Committee against Torture hears replies of the Czech Republic

Committee against Torture

15 May 2012

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the responses of the Czech Republic to questions raised by Committee Experts on the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Monday, 14 May and today, the delegation of the Czech Republic, led by Andrea Barsova, Director of the Department of Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, talked about various issues ranging from sanctions for the crime of torture under the Criminal Code, conditions of pre-trial custody and enforced disappearances to prison conditions and rules compelling prisoners to pay for a proportion of the costs of their custody.  Concerning forced sterilization, the delegation said that compensation for victims was still being dealt with, but stressed there had been no illegal shredding of victims’ healthcare records. The delegation also commented on the use of restraining measures in social services care homes and psychiatric institutions, on extraditions, on conditions for asylum seekers and on the use of surgical castration for sex offenders. 

The delegation of the Czech Republic consisted of representatives from the Department of Human Rights and Protection of Minorities, the Government Council for Human Rights, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Czech Republic will be issued towards the end of the Committee’s session which concludes on 1 June.

The Committee’s next meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 May when it will begin its consideration of a special report of Syria.

Response of the Delegation of the Czech Republic

Article 1 of the Convention was regarded as self-executing in the Czech Republic and the definition of torture was considered, for the purposes of the Criminal Code, binding.  Penalties were imprisonment which could be from six months to five years, and up to 18 years imprisonment under aggravating circumstances.  Any act of torture was punishable by criminal law and offenders should be imprisoned.  Financial help to victims of crime meant that any claim for compensation would be passed over to the State: the priority was to compensate a victim first then find out how to get the offender to meet the claim. 

A person could only be held in pre-trial custody upon the ruling of a judge, and persons in pre-trial custody were held separate from people who had been convicted and were serving their sentence.  Accused or suspected people could be detained by the police, if several conditions were fulfilled, and for a maximum of 72 hours.  The Czech Republic was currently holding consultations about signing the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. 

Only prisoners who worked or had assets had to contribute towards their prison fees, which was a maximum of 32 per cent of their net income, €62 per month and a daily rate of €1.8.  The aim of the punishment was not only to imprison people but also to support their return to ordinary life, to enable them to be employed, to work and to take care of their financial issues: the paying of imprisonment costs should help prisoners to remember that life outside prison was not for free.  The presiding judge decided whether the costs of custody would be paid by the offender, although the issue was currently being debated by the Government.  The decision as to whether a prisoner would work was taken by a special commission on the employment of prisoners, while a medical doctor would assess a prisoner’s health and capability to work.  The prisoner’s employer was either the prison itself or a private person, and labour conditions were governed by the Labour Code.  The prisoner’s salary was decided by Government regulations.

Regarding prison overcrowding, there had been an increase in the transformation of unexecuted alternative punishments, meaning those who were convicted of a criminal act then received an alternative punishment but did not fulfil that punishment, which consequently turned into a prison sentence.  Measures to reduce the prison population were under discussion and tomorrow the Government would discuss allocating more funds to the prison service. 

Concerning statistics for suicides in prisons, a delegate said that in 2007 there were 13 suicides in prisons, in 2008 there were 14 suicides, in 2009 there were 13, in 2010 there were 10 and in 2011, there were 11 suicides.  The most common method of suicide in prison was hanging.  The prison service investigated every attempted and committed suicide.  Keeping prisoners in isolation was, in Czech legal language, called ‘separate incarceration of convicts’ and was allowed for a maximum of 24 hours.  Only the Prison Director or Head of the Guards could authorize keeping a convict alone, and also set the intervals at which the prisoner was checked, for example, every 15 minutes. 

The lack of prison personnel and issues of violence among prisoners were, in a way, interconnected problems.  A system of prevention and detection of inmate violence existed, for example potential victims and offenders were identified, then received increased care. 
Potential victims and potential offenders were not allowed to share the same cell.  It was true that the prison service was understaffed, mostly guards, specialized staff and tutors.  However, the prison service was, in past years, the only security force in the Czech Republic to increase its staff.

Regarding extradition and diplomatic assurances, if an Embassy provided assurance, the Czech authorities would enquire whether there had been a consultation with the judicial authorities of the requesting State, after which the Minister of Justice would decide whether or not to allow the extradition.  Extradition custody could last for a maximum of six months, and if the time limit expired the person must be released from custody immediately, although the requesting State could file a new act relating to the same person and the same offence.  The Czech Republic currently had extradition agreements on asylum seekers with 14 States, the most recent being with Switzerland, and also bilateral agreements. 

Domestic violence was regulated under the Police Act and a violent person could be banished from a domestic residence for an initial 10 days, and up to a year.  A victim could submit preliminary measures to deny contact to a violent person, but a victim did not need to agree with the banishment or a criminal procedure for it to be implemented.  Intervention centres would contact women within 10 days and could provide many levels of support and protection. 

The Ministry of the Interior had prepared a new, updated National Strategy to Combat Trafficking of Humans, while the Government concentrated on victims of forced labour; many victims were not Czech and were from other European countries such as Bulgaria.  Unfortunately there were no convictions resulting from a case of labour exploitation yet.
Regarding detainees and their families in asylum centres, their conditions did fulfil international standards and were run by the Ministry for the Interior and the Refugees Administration Office.  A foreigner was not permitted to leave the facility during detention, and their treatment was based on international agreements, including human rights. 

