Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Slovakia

17 February 2010

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Slovakia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Fedor Rosocha, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Slovak Government was implementing a number of programmes aimed at combating discrimination, the most important among which was the Action Plan for the Prevention of All Forms of Discrimination, Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Other Expression of Intolerance. Priority areas defined in the 2006-2008 Action Plan had been aimed at increasing the level of awareness of Slovak citizens in the area of human rights and non-discrimination, ensuring effective implementation of anti-discrimination legislation and addressing the status of migrants in Slovakia. The Action Plan for 2009-2011 built on the results achieved in the previous periods. It concentrated on improving the situation in the areas of legislation, application, theory and practice. An important priority of the Plan was the organization of systematic training for members of professional groups who had an impact on the prevention of all forms of discrimination.

Mr. Rosocha said that particular attention was paid to the situation of the Roma, the second largest national minority in the country. A new legislative provision relating to discrimination and segregation of Roma children in education prohibited all forms of discrimination and segregation by schools and educational facilities. In 2006, the Roma Education Fund supported a two-year national pilot project of the Ministry focused on improving the integration of Roma children in pre-school education in the Slovak areas with the highest rate of Roma population. That objective had been achieved, not only in kindergartens, but also in primary schools. There was also an Employment and Social Inclusion programme that addressed employability and employment of particularly disadvantaged groups of job seekers and marginalized groups, including the Roma.

In preliminary concluding observations, Alexei Avtonomov, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, paid tribute to the openness of the delegation during the dialogue. He particularly welcomed the replies to questions on decisions of the Constitutional Court, and noted that the Constitutional Court had relied on the European Court decisions. That was a positive thing that it was relying on international jurisprudence, and he hoped that in future the Convention could also be relied on.

Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on a number of subjects, including placement of Roma children in special schools; allegations of forced sterilization of Roma women; discrimination against the Roma in housing; a rise in racist attacks by skinheads; violence against Roma minors by law enforcement officials; and concern about the distinction between crimes of extremism and racism. An Expert was also concerned that, for the period 2002 to 2008, the Ombudsman had found no violation of a fundamental right or freedom based on racial discrimination although approximately 100 complaints before the Ombudsman had concerned discrimination, including on the grounds of belonging to a national minority. Experts were also concerned by the delegation's statement – if they had heard correctly – that there was a high incidence of mental retardation among Roma children. A number of Experts echoed that question, and asked for clarification on why that was and how the analyses were carried out.

The delegation of Slovakia also included members of the Office of the Government, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Education, the Presidium of the Police Corps, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of the Slovak Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the report of Slovakia at the end of its session, which concludes on 12 March.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to take up the combined nineteenth and twentieth periodic report of Argentina (CERD/C/ARG/19-20).

Report of Slovakia

The combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Slovakia (CERD/C/SVK/8) says that, in the period from 2002 to 2008, the Ombudsman found infringements of fundamental rights and freedoms of natural and legal persons in 759 cases. However, no violation of a fundamental right or freedom based on racial discrimination was found in any of those cases. Since 2002, when the Ombudsman took office, his Office received more than 13,000 motions falling within the areas of his competence, and provided legal guidance in more than 26,000 cases. Approximately 100 of the total number of motions concerned discrimination, including on the grounds of belonging to a national minority. The Ombudsman also examined of his own motion the events connected with Roma riots in eastern Slovakia in 2004, the mediatised case of eviction of non-payers of rent, most of them of Roma origin, devoting special attention to information about the use of physical violence during the 2007 evictions at Nové Zámky. Although the findings of the Ombudsman did not prove racial discrimination, he pointed out problems in this field, especially those of social character.

In the areas of improving health care quality, the environment and living conditions of the inhabitants of marginalized Roma communities in the territory of Slovakia, the key programmes with the participation of the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government for Roma Communities and the Slovak Ministry of Health have continued without any interruptions. The situation of the people living in segregated and separated Roma settlements and localities, where the health and hygiene situation is the worst, seems to be the most difficult. The biggest problems include: insufficient safe drinking water supply and a negative attitude of the Roma community towards using chlorine treated water; insufficient sewerage system and insufficient waste water discharge and questionable disposal of municipal waste. In some cases, left waste builds up and decays in the settlements. The Slovak Republic is aware of the health and hygiene situation in Roma settlements. One of the possibilities for addressing this problem is to encourage the inhabitants of Roma communities to actively participate in the solution of their problems. At the same time, it is necessary to raise health awareness of the population of Roma settlements by health education in issues of healthy lifestyle, health care, housing hygiene, personal hygiene, communicable diseases and vaccination.

