Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of the Czech Republic

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

19 August 2011

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has concluded its consideration of the eighth and ninth periodic reports of the Czech Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

At the opening of the meeting, Anwar Kemal, Committee Chairperson, noted that today is World Humanitarian Day, and he asked for a moment of silence to remember all humanitarians who had lost their lives in the service of peace.

The report of Czech Republic was presented by Andrea Barsova, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Protection of Minorities, Office of the Government, Government Council for Human Rights. Ms. Barsova said an important legislative change was the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act. The greatest benefit of this act was the extension of the competence of the Ombudsman, and it ensured a stronger position for victims of discrimination. Over the last two years, the Government continued its efforts to improve relations between the majority population and the Roma minority and Roma integration. The Ministry of Education supported the inclusion of socially disadvantaged Roma pupils by funding a broad range of relevant programmes. Equally important in eliminating racism was the role of civil society and non-governmental organizations.

In preliminary concluding observations, Anastasia Crickley, the Committee Expert who served as the country Rapporteur for the report of Czech Republic, said the institutions and programmes created to combat racial discrimination were the building blocks of effective policy. Deep concerns remained about progress in areas cited in the last concluding observations. In addressing all matters, the Committee was of the view that the National Action Plan against Racism of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action remained a useful instrument, and the Committee hoped for the Czech Republic’s continued engagement through the follow-up process.

During the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts raised a number of questions and asked for further information on subjects related to, among others, the situation of Roma, segregation in schools, sterilization, Romani unemployment and housing, extremism, racist and xenophobic discourse in politics and the media, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and immigration.

The delegation of Czech Republic included representatives from the Permanent Mission of Czech Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Government Council for Human Rights, the Office of the Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Regional Development, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the eighth and ninth periodic reports of Czech Republic, which were presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 2 September.

The Committee will hold its next public session at 10 a.m. on 22 August when it will hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation of human rights in Albania, the United Kingdom and Malta.

Report of Czech Republic

The eighth and ninth periodic reports of the Czech Republic (CERD/C/CZE/8-9), submitted as one document, state the most important law in Czech Republic ensuring protection against discrimination is the Anti-discrimination Act. This Act specifies the right to equal treatment and non-discrimination. If the rights and obligations stemming from equal treatment are infringed or discrimination occurs, the person affected by this conduct is entitled to take legal action in a court. At the same time, the Ombudsman’s competence in matters concerning the right to equal treatment and protection against discrimination is defined. It was decided not to adopt a National Action Plan against Racism. The Minister for Human Rights is a key minister responsible, inter alia, for the protection of minority rights. The Minister has been actively involved in the fight against extremism. The 2008–2012 Strategy for the Work of the Czech Police Force in Relation to Minorities is a strategic document laying down the principles of policing in relation to minorities. The new Penal Code has introduced certain changes related to racially motivated crimes. On 4 May 2009, the Government approved the Strategy to Combat Extremism, which includes the Concept of the Fight against Extremism which provides instructions that will help marginalize the extremists to the extent that they no longer pose a security risk. Under applicable legislation of the Czech Republic, membership of a national minority or ethnicity is regarded as sensitive data which, outside a population census, cannot be legally collected and registered.

The principles of the long-term Roma Integration Policy were adopted by the Government in 2005 to improve the lives of the Roma in key areas such as education and labour market by 2025 so “affirmative action” measures are no longer necessary. Social exclusion and spatial segregation is an important factor that negatively affects the situation of about one third of the Roma in the Czech Republic and thus reduces their chances of enjoying a good-quality and full life. The Czech Government’s backing of solutions for deprived and socially excluded areas is not limited to legislation, the creation of strategic documents and both investment and noninvestment financial support. Unemployment among the Roma and the generally socially excluded remains a problem, especially in this time of economic recession. The Human Resources and Employment Operational Programme, which is generally focused on increasing the employment and employability of target groups, contains several areas that can be applied to activities conducive to the employment of the Roma. The Ministry of Culture supports projects with a thematic focus, such as artistic activities, cultural and educational activities, the study of Roma culture and traditions, documentary and publishing work, and multi-ethnic cultural events.

