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Czech Republic
14.05.01
Statements

Czech Republic: ROMA, OMCT expresses its concern about their situation before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Intervention by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),
Pre-Sessional Working Group of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
The Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the Czech Republic in the light of the Roma Issue


The report presented to the Working Group by OMCT focuses on the current situation of the Roma, in the light of the rights enshrined in the Covenant and particularity article 2(2) on non-discrimination.

While OMCT acknowledges the Czech Republic’s intention to improve the situation of the Roma population, it notes that the measures taken remain, so far, insufficient. Indeed, Roma in the Czech Republic continue to suffer broad violations of their economic, social and cultural rights, as well as regular attacks, violence and other ill-treatment perpetrated by the police or private agents. OMCT believes that these two sets of violations are closely interrelated and cannot be considered as separated items.


The impact of economic restructuring on the Roma community

While the Czech Republic’s transition to market economy has had an overall negative impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the country, the situation of Roma has deteriorated more severely than for others. The benefits of the economic transition have been, of little significance for the Roma, whose condition, in most cases, has worsened towards greater violations of their economic, social and cultural rights. The strong de facto discrimination against the Roma in the Czech Republic with regard to their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights underlines, explains and reinforces the significant deterioration of their situation following the transition to a market economy and the related economic restructuring. OMCT remains concerned that, as it has been the case for the last nine years, the Roma will not find themselves in a position to benefit from the continuing restructuring of the economy and the fiscal reforms recommended by the World Bank in March 2001. In this regard, OMCT would ask the government to provide information on the policies and measures already taken or it intends to take to address the negative impact of economic reforms and adjustment programmes on the economic, social and cultural rights of the Roma. It would also ask the government whether it raises the issue of the negative impact economic restructuring is having on Roma in its negotiations with the World Bank and other international or regional financial institutions.


Justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights before Czech Courts

Another factor for concern remains the question of the justiciablility of economic, social and cultural rights before Czech Courts. As the recent “Ostrava case” described in our report highlights, the justiciability of these rights is far from being a reality. Indeed, this case, involving clear evidence of institutional discrimination against Roma children with regard to their right to education, was dismissed by the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic. While the Court acknowledged the persuasiveness of the applicants’ arguments, it stated that it was not competent to consider evidence demonstrating a pattern of racial discrimination and that the applicants failed to demonstrate that discrimination took place on an individual basis. I invite members of this working group to look at OMCT’s report for further details of this case and recall the Committee’s General Comment No. 9 according to which “the Covenant norms must be recognised in appropriate ways within the domestic legal order, appropriate means of redress, or remedies, must be available to any aggrieved individual or group, and appropriate means of ensuring governmental accountability must be put in place.” In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech government to provide the Committee with data on cases related to economic, social and cultural rights and discrimination before Czech courts and the issue of these cases; to provide information on available and effective remedies to address cases of institutionalised discrimination by the administration and other institutions in the realm of economic, social and cultural rights; to provide information on its approach of the “Ostrava Case” and its impact on the possibility to challenge cases of discrimination in the realm of economic, social and cultural rights at the national level; and finally to provide information on implicit or explicit criteria taken into account when receiving groups’ complaints on violations of economic, social and cultural rights.


Roma’s economic, social and cultural rights: a socio-economic problem or a discrimination issue?

In its report, OMCT also notes that the government tends to describe the Roma issue as a sole socio-economic question, implicitly disregarding the discrimination concerns and therefore the human rights approach. In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech government to provide information on and clarify its approach to the Roma issue (a socio-economic question versus a minority concern) and to provide information on the possible enactment of a law on minority rights and on the economic, social and cultural rights content enshrined in this law.


Discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights

With regard to the issue of discrimination, OMCT notes that discrimination against the Roma remains widespread with regard to the enjoyment of all human rights and that the government has yet to enact legislation and administrative regulations expressly prohibiting racial discrimination. Accordingly, victims of racial discrimination have no civil or legal remedies for acts of discrimination with regard to economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights. In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech Government to provide information on the drafting and enactment of civil or administrative legal provisions or regulations expressly outlawing and sanctioning racial discrimination notably in employment, education, housing and health care, and providing for reparation.


Roma’s right to work

OMCT notes, with regard to the right to work, that Roma have often be the first to be dismissed following economic restructuring and continue to face difficulties to integrate the labour market due to the lack of the necessary skills and strong discriminatory practices by private employers and the administration. While the national unemployment rate is at around 5 percents, 70 percent of the Roma are unemployed and that this figure is as high as 90 percent in some areas. While these figures do not take into account the Roma working in the informal sector, it should be underlined that this form of employment is generally characterised by precariousness in terms of wages, security of employment, conditions of work and the possibility of receiving social benefits. OMCT would like to underline the fact that high unemployment among Roma, by leading to further socio-economic exclusion and the lack of a proper and decent income, often drives Roma into criminal activities. This, in turn, reinforces prejudices against them as well as police repression, which often involves ill-treatment. In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech government to provide recent data on the percentage of unemployed Roma at the national and municipal levels; to provide recent estimates on the percentage of the Roma population working in the informal sector; to provide information on measures (legal, administrative,…) taken to address the discrimination faced by the Roma in the labour market and their high level of unemployment.


