COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF SLOVAKIA
20 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined ninth to tenth periodic report of Slovakia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Fedor Rosocha, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, said that Slovakia was stepping up efforts to eliminate disadvantages stemming from racial or other forms of discrimination and to ensure equal opportunities for all. Measures included setting up the Office of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities, which aimed to preserve and develop the rights of minority members. In education, attention was paid to monitoring inclusion and to preventing discrimination against children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. In employment, priority was given to improving the access of Roma people to job opportunities without discrimination. In healthcare, efforts were made to raise health awareness and to increase vaccination rates across all communities. Work was also being done to ensure access to housing for disadvantaged groups.
During the interactive dialogue, the Committee raised issues concerning the gathering of disaggregated data on the ethnic background the Slovak population, the integration of Roma people in society, the increase of racially-motivated crime, and problems caused by segregation in the areas of education and housing. Questions were also asked about the process for granting asylum, the practice of female sterilization, including reported incidents of sterilization of Roma women, the situation of minorities other than the Roma, the definition of extremism in Slovakia’s legislation, and the teaching of the Roma language in State institutions.
In concluding remarks, Anwar Kemal, Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, praised the efforts made by Slovakia to deal with the problems faced by minorities in the country and noted positive changes. The relationship between the police and minorities, the need for independent monitoring of the police force, the problem of hate speech, and putting an end to the segregation of Roma people, among other issues, required further attention.
Ambassador Fedor Rosocha, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, said in concluding remarks that the interactive dialogue with the Committee had been beneficial and would help Slovakia in the evaluation of its current policies. Slovakia was committed to strengthening democracy and would make every effort to implement the recommendations of the Committee.
The delegation of Slovakia included representatives from: the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic’s Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, and the Permanent Mission of Slovakia to the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 20 February, when it will begin its consideration of the combined fifteenth to nineteenth periodic report of Mauritius (CERD/C/MUS/15-19).
The combined ninth and tenth periodic report of Slovakia can be read here (CERD/C/SVK/9-10).
Presentation of the Report
FEDOR ROSOCHA, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, said that a significant change in Slovakia’s law would come into effect on 1 April 2013. Among other things, amendments to the law aimed at eliminating the disadvantages stemming from racial or other forms of discrimination and at ensuring equal opportunities for all. Slovakia had set up the Office of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities which would operate as a governmental advisory body with the aim of preserving and developing the rights of minority members. It would also take measures to improve the status of national minorities in accordance with international instruments. The Office was also responsible for the implementation and coordination of government policies designed to improve the status of Roma communities and to promote their inclusion and integration in society.
In the area of education, Slovakia’s main focus was on monitoring the inclusion of pupils in education and preventing all forms of discrimination against children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Parents were legally obliged to register their children who had reached the age of 6 years in an appropriate school. Special provisions were made for children who had difficulty coping with their school duties.
In 2012 the Ministry of Education published a call for proposals for a development project aimed at eliminating pupil segregation and discrimination against Roma pupils in particular. The objectives of multicultural education were to develop awareness of different cultures, to promote acceptance of cultural diversity as a social reality, and to help develop tolerance through a range of curricular subjects.
The standard of the use of minority languages had been enhanced by the adoption of an amendment of the Act on the Use of National Minority Languages which had come into force in July 2011. Slovakia monitored the situation regarding the use of minority languages through, among other things, a bi-annual report on the use of such languages.
In its national strategic framework for the inclusion of Roma, Slovakia had set the global objective of improving access to job opportunities without discrimination, with emphases on proactive policies and programmes focused on the labour market, adult education, and training and support for self-employment activities.
Moreover, Slovakia was committed to targeting data-gathering and monitoring as the basis for the improvement of public policies. Other issues, such as the successful integration of foreigners in Slovakia, were also being dealt with. A new integration project was in place and there was also new legislation in the area of mainstreaming labour market access as a prerequisite for successful economic integration.