Increasing interest among Czech neo-Nazis in attending public events with a political context is evident throughout the reporting period. In 2008, the Military Police investigated five cases of suspected unlawful activity by members of the Czech Army in connection with extremism. The Czech Republic has not yet taken any action paving the way for the compensation of sterilized women. Reparations in civil proceedings are impossible in most cases. In 2008, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports announced a development programme to support schools providing inclusive education and education for children and pupils from a socio-culturally disadvantaged background. The Czech Trade Inspectorate supervises compliance with the prohibition of discrimination in the sale of products and goods and the provision of services.

Presentation of the Report

ANDREA BARSOVA, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Protection of Minorities, Office of the Government, Government Council for Human Rights, said that much of the presentation would be focused on the Roma. Other significant groups in Czech society with regard to protection against discrimination were other traditional national minorities, such as Poles or Germans, who enjoyed special minority rights. A third group consisted of a large immigrant community, most of whom were Ukrainian, Vietnamese and Russian. Over the period of 2005 to 2009, the Agency for Social Inclusion was established and a new penal code was adopted. The office of the Ombudsman began to function as an anti-discrimination body. In addition to offering aid to persons in individual cases, the Ombudsman began to help develop new standards for protection against discrimination. Last year, elections were held for the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic and a new government was formed. In a policy statement of 4 August 2010, the government affirmed its respect for human rights as the cornerstone on which society and the democratic order stood and as the basis for the free life of every citizen. The Government pledged to support the social integration of persons living in excluded communities through the work of the Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, which operated in 12 localities and was currently preparing a National Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion. An important legislative change was the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act. The greatest benefit of this act was the extension of the competence of the Ombudsman and it ensured a stronger position for victims of discrimination. The burden of proof was now firmly attributed to the defendant. Under the act, several hundred complaints had been received.

Over the last two years, the Government continued its efforts to improve relations between the majority population and the Roma minority and Roma integration. Roma issues were addressed by the Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, which acted as an inter-ministerial organ. The Council included 16 Roma representatives and key ministers. At the European level, the Czech Republic contributed to the development of Roma integration policies. During the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, they focused on the following priority areas: inclusive education, children’s rights and well-being, the role of Roma women in all areas of integration, local implementation of integration policies and self-government and the media image of the Roma. The Ministry of Education supported the inclusion of socially disadvantaged Roma pupils by funding a broad range of relevant programmes in the fields of early intervention, mainstream education and access to secondary and higher education. The Support Centre for Inclusive Education was also an available source of support to schools. The Czech Government was aware that the current situation in many schools was far from the goal, but it was striving.

A persistent problem was the prevalence of high unemployment among the Roma population. The Concept of Integration 2010 to 2013 and the Action Plan for the decade of Roma Inclusion aimed to increase the employment rate among Roma. Unemployed Roma could now participate in conventional public employment services. Another particularly arduous problem was the poor housing situation of many Roma. The Government supported the revitalization of the socially excluded localities and sought to increase the availability of housing for people with low incomes or other special needs. With the support from European Union funds, several integrated pilot projects intended to improve the general environment of settlements inhabited by Roma had been implemented in the Czech Republic. Roma women faced the same problems as the majority of women, but also struggled with specific challenges in their own communities. Promoting equal opportunities for Roma women was one of the tasks arising from the Concept of Roma Integration for the period from 2010 to 2013. The Government was working to develop Roma culture and building respect for Roma history and traditions by specially designed historical museums and monuments, including the memorial sites at Lety and Hodonin u Kunstatu. A significant task was to educate all citizens about the Romani Holocaust. The Government issued an apology in 2009 in relation to sterilizations it had performed on Roma people, and the Government Council of Human Rights was discussing how to provide redress.

