied again for asylum, which was rejected on 6 October. An appeal against the rejection of his asylum application and a legal case against his detention were pending at the end of the year.
Amnesty International visitsAmnesty International visited Slovakia in March and April.
Amnesty International reportsNGOs call on Slovakia on International Roma Day to address discrimination of Roma in education (8 April 2008)
Slovakia: NGOs joint open letter on the occasion of the second reading of the draft new Schools Act at the Slovak National Council (13 May 2008)
Slovakia: Constitutional Court upholds the absolute prohibition of torture (27 June 2008)
A tale of two schools: Segregating Roma into special education in Slovakia (24 July 2008)
Slovakia: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review – Fifth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, May 2009 (10 November 2008)