The Healthcare Act regulated, among other things, healthcare access and access to documentation without discrimination. The Ministry of Health was working together with the Roma Union Party in Slovakia to prevent the spread of diseases within the Roma community, to raise health awareness and to increase vaccination rates across communities.
In the area of housing, economic instruments to support housing development had been set up to ensure access to housing for the socially poor and other vulnerable population groups, including members of marginalized Roma communities. A positive discrimination approach had been adopted in terms of establishing projects for specific target groups, who received a higher percentage of subsidies from the State’s budget.
Regarding the international protection of refugees, Slovakia was engaging in a humanitarian refugee-transfer programme and the temporary placement of refugees in Slovakia before their durable resettlement to a safe third country.
An efficient system of measures and activities had been set up to protect citizens from the antisocial conducts of extremist individuals, groups, and movements. Action was also being taken to suppress the use of racist and extremist language in sport, which diminished the values of sport.
Measures were also being taken to eliminate racially motivated crime and extremism, including the establishment of a Multidisciplinary Integrated Expert Group set up as part of the Expert Coordination Body on the Fight against Crime.
Mr. Rosocha reported that in 2012 a conference on “Human Rights in Intergenerational Dialogue” had been held in Bratislava and one of the panels had been entirely dedicated to issues related to the prevention of discrimination.
Slovakia’s vision for the future was the elimination of discrimination at various levels of social life, and the creation of an inclusive society with well-built mechanisms that would identify and penalize discrimination in all its forms. Therefore, Slovakia sought ways to permanently counter discrimination as a whole, while focusing on specific areas of the problem.
Questions by Experts
ANWAR KEMAL, Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, commended the delegation on the timely submission of its report. The previous concluding observations of the Committee were a valuable source of information because, despite important efforts made by Slovakia, most of the recommendations had yet to be implemented. For example, the Committee had requested disaggregated data on ethnic minorities, including Roma people. Slovakia had made some effort in the direction of obtaining and presenting disaggregated data but still had a long way to go before supplying sufficient information for the Committee to be able to make further concrete recommendations.
Mr. Kemal noted that changes were taking place in Slovakia and, therefore, it was important for the Committee to be updated on these changes. For example, what was the exact status of the Multidisciplinary Integrated Expert Group which had been set up? What were the major conclusions that Slovakia had drawn from the statistics which it had gathered? Slovakia had elaborated an excellent action plan and had set up a number of administrative bodies, which were positive developments. Nevertheless, there seemed to be a problem of implementation of those measures, to which non-governmental organizations had also drawn attention.
Regarding Roma people, Mr. Kemal noted the adoption of special measures for the protection of the Roma minority and the investigation of possible violations of the equal treatment principle. Slovakia had drawn the Committee’s attention to its strategy for the integration of Roma, which had been developed in consultation with the civil society, but in the meantime that strategy had been dropped and very few measures had been introduced. What were the reasons for that and how did Slovakia propose to deal with that issue?
The Committee was concerned about increases in the number of discriminatory and anti-Semitic attacks perpetrated by skinhead groups. Concern was also expressed about prejudices against Roma and Hungarian persons in Slovakia. Furthermore, the Committee’s attention had been drawn to the ill-treatment of Roma by law enforcement officials, which necessitated the regulation of law enforcement agencies by the Ministry of Interior.
It was important to put an end to the segregation of Roma children in the field of education. Was the disadvantaged community being offered a fair opportunity in education? Slovakia was focusing on making pre-school education compulsory. Was that only for Roma children? If so, then that was a form of discrimination in itself.
According to reports, discrimination in the field of education persisted. How could the problem of scarce resources be overcome? How could anti-discrimination legislation be enforced in the field of education?
Regarding housing, reports had been received that a portion of the Slovak population rejected the idea of Roma families being housed in their areas, which led to segregation. How did Slovakia propose to tackle that problem? Reports of the demolition of Roma housing were also a matter of concern to the Committee.