The Campaign against Racism aimed to eliminate latent racism and xenophobia among the Czech population and publicize the government’s firm opposition to prejudice, racial violence and intolerance. The Gypsy Spirit project had been an important part of the campaign. The Government devoted attention to the sensitive issue of collecting ethnic data. The 2011 census utilized the traditional method of data collection of ethnic self-identification. The Government adopted the Strategy to Combat Extremism and included activities to increase awareness about the issue of extremism, fight false propaganda on the internet, educate children and young people about tolerance and other objectives. In 2010, there was a slight decrease in racially-motivated criminal behaviour and the number of anti-Semitic crimes. With respect to immigrants, the Government adopted an updated Concept of Immigrant Integration in the Czech Republic, called Joint Existence. One of the new integration tools was the so-called emergency projects. Another new important tool was the Regional Centres for the Support of Integration which provided information, guidance, language classes, socio-orientation and other services. Equally important in eliminating racism was the role of civil society and non-governmental organizations.

Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, the Committee Expert who served as the country Rapporteur for the report of Czech Republic, said as part of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic with Slovakia became the first former eastern Bloc State to acquire the status of a developed economy following the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Ms. Crickley acknowledged the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act in compliance with the European Union’s Race and Employment Equality Directives in 2009 and the provisions regarding the Public Defender of Rights. Other positive developments included the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision condemning the 2010 workers party because the party advocated neo-Nazi ideology. The Czech Republic had made considerable progress since 1993 and had made contributions to European and global developments. A climate of dialogue and tolerance regarding national minorities prevailed. However, there were problems with the near total impunity for racial discrimination against Roma. The Czech Republic was a country of immigration and emigration. The provisions that linked immigration status to a particular job, the practices of job agencies and voluntary return programs, and reports of detention of asylum seekers were concerning. There were issues related to the manifestation of hatred and hate crime and the role of the media in either addressing or implicitly acknowledging their validity.

The lack of disaggregated data made quantitative comment on a number of issues difficult. While acknowledging the overarching need for adequate protection of children, the over-representation of Roma children in state care and the disregard for Roma rights contributed to assimilation rather than integration. More information with regard to the overall strategy of the social and legal protection authorities and the training of associated professionals would be valued. The discrimination experienced by women on the basis of both their ethnicity and gender should be adequately addressed. Progress had been made through the adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act. However, it defined permissible and impermissible grounds and forms of differential treatment, without providing new means of protection to victims. The only additional means of protection stipulated by the Act was recourse to the Ombudsman. Legal provisions against discrimination seemed scattered across the principal actors of public law. Ms. Crickley asked for more information about how legislation met the specific requirements of the Convention. The Committee had received reports of a growing number of incidents of incitement to hatred and acts of violence. The Czech Republic should explain the strategy and current priorities with regard to extremist movements and political parties. How did the Czech Republic promote and encourage effective use of guidance on investigation and prosecuting extremism? The limited effectiveness of the Government’s response to some of the decisions and acts of local and regional authorities concerning the evictions of vulnerable groups was worrying.

The segregated education of Romani children in the Czech Republic was deemed unacceptable and a violation of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights. The Czech Republic was asked to discuss the progress made towards implementation of the judgment. Did the Czech Republic intend to propose legislation to combat education segregation on the basis of ethnicity? What steps were being taken to de-segregate schools and ensure children were not deprived of their right to education? Did the Government promote awareness of Romani rights and capacities? Was this being monitored? There were persistent concerns with regard to Roma housing and employment. On the issue of sterilization of Romani with free and informed consent, progress had been made and needed to be acknowledged. However, was the government considering ex gratia compensation producers? Ms. Crickley noted with interest the number of human rights institutions and welcomed additional information about their cooperation with the government. More information regarding the lack of an independent national human rights institution and the promotion of the Convention were requested.