Roma’s right to education

OMCT noted with concern that the majority of Roma children (70 to 80 percent) attend remedial special schools which are intended for children with mental and physical disabilities. OMCT notes that a double language surrounds the definition of remedial special schools. On the one hand, the School Law clearly states that these schools are established to responds to the needs of handicapped children, while, on the other hand, numerous officials and the Ministry of Education itself regards them as appropriate for the education of Roma children. OMCT further notes with concern that in many instances, pressure is exercised upon Roma parents to place their children in remedial special schools or that the parents give their consent without being told of the consequences of placement in these institutions. Moreover ill-treatment of Roma in normal basic schools also force parents into placing their children in remedial special schools, where such acts take place on a lesser scale. Abuses by teachers in basic schools involve preventing Roma children from going to the toilets, verbal insults and humiliating references to ethnic origins. In most instances these abuses are not reported, or when they are, no administrative measures are taken by the school direction against the teachers.

OMCT also remains worried by the lack of proper and efficient remedies to challenge the placement of Roma children in remedial special schools and to transfer them to basic schools, as highlighted by the above-mentioned “Ostrava case”.

In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech authorities to provide information of the steps taken at the legal, administrative and other levels to address Roma children’s overwhelming representation in remedial special schools; to provide information on the steps taken to enact a law, administrative regulations or other measures to sanction abuses by teachers against Roma children and provide redress to the victims.


The right to adequate housing and the ghettoisation of the Roma

The overall housing conditions of the Roma remains very poor, characterised by inadequate hygienic conditions, a lack of appropriate facilities and sanitation, as well as insecurity of tenure. Cases of evictions remain frequent and go along with an ongoing process of ghettoisation, of the Roma community, being carried out by national and local authorities. OMCT believes that the current housing situation of the Roma does not fulfil the criteria set up by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its general Comment No. 4 on the right to housing with regard to the availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, affordability, habitability, accessibility and location. The privatisation process of the housing stock, which has been recently initiated raises serious concern with regard to the Roma’s right to adequate housing.

Direct discrimination against Roma, as well as indirect discrimination based on apparently neutral criteria, characterise the current housing situation of the Roma and raise serious and well-founded questions with regard to articles 2 and 11 of the Covenant. Such pattern leads, among other, to the ghettoisation of the Roma at the outskirt of cities in apartments lacking basic facilities. Moreover, the location of these facilities seriously restricts Roma’s ability to access basic health, social and educational services. I invite members of the working- group to look at our report for examples of direct and indirect discrimination against Roma in the realm of housing.

In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech Government to provide information on the legislative, administrative and other steps taken, at the national and municipal level to address the isolation of the Roma in housing facilities located at the outskirts of cities, and failing to fulfil the criteria set up by the Committee on Economic, social and Cultural Rights in its General Comment No. 4 on the right to adequate housing; to provide information on the measures it intends to adopt to address the negative impact of the privatisation of the housing stock on vulnerable groups such as the Roma; to provide information on available and efficient national remedies for violations of the right to adequate housing; to provide information on the level of police interventions in Roma neighbourhoods, including records of ill-treatments and complaints filed in this regard.


The inter-relatedness between violations of economic, social and cultural rights and the occurrence of ill-treatment and other violence against the Roma

OMCT believes that Roma’s violations of economic, social and cultural rights cannot and shall not be separated from the violence perpetrated against them by the police or private individuals. As the violence against Roma is often fuelled and triggered by a whole range of negative prejudice against them, this issue cannot and shall not be separated from violations of economic, social and cultural rights. For examples of violence and ill-treatment against Roma, as well as the impunity that generally surrounds these acts, I invite members of the working group to look at our report.

The complexity of the Roma issue highlights that the questions of discrimination, violations of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the violence and ill-treatment have to be considered as a whole and not as separate entities. Indeed, as OMCT’s report highlights, infringement of one of these three elements triggers violations of the others.

In this regard, OMCT would ask the Czech government which measures -legislative, administrative and other- it intends to take to address the inter-relatedness and interlinkages between violations of economic, social and cultural rights and the occurrence of torture and other forms of violence; whether it is considering adopting a holistic and comprehensive approach to the Roma situation, and what kind of policies would flow from such assessment; to give information on the measures taken (legislative, administrative and other) to address the violence against Roma.

I thank you very much.

Geneva, May 2001
Nathalie Mivelaz
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