Would Slovakia be willing to consider the possibility of restitution in response to the lack of informed consent, which constituted an injustice?
It was positive that Slovakia had good asylum laws in place but there was concern at the fact that only a small number of asylum seekers were granted asylum. Were those to whom asylum was refused deported? It should be noted that the absence of complaints for racial discrimination was not proof that racial discrimination did not exist.
A Committee Expert noted the growing trend of racial hate-crime in Slovakia, which was up by 127 per cent, and asked the delegation to explain the reasons behind this huge increase. Were the reasons for that phenomenon political or economic? Slovakia was making efforts to deal with that challenge but the situation appeared to be out of control, so it was important that this issue was openly addressed. Was there any coordination taking place at the regional level concerning the implementation of relevant measures? More information was requested on the action plan that was being implemented with the aim of providing special measures. Did those measures target the issue of political participation of minority group members? What was the ethnic composition of other participatory bodies in Slovakia? Efforts to improve housing through special measures were noted with satisfaction. Nevertheless, the Committee had learnt that Roma people had lower quality housing, and further details were requested on this issue. Also, did efforts to combat racial hatred include periodic surveys, such as a census?
Another Expert said that the delegation should be praised for the regularity with which it had submitted its reports in recent years. Additional information was requested on the issue of sterilization of Roma women. What efforts were being made to combat discrimination against minorities such as ethnic Hungarians? What had been done to combat the practice of segregation in education, especially in the case of Roma children? From a criminal perspective, the phenomenon of extremism was not clearly defined in the Penal Code and this was a source of concern to the Committee. Criminal Law texts had to be defined in a very clear manner. In that respect, the notion and definition of extremism in Slovak legislation were not in line with the requirements of the Committee. How many complaints had there been received by the Ombudsman in relation to cases of ethnic discrimination? If no complaints of this nature had been received, what was the reason for that? Had new measures been taken since 2010 to improve the housing problems faced by Roma people? What remedies were offered to those who had been found to have suffered from racial discrimination?
Another Expert pointed out that Slovakia’s report focused almost exclusively on the Roma and requested information about other minorities. Did Slovakia distinguish between Czechs and Moravians on the basis of the language they spoke? Hungarians were a major minority group in the country, but what was the situation of the Croatian and Polish minorities?
Concerning the sterilization of women, it was understood that this was not a governmental policy. Nevertheless, hospitals in Slovakia still carried out this practice, despite recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. This practice should be banned to avoid future problems. Did Slovakia find it difficult to adopt some of the Committee’s recommendations in cases where European Union directives went in a different direction?
An Expert drew attention to the recognition of the increase in extremism and relevant policies in Slovakia’s report and noted that the Committee was not entirely satisfied with the definition of extremism in Slovakia’s legislation. A clear definition of extremism was an important step towards the eradication of intolerance and hatred. What was the nationality or ethnic background of the perpetrators of acts of intolerance and hatred? What measures were being taken by Slovakia to prevent certain schools from having a large concentration of children from the same ethnic background, for example, Roma children? Was Slovakia prepared to take steps to ensure that children with disabilities were not discriminated against and were able to attend mainstream schools? Regarding health issues, the State, as guarantor of human rights, should address the issue of the policy of sterilization.
Another Expert noted that a lot of the planning that was taking place at the national level with little or no input from local authorities, despite the fact that a lot of the problems facing the country had important regional ramifications which needed to be taken into account. Reports of mistrust between the police and Roma people were of great concern; and the Committee requested additional information on the reported refusal of police agents to accept complaints or testimonies from Roma in the case of discrimination incidents.
A Committee Expert pointed out that the Roma community, which was a major minority group in Slovakia, was growing and would continue to grow; and asked why Roma persons remained in isolation in terms of the areas in which they resided and their living standards? What could be done to ensure that Roma persons had the same living standards as other Slovak citizens? Was the non-Roma population of the country ready to live with the Roma, which made up to 2 per cent of the country’s population? It was commendable that Slovakia had put in place a special policy for the integration of Roma people in society. Did Roma children who attended school receive a school diploma that would enable them to seek employment later on in life and become part of society just like members of the non-Roma population? Was the history of the Roma Holocaust taught in schools?