Following Ms. Crickley’s presentation, other Committee Members took the floor. Committee Members said Europe had much to learn from the Czech Republic’s work with the Roma and the implementation of the Road Map the Government to promote the integration of Roma. A great deal of information about the discrimination suffered by Roma was discussed in the report of the Czech Republic. However, more information about the status of other minorities was requested, as other minorities were not safe from discrimination either. Committee Members asked if many people in the Czech Republic spoke Russian. Committee Members noted that in the statistics provided, the third largest group was listed as unknown. Perhaps some people decided not to respond to questions, but this should be listed as such. This indicated the reliability of the statistics. What forms of education, housing and health services were offered to other minority groups? Furthermore, were Romani children taught in the Roma language? What was the composition of the student body at university and secondary schools? Were there quotas for different ethnic groups? Regarding Article 4 of the Convention, Committee Members asked for more information about concrete measures adopted, court cases, prosecutions, and related data concerning the combat against right-wing extremism. Racist and xenophobic comments were said to exist in political discourse and in the media. Were there plans and strategies for combating this discourse?

More information about the role of the police force in combating discrimination and racism was also requested. The fate and prior treatment of foreigners in retention centres was not discussed. Committee Members asked the delegation to discuss the conditions of these centres. The delegation had mentioned the impact of the economic and financial crisis on discrimination. Committee Members asked for the delegation’s view of the crisis’s impact on the Czech people’s view of Roma. Was there increased stigma stemming from economic reasons? Furthermore, the delegation was asked to explain why so many immigrants came from Viet Nam. More information on the new legislation related to compensation for sterilization activities was requested. Regarding the access to citizenship laws being prepared by the Ministry of the Interior, more details would be welcome. The principles found in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action were at the heart of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. There were six major points and it appeared that the Czech Republic supported all of them. Committee Members asked for more information about the Czech Republic’s relationship to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, particularly in relation to the upcoming conference.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that a human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles did not exist in Czech Republic, however, the Ombudsman was increasingly working to play that role and developing in that direction. Regarding the functioning of the Anti-Discrimination Act and other legal matters, a comment had been made that legislation was scattered. Legislation tended to be bulky and complex and the Government was aware that laws were difficult to understand for those without legal training. The Ombudsman issued legal guidelines that were useful in providing interpretation and guidance regarding the Anti-Discrimination Act as well as other laws and procedures to lawyers and other individuals. In practice, the complexity of the legal system was overcome by the activities of the Ombudsman. Regarding the relationship between other national minorities and immigrants, a well-developed system of protection of traditional minorities was written into the constitution’s legal rights and liberties. National minorities enjoyed the right to participation and special linguistic rights, related to mother-tongue language education or the use of mother tongue in official procedures. On the whole the relationship was dynamic and inclusive activities were supported by the Government. Vietnamese migrants first came in the 1950s seeking employment and many second generation Vietnamese Czechs continued to live in the country.

On the situation of the Roma, the delegation said the Government Council for Minority Affairs had been established and was composed of 32 members, half of whom were government officials and half of whom were Roma. The 16 Roma members represented regional coordinators, civil society, business and non-governmental organizations. These were leaders who actively contributed to improving the situation of Roma. The Council represented all regions of the Czech Republic, and in each region there were Roma coordinators actively participating in government councils, which provided information on the problems faced by the Roma community. Currently 192 Roma leaders were active at the municipal level. The Agency for Social Integration promoted integration with the support of the European Partnership Fund and in cooperation with local Roma institutions. An annual report on the situation of Roma was produced with the help of all major Government ministries. Human rights, minority rights and socio-economic principles were the pillars that defined integration activities in the Czech Republic. The principles aimed to prevent social exclusion, promote participation in employment and support other activities necessary for Roma to express their cultural heritage. In certain socially excluded localities, employment opportunities were difficult to access and the expression of social, political and economic rights was limited. These localities were often affected by spatial and/or symbolic segregation, which related to physical location but also stigma, stereotypes and low levels of access to education and health services.