Police training, especially on the Convention, was an important task carried out by the Ministry of the Interior, which was currently holding a course on ‘policing minorities’.  A programme called ‘Assistance Prevention’ was to employ Roma people living in deprived areas.  Unfortunately the economic crisis had led to a shortfall in police officers, but the police were also trying to recruit more Roma persons, as combating extremism was another key area for them. 

The use of restraining measures in social services – cage beds and net beds – had been illegal since 2007.  Prior to that an investigation into the use of net cages in hospitals and care homes by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the police found that no crime had been committed.  If any care home was found to be using those restraining methods it could result in the removal of the institution’s registration.  The law did allow for use of physical restraint or safe rooms, only after other measures had been used first.  The provider was always obliged to use the mildest methods, such as verbal calming or active listening.  New healthcare legislation valid from April 2012 in particular allowed for improvements to psychiatric healthcare using European Union funding, while the Czech Republic’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities enhanced the rights of those persons with disabilities.  Social services acted to ensure persons with disabilities enjoyed equal standards of living and independence wherever possible.  Between 2004 and 2006 a project to lead transformation of social services facilities was launched, initially dealing with over 30 residential services, and financed by the European Fund.  Since 2008 inspections into social service institutions had taken place by specially trained officials; there were 296 inspections carried out in 2009 and in 2010 there were 319 inspections. 

The Czech Republic was ready to follow its obligations under the Convention whenever there were reasonable grounds to suspect any person was at risk of torture or cruel or unusual treatment.  The Ombudsman informed the public about his activities through rare public statements and through his periodic and thematic reports, all of which were available on the website. 

Regarding compensation for involuntary sterilizations, the issue was being dealt with at a Government level by the Government’s Council for Human Rights.  It was still very difficult for victims of sterilization that were not fully voluntary to get compensation despite changes to jurisprudence.  The Government had no information about illegal shredding of healthcare records related to forced sterilizations, but there was normal shredding so it followed that some documents may have been shredded in accordance with the law.  A new 2012 decree recommended that healthcare documentation should be held for five years.   Three compensation cases where settlement had been reached were known, one of which was brought before the European Court of Human Rights, where the applicant accepted compensation of €10,000. 

Based on recommendations, the Government maintained the practice of voluntary surgical castration.  There were specific conditions for surgical castration, in that the patient committed in the past a violent sexually motivated crime, or an examination by a specialist proved the existence of a specific sexual deviation and a high level of probability that the patient would commit a violent sexually motivated crime again, or other therapeutic methods were not successful.  However, the number of surgical castrations had been reduced from around 20 per year during the early 2000s, to around three per year in recent years. 

Concerning corporal punishment, at this point no legislation was being considered to prohibit it completely.  The Family Code referred to the use of corporal punishment for educational means, which was subject to a certain amount of interpretation, but ultimately the dignity of the child could not be harmed.  The Government ran a campaign to promote and support ‘positive parenting’ and change public attitudes to the use of corporal punishment. 

Follow-Up Questions of Experts

An Expert said that while on some areas he now had a clearer understanding of issues, on others, such as compensation, he still needed clarification, especially on the term ‘financial help’.  Did that mean that the Government paid compensation to a victim, but then had to retrieve the money from the perpetrator?  The delegation said that restraints could be used in social services and psychiatric units if a doctor approved it, but an Expert said for too long doctors had been able to make those decisions unchecked, and she was not sure sufficient safeguards were taken into consideration.  The possibility of a person to have a say in their treatment, to appeal and complain, were issues that had to be looked into. 

Charging prisoners part of the cost of their custody consisted of a double-punishment.  In its last concluding recommendations the Committee recommended that the State party abolish that practice: what problems did the State party have with doing that, as the Committee needed to know before it included the issue in the next concluding recommendations?   An Expert noted that the delegation said police had difficulties in investigating violent attacks against minorities, but asked why that was so.  Those crimes had to be investigated thoroughly in order to act as a deterrent for future attacks. 

Foreigners were sometimes detained for up to six months without going outside the detention facility.  What conditions were they kept in: permanent structures or just transitional places of detention?  The report stated that from 2006 to 2010 there were 7,500 complaints against the members of the prison service, but no member of the prison service had been prosecuted for crimes of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment.  So what were those 7,500 complaints about if not the Convention?  Concerning those who collaborated to try to destroy trafficking rings, the delegation said that they had programmes to do that for labour trafficking purposes, so would they consider using similar measures to tackle trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation?

Response of the Delegation

Every suicide in prison was considered very seriously and was thoroughly investigated.  Prison staff were dedicated to eradicating the problem.  The Government was still discussing the practice of having prisoners contributing to their custodial costs.  New prison staff had been recruited, but the prison population was increasing at the same time. 

Regarding violent attacks against minorities, namely Roma people, in the last year two special police units were established in regions with a high Roma population that also had high unemployment, to supervise and keep the peace. 

Concluding Remarks

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the expertise they brought to the dialogue and their attitude towards the Committee.  The Committee had learnt about the situation in the Czech Republic including the latest developments. 

ANDREA BARSOVA, Director of the Department of Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, thanked the Committee and her colleagues for their work and said she looked forward to receiving the concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee. 


For use of the information media; not an official record