Regarding asylum-seekers, were those who stayed in asylum centres allowed to keep their children with them? In what conditions did they live? Were the children of asylum-seekers offered education?
Was there a written version of the Slovak Roma language and, if so, were there schools where children could be taught both in the Slovak and Slovak Roma languages? Given that language was an important element of cultural identity, how important was the teaching of Roma language in terms of preserving cultural identity? Was there such a thing as a Roma language or was there only a set of spoken dialects?
Response by the Delegation
Concerning the collection of data, the delegation said that the collection of ethnic data required further discussion so that a proper strategy could be formulated and approved. The police force reform was part of the Roma reform and included action in terms of awareness-raising. Regarding segregation in education, Slovakia was actively fighting that phenomenon and was aiming to complete de-segregation in schools. Concerning mandatory pre-school education only for Roma children, the issue of pre-school education was still being examined but it was not going to be based on ethnicity but on socio-economic status, therefore there was no such thing as mandatory pre-school education exclusively for Roma children.
Regarding Experts’ questions on the demolishing of Roma housing, the delegation said that housing was a major issue facing the Roma people in Slovakia. Following the fall of communism, many Roma persons suddenly found themselves using property which had, in the meantime, been return to the original owners. The issue was currently being addressed in legislation.
The delegation clarified that the practice of sterilization of Roma women or other women had never been a State policy. It was necessary for Slovakia to approach that and other problems facing the Roma community in a systemic manner and through effective legislation.
In response to the question on the political participation of Roma persons, there were Roma mayors and also Roma deputies in the national and regional parliaments. A working group had been established in order to find measures to tackle the problem of segregation in schools. In Slovakia, parents had the right to choose the school which their children would attend. Therefore, it might have been the case that non-Roma parents were withdrawing their children from schools with a high concentration of Roma children, which would then leave entire classes or schools of Roma children.
Concerning the way Roma people were perceived by non-Roma citizens, the delegation said that the general image of Roma people was not good. Slovakia had a specific action plan in place to shift public opinion on the Roma and funding had been allocated to that plan but its implementation would take a number of years. The perception of the Roma Holocaust by society was a taboo issue, but awareness-raising initiatives were taken to reopen and revisit the issue so that the Roma Holocaust would be perceived along the same lines as the Jewish Holocaust.
The Slovak Roma language was primarily oral and most Roma people had difficulty reading or writing. Besides, there were at least five Roma dialects used in Slovakia. Nevertheless, the Roma language was extremely important for the preservation of Roma culture and identity and had to be protected. There were publications available in Slovakia for those interested in learning the Roma language and there were several schools where the Roma language was taught. Courses in that language were also offered in certain Slovak universities.
Response by the Delegation
In response to the Committee’s questions about data on the ethnic background of citizens, the delegation said that a specific data collection strategy had been designed. The collection of data related to ethnic backgrounds was a sensitive issue in Slovakia, particularly as far as the Roma community was concerned. Accurate information on housing and education was available. A “map of poverty” was being compiled and was expected to be completed in March 2013. Slovakia was looking for ways to include marginalized communities like the Roma in fact-finding surveys. For example, in the 2011 census a question had been asked for the first time about the language used as the first language in the household, which would give a clearer idea the number of Roma persons living in Slovakia.
An “atlas of Roma communities” compiled since 2004 and due to be updated in 2013 was one of the main sources of information on the socio-economic situation of the Roma in Slovakia. Its aim was to collect data as comprehensive and accurate as possible so that policies could concentrate on marginalized communities, making sure that economic interventions were made to support those most in need of economic support. Collaborating on the atlas were also municipalities and the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities. Together with the poverty map which was being prepared, the atlas would form a sufficient basis for obtaining information on the Roma communities.