Regarding the Durban Process, the Czech Republic was struggling with a specific statute that each person had to the right to choose freely his or her ethnicity. As it pertained to skin, this did not seem to make a lot of sense. As it regarded identity associated with mother tongue language, the Czech Republic supported freedom of choice and believed this could shift over time. National identity could also shift over time. People could maintain dual ethnicities or dual identities. This could explain why so few people identified as belonging to the minority in the Czech Republic. Another member of the Czech delegation said that non-participation in the Durban commemoration in New York was not a decision that was taken lightly and involved expert consultation throughout the Czech government. The Czech Republic felt that all forms of discrimination should be addressed and all victims of racial discrimination should be paid equal attention and respect. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action did not maintain geographical neutrality; it singled out a certain geographic area. Highly problematic exclamations or excesses had tarnished the Durban follow-up processes. The Czech Republic harboured growing concerns that a certain hidden agenda was being pushed forward that was harmful to fundamental rights and freedoms. Particularly, the elevation of some abstract forms of human rights principles relating to religion had the effect of encouraging prohibition of other rights and freedoms. Due to these concerns, the Czech Republic had decided not to attend the commemorative event and high-level segment of the Durban commemoration in New York. The Czech Republic’s commitment to the elimination of racial discrimination was firm and would follow the process in New York and its follow-up from a distance.

Increasing the social situation of the Roma community was a complex issue. Building knowledge among people contributed to a cohesive society and upheld human rights generally. This had a strong basis in Czech legalization, covering all areas of life. The Government felt it necessary to refute the statement about racial segregation in schools and the existence of special education provided on a racial basis. Inclusive, general access to education without discrimination, lifelong education, support education, respect for lingual needs, self-determination and freedom of choice were the principles underpinning Czech education policy. Inclusive education was a main principle of the Act on Education. It was clearly forbidden to teach children without mental challenges using curriculum designed for pupils with disabilities. It was now strictly prohibited to enrol children without special needs into these programmes. Regarding the situation of children in the Czech Republic, when then Body of Social and Legal Protection deemed it necessary to remove a child from his or her parents, the body called for a quick court ruling. Because of the time frame, the court was obliged to depend on the information provided by the Body of Social and Legal Protection. The Czech Republic had been criticized by European Union courts for removing children from parents due to unfavourable housing or social conditions. Consequently, the Czech Republic had issued a document outlining general measures which prohibited the removal of children from their parents based solely on housing and social conditions.

Concerning the situation of refugees, many centres were established for foreigners, which accorded registration status and provided accommodation, food, health and other services. The Strategy on Policing Minorities covered measures for police officers and the liaison officers who worked with socially excluded communities. An annual report was produced to investigate extremism in the Czech Republic and inform policy on the issue. Specialized police officers were tasked with focusing on the fight against extremism. Prosecution of the elites of right-wing extreme groups was commencing, while the number of concerts and public gatherings associated with right-wing extremism and neo-Nazis was decreasing. Only 250 registered criminal offences were associated with extremism in 2010, 0.08 percent of criminal offences in the Czech Republic. The Workers’ Party was dissolved in 2010. Some former Workers’ Party members joined the Party for Social Justice, but this party was not particularly attractive or very popular, attracting only 1.14 per cent of votes in the 2010 election. On the issue of sterilization, new legislation and other measures had been undertaken by the Ministry of Health to improve access to health care. New legislation mandated freedom of choice and free, prior informed consent. Sterilization could only be undertaken for serious health reasons with the full consent of the individual concerned or his or her legal representative.

Further Questions posed by Experts

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, the Committee Expert who served as the country Rapporteur for the report of Czech Republic, requested further information about the terms and conditions necessary for obtaining citizenship, an the issue faced by migrant workers and asylum seekers. More information about the different forms of detention would illuminate the particular types of discrimination suffered by asylum seekers and refugees. Regarding the Roma and their involvement in government, Ms. Crickley asked to know more about the independence of Romani involved in the Government Council for Minority Affairs and its machinery. How were their views reflected in policy issues? It was clear that a particular set of principles, processes and attitudes had played a role in the education of Romani children. However, what concrete progress had been made? How much had support been mainstreamed? A lot of information was provided on decrees, but ultimately, what had happened? How many more Romani children were in mainstream schools? Creating terms and conditions where people could make full and free decisions involved the people and attitudes that formed those terms and conditions.