Regarding racially motivated crimes and offences, the delegation said that hate-crime in Slovakia was on the increase. An assessment by the Slovak authorities had found that the political situation was not the reason for that increase, because no movement in the country advocated for the ill-treatment of minority groups; economic motives were not considered as the source of racially motivated offences either. Slovak authorities had concluded that the increase was due to more frequent reporting of racially motivated crimes to the authorities; in fact, this constituted a positive sign because suggested that citizens had an increased degree of confidence in the authorities. Another conclusion drawn by the Slovak authorities was that there was an increased need for prevention in areas where such crimes occurred, in order to ensure that social, economic and cultural gaps between persons from different communities living in the same area did not broaden.
Concerning the identity of perpetrators, in Slovakia, it was illegal to collect data on the national identity of perpetrators or victims of crimes; and, as the self-identification of perpetrators and victims was not always reliable, the authorities only had estimates. No precise data was available on how many Roma officers were in the police force but, according to estimates, it was not high. In 2005, Roma-specialist posts were established in the police force in order to remove barriers and tensions between police officers and Roma persons. The nationality of the persons occupying these posts was not systematically checked, but it was estimated that the majority of them came from Roma communities.
Responding to the comment about racially motivated ill-treatment of minority members by police officers, the delegation said that such incidents had occurred in the past and that the Ministry of Interior had a zero-tolerance policy in this respect. The Department of Control and Inspection of the Ministry of Interior was responsible for investigating individual non-systemic failures of police officers while on duty and was generally regarded as a highly-efficient body. Regarding the individual cases mentioned by the Committee, proceedings were still pending in court for one case of ill-treatment against a minority citizen by the police; while in the case a thorough investigation had found no evidence that the death of the minority-person concerned had been caused by action taken by the police.
In response to questions about the housing situation of vulnerable groups, the delegation said that the authorities faced many challenges to respond to the housing needs of citizens. First, the most recent census had shown that there were fewer housing units available than households. Slovakia was a small country with a large number of municipalities, of which 95 per cent were small villages, and this made it difficult to deal with housing problems at the local level. Moreover, the country had undergone significant changes in the past two decades and, since 1989, land which had previously been nationalized had been given back to its rightful owners. As many Roma settlements had been erected in locations that had been given back to their former owners, there were many complex ownership cases to resolve. The basic principle of Slovakia’s housing policy was that individuals were primarily responsible for their own housing, while the State would assist unable to obtain housing on their own. To respond to these challenges, a housing development programme to provide housing to lower-income groups had been in place for 15 years. Local administrations were responsible for the implementation of the programme but these were often small and had limited resources.
On the matter of the elimination of xenophobia, the delegation said that there was a permanent advisory body to the Government, the Council for Human Rights and Equality, in which representatives from non-governmental organizations and experts participated. There were eight different committees operating as part of the Council, including a Committee for the Prevention of Racism. These Committees communicated regularly with one another, worked closely the civil society, and covered all areas of human rights. A number of initiatives had been taken to improve the situation of women, in particular, including a separate subsidy scheme for gender equality which had recently been approved.
Responding to questions about the sterilization of Roma women, the delegation said that, as this was not an official Government policy, could only comment on individual cases, some of which had been brought before domestic courts and others before the European Court of Human Rights. In cases where the complaint filed had been upheld, damages had been paid to the women concerned. Slovak judges had been informed of all relevant judgments and further training had been provided to them to help them deal with similar cases in the future.
In response to questions about asylum seekers, the delegation said that about 30 out of 700 asylum applications had been accepted, a common rate in that part of Europe. It was stressed that over half of the original applicants had left Slovakia after filing an application for asylum. Asylum seekers were not detained and were free to move and even leave the country if they chose to do so. Deportations were only carried out in cases where there was no risk of human rights violations. Keeping asylum seekers with their children was a priority, and the only exception concerned unaccompanied minors who, by definition, had arrived in the country without their parents.