Other Committee Members asked for more information about the Ministry of Human Rights and asked why it had been disbanded. The decision to not participate in the commemoration of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was, of course, political and the prerogative of the Government. However, it would have been useful for the Czech Republic to attend and express its opinion on the issues discussed. Regarding the allocation of Romani children to different schools, on what basis were decisions made? More information was requested about the recently adopted strategy to combat human trafficking. Regarding the informed consent of Roma parents on school choice, what packet of information was conveyed? Committee members noted that the attitudes of individuals conveying information could play a role. Also, choice depended on the language it was couched in. Was there a professional protocol for providing consent?

Response by Delegation

In the Czech Republic, there were not a fixed number of ministries. Ministerial posts were negotiated by each government. A Minister of Human Rights was appointed in 2007 and then resigned. The new government elected in 2010 decided not to establish the post of the Minister of Human Rights. The responsibilities were then shifted to the Prime Minister. The Ombudsman was independent and was responsible to parliament. Advisory bodies, by their very nature, however, were not intended to be independent. Regarding the role of Roma, the Government Council for Minority Affairs depended on the professionalism and expertise of the regional Roma bodies. Members were appointed by the government. The Council assembled only once in 2010, due to a change in statutes and the government itself. The members provided input on various state strategies and plans; they were quite active and had independently met with the Prime Minister on issues of urgent concern. The chairperson of the Council was the Prime Minister, who attended the meetings, while the Vice-chairperson belonged to the Roma minority. All the members, except two, were high school graduates.

Ability to speak the Czech language was important to the integration of foreigners. It was also important for acquiring citizenship. In recent years, migrants came predominately from Ukraine, the Slovak Republic and Viet Nam. Terms for granting citizenship included ability to speak Czech, length of stay in the Czech Republic and other aspects. Regarding the conditions in detention centres, there were many categories and types of facilities. State activities for integration provided asylum seekers with language courses, access to the labour market and accommodation services.

The key outcomes of the state policy related to Roma education policies included increased awareness among all stakeholders involved. Those involved in the process were more knowledgeable about the needs of Roma pupils and procedures regarding their education. There was progress in terms of the number of Roma enrolled in primary and secondary school as well the methods of assessment and measurement. Increased funding had been provided to schools pursuing inclusive education for disadvantaged pupils. Regarding the process of placement of Romani children in schools, counselling services had been standardized. Parents had to be informed of results and consulted with on placement. Information had to be presented in an understandable way. The annual report on trafficking in human beings contained statistics on the state. Because of the economic crisis there seemed to be a decrease in sexual exploitation and human trafficking, although an increase in exploitation on the labour market had been observed. The Czech government could not and would not approve of excesses witnessed at the follow-up processes to the Durban commemoration. There was a choice in the way and means opinions were expressed. The Czech Republic did not boycott the Durban process and indeed participated in Durban Declaration working groups.

Preliminary Concluding Observations

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, the Committee Expert who served as the country Rapporteur for the report of Czech Republic, said the institutions and programmes created to combat racial discrimination were the building blocks of effective policy. Deep concerns remained about progress in areas cited in the last concluding observations. The winds of extremism and neo-Nazism had touched the Czech Republic. Any normalization of discrimination in statements and actions by politicians or political parties was a matter of grave concern for the Committee. The Committee was particularly concerned about the situation of Roma, particularly with respect to sterilization of Romani women without informed consent. Attempts to rationalize and explain the situation were insufficient. The situation of migrants was also of concern. It was important to assure the rights of migrants as the tide turned from exporting to importing migrants. In addressing all matters, the Committee was of the view that the National Action Plan against Racism of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action remained a useful instrument. The Committee hoped for the Czech Republic’s continued engagement through the follow-up process.

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