Extremism had many types of manifestations and included not only right-wing extremism and intolerance towards minority groups, but also religious and left-wing extremism. The Criminal Code provided for the prosecution of all incidents due to extremism and covered all possible types of extremist behaviour.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert noted that the definition of extremism in Slovakia’s Criminal Code did not appear to conform to Article 14 of the Convention, and said that he was not convinced by the delegation’s justification of the increase in the number of complaints of racially-motivated hate speech as a sign of confidence in the Slovak authorities. Current figures showed that the economic crisis was affecting the population by creating a mistrust of others, which led people to make scapegoats out of minority groups, such as the Roma, often perceived as obtaining social benefits at the expense of other groups. A more in-depth reflection on this matter was needed. The Expert also said that the Committee had received information about violations of Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention, including the construction of protection walls to separate Roma communities from other parts of the population. The delegation was asked to provide additional information on these matters.
Another Expert said that the construction of walls in order to separate ethnic groups from the rest of the population was a matter of grave concern to the Committee and asked what Slovakia would do to prevent new walls from being erected. Were walls constructed because the Roma were perceived as a security threat by the rest of the population?
An Expert requested information about hate speech targeting minorities other than Roma people in Slovakia.
What had Slovakia done to improve the status of Slovakia’s National Human Rights Institution and what was its composition?
How was European Union funding for Roma communities used in Slovakia? Was this funding handled by the local authorities? What was the place of the Roma in the Slovak Constitution?
An Expert said that, while Roma people were the most vulnerable minority in Slovakia, Roma communities were simply a part of a more general problem of racial discrimination in the country. Therefore, the discrimination problem should be tackled as a general problem, not as a Roma-specific issue. Why had the number of unidentified persons increased from one per cent to seven per cent of the population in a ten-year period?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that the construction of walls was a helpless attempt to resolve issues which should have been resolved in other ways. In the Slovak legal system municipalities had complete autonomy in decision-making concerning development in their own territory, and work was being done with a view to addressing those issues and finding a solution. Awareness-raising initiatives and the promotion of communication between different communities were important ways of changing the perception of the Roma by the rest of the population.
Hate speech targeting other minority groups was either extremely rare or non-existent, which is why efforts had been concentrated on dealing with incidents of racially-motivated hate speech against the Roma in particular. The definition of racially-motivated crimes in the Criminal Code was deemed satisfactory.
Sterilization in Slovakia was used as a permanent contraception solution. Individuals had the right to freely decide about whether or when to have children. Sterilization could be performed only upon a written application and submission of informed-consent by the applicant 30 days before the sterilization, and which could be withdrawn at any point. The applicant was given information in all languages, including the Roma language, about the medical and other consequences of the sterilization procedure as well as about alternative procedures.
In 2011 the budget of the National Centre for Human Rights had been decreased as part of austerity measures taken by Slovakia. An audit of the Centre was currently underway and the outcome of the audit would determine the measures that would be taken to enhance its status.
Slovakia was not building policies about specific marginalized groups but general policies. However, it was necessary to focus on groups which were particularly vulnerable, such as the Roma. Funding received from European Union structural funds was mainly used for the priority areas such as education, housing, and employment. Local authorities could apply to the central government for the allocation of funds for specific projects.
ANWAR KEMAL, Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, thanked the delegation for its responses to the questions asked by the Committee. He praised the efforts made by Slovakia to deal with the problems faced by minorities, particularly Roma communities, and noted positive changes. The relationship between the police and the minorities; the need for independent monitoring of the police force, the problem of hate speech; putting an end to the segregation of the Roma and resolving their housing problems; and providing disaggregated and comprehensive data on the population, required close attention by Slovakia.
FEDOR ROSOCHA, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, said that the interactive dialogue with the Committee had been beneficial and would help Slovakia in the evaluation of its current policies. Slovakia, which valued its relationship with the international community, was committed to strengthening democracy, remained open to constructive dialogue, and would make every effort to implement the recommendations of the Committee.
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