Presentation of Report

FEDOR ROSOCHA, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the recodification of Slovakia’s criminal legislation had led to the adoption of a new Criminal Code and Code of Procedure in 2005. The new Criminal Code also criminalized forms of conduct that violated human rights or fundamental freedoms on racial discrimination grounds. Criminal offences of support and propaganda for groups aiming at the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms, defamation of a nation, race or conviction and incitement to national, racial or ethnic hatred were defined and recognized as crimes against humanity.

To foster the fight against extremism, a 2009 Amendment to the Criminal Code introduced so-called extremist criminal offences including, inter alia, incitement, defamation and threats against persons identifiable by race, skin colour, birth or family status, national origin, nationality, ethnic group; production of extremist materials; and dissemination and possession of extremist materials, Mr. Rosocha said.

Regarding the protection of victims of violent crimes, Mr. Rosocha noted that the Slovak Republic had ratified the European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes in 2009. Slovakia had also become a party to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime in 2007.

In an effort to strengthen the civil society and local democracy, the Ministry of Justice closely cooperated with non-governmental organizations, Mr. Rosocha added.

The key piece of the Slovak legislation guaranteeing non-discrimination was Act No. 365/2004 on equal treatment in certain areas and protection against discrimination, and amending and supplementing certain other laws. Since 2004, when it came into force, that Act had undergone several amendments, Mr. Rosocha said. The Act applied in an equal manner not only to the labour market, but also to other areas, such as social protection, social security, health care, social benefits, education, access to publicly available goods and housing.

An amendment to the Act had also introduced the legal definition of sexual harassment, Mr. Rosocha observed. A further amendment in 2008 had also introduced the right to protection from discrimination for legal persons, such as non-governmental organizations working in the field of protection against discrimination, and also national human rights institutions.

Mr. Rosocha said that the Slovak Government was fully aware of the fact that even the best anti-discriminatory laws were not effective unless these were consistently applied. Slovakia was thus implementing a number of programmes, the most important among which was the Action Plan for the Prevention of All Forms of Discrimination, Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Other Expression of Intolerance. Priority areas defined in the 2006-2008 Action Plan had been aimed mainly at increasing the level of awareness of Slovak citizens in the area of human rights and non-discrimination, ensuring effective implementation of anti-discrimination legislation, addressing the status of migrants in Slovakia, and identifying other specific activities. The Action Plan for 2009-2011 built on the results achieved in the previous periods. It concentrated on improving the situation in the areas of legislation, application, theory and practice. It also constituted a tool for the development of effective mechanisms for suppressing expression of hatred and intolerance in different settings. An important priority of the Plan was the organization of systematic training for members of professional groups who had an impact on the prevention of all forms of discrimination.

Regarding national minorities, particular attention was paid to the situation of the Roma minority, which was the second largest minority in the country, Mr. Rosocha said. The process of inclusion of the Roma in all areas of life of Slovak society was facilitated by targeted programmes and projects. Moreover, a new legislative provision relating to discrimination and segregation of Roma children in education prohibited all forms of discrimination and segregation by schools and educational facilities. In 2006, the Roma Education Fund supported a two-year national pilot project of the Ministry focused on improving the integration of Roma children in pre-school education in the Slovak area with the highest rate of Roma population. That objective had been achieved, not only in kindergartens, but also in primary schools.

Another important activity was the National Plan for Human Rights Education, 2005-2014. The aims of human rights education at schools comprised the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes that were important for strengthening human dignity. Mr. Rosocha said the key components of the National Plan were to further education of pedagogical employees; the publication of methodology materials and the monitoring and evaluation of the scope and quality of human rights education.

Informing the Committee of some of the measures aimed at improving the qualification level of the Roma and reducing their unemployment, Mr. Rosocha said that an operational programme, called Employment and Social Inclusion, provided the basis for measures promoting employment and social inclusion that addressed employability and employment of particularly disadvantaged groups of job seekers and marginalized groups, including the Roma. Numerous contributions were also made by the Government under the Active Labour Market Measures through which support and assistance were provided on labour market integration, mainly for disadvantaged job seekers.

Touching upon the issue of alleged forced sterilization of Roma women, Mr. Rosocha rejected the allegations made by the Civil and Human Rights Counselling Centre. Immediately after the publication of those allegations, the Human Rights Division of the Office of the Government had filed a criminal complaint. The criminal prosecution for a criminal offence of genocide had started in early 2003, but had been stopped by the end of that same year, since it had been proved that no crime of genocide, or any other crime, had been committed. However, several procedural shortcomings of medical personal or healthcare facilities, by obtaining the informed consent from patients, had been identified, mainly due to loopholes in the legislation.

A new Healthcare Act adopted in 2004 addressed the shortcomings in legislation on sterilization. According to it, sterilization could only be performed on the basis of a written request and a written informed consent after previous instruction. Mr. Rosocha stressed that the sterilization of Roma women had never been an official state policy or a practice supported by the Government or the Ministry of Health.

Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, welcomed the several legislative amendments that had taken place since the last report, as well as the new Criminal Code and Code of Procedure of 2005. While it was good to have all those instruments in place, it was also important to look at whether these laws were being applied. Could the delegation offer any statistics on their use? What was the conviction rate, and what sort of sentences were being applied?

While no non-governmental organizations had mentioned any problems concerning the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, the Committee was concerned with the fact that there remained several problems with the second largest community, the Roma community, Mr. Avtonomov said. It seemed as if many of the previously discussed problems were still extant.

Mr. Avtonomov also wanted to have more details with regard to the issue of Roma sterilization. He noted that the Constitutional Court had been involved in it in 2005, and that a second decision had been taken in 2008. He wondered how the situation had developed since this last decision and what follow-up had been given to it.

Other Committee Experts then asked for further information and raised questions, including on the procedure to decide whether to place a child in special schools. Was there any oversight process of those decisions by the authorities? And if any abuses were identified, was the Government diligent enough to redress such abuses? Also, was the Government’s response adequate enough?

Turning to the allegations of forced sterilization of Roma women, an Expert noted that such a practice would be reminiscent of eugenics policies and that such accusations must be addressed with a very high degree of diligence. Also on the Roma, an Expert noted that there were still a large number of Roma settlements that were not integrated. How was the Government dealing with these settlements and how was it trying to avoid segregation?

An Expert stressed that to say that there was no racial discrimination against the Roma population in terms of housing was a bit excessive. Several years ago, the Committee had considered the case of Roma people being unable to build their house. While there was no discrimination on the part of the Government itself, there was some on the part of the housing sector. Regarding media stereotypes, an Expert noted that there seemed to be a culture of impunity in public discussions about the Roma. There were verbal attacks against them as a group, which would be normally considered to be racist, but were not considered so by the public and the media. What was being undertaken to address that perception? An Expert also asked to what degree Roma representatives were involved in the Government’s efforts and programmes for the Roma people.

Another Expert noted that several years ago there had been a trend of anti-Hungarian rhetoric among some Slovak political figures and he wondered whether that trend had continued. What was the current situation in this regard?

The report stated that, in the period of 2002 to 2008, the Ombudsman had found no violation of a fundamental right or freedom based on racial discrimination. However, later in the report one could read that approximately 100 of the total number of motions falling within the area of competence of the Ombudsman concerned discrimination, including on the grounds of belonging to a national minority. An Expert wondered how it was possible that the Ombudsman had not found any violation and noted that the Committee itself had found at least one such case in its consideration of communications it had received.

Other concerns expressed by Experts included reports of racist attacks against minorities by skinheads, which had been on the rise in recent years; violence against Roma minors by law enforcement officials; persons wearing Nazi uniforms; and why Jews were listed as a national minority, when Judaism was a religion.

Response by Delegation to Oral Questions

Addressing concerns expressed, the delegation said, on the activities undertaken within the Action Plan for the Prevention of Discrimination 2006-2008, that they had mainly been focused on increasing the knowledge-level of the population in general in the area of human rights. It was important to note that the Action Plan could be updated annually to reflect the current situation in the society. The key tasks of the Action Plan were under the responsibility of an inter-Ministerial Working Group, which met twice a year along with representatives from non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions and the Ombudsman.

The delegation indicated that the general aim of the Action Plan was to fulfil national and international requirements. Among its priorities were the implementation of commitments following from international agreements in the area of human rights; the effective protection before discrimination; the creation of instruments for the purpose of collecting and analysing data about age, gender, nationality, ethnic origins, sexual orientation, or other characteristics; to provide effective integration of persons of national minority origin into society; remembering the Holocaust; and increasing awareness within the public about the issue of non-discrimination.

On the issue of the difference that was noted by various sources on the number of persons that were part of the Roma community in Slovakia, the delegation said that this difference was linked to the fact that some statistics reflected identification efforts that had been undertaken by the State, while the smaller numbers had been the result of a census. This was because some Roma people did not consider themselves as Roma. Persons could freely decide which nationality they wanted to report to and Roma people normally reported themselves as Slovak or Hungarians.

On national minorities, the delegation said that early this February, the Government had approved a thirteenth national minority, namely the Serbian minority. The principle of national minority was based on the condition of self-identification. On that same basis, the Slovak Republic recognised the Jewish national minority.

Concerning the preparation of the report, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had primary responsibility for drafting the report, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had also been consulted in the report's preparation, including the NGO People against Racism and the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights. NGO positions were taken into account not only in the drafting of the report, but in formulating policies in this area, the delegation underscored. NGOs were members of advice units in various ministries, and participated in the multidisciplinary Working Group on Racism and Hate Crime.

Addressing concerns about forced sterilizations of Roma women, the delegation said that, on 13 December 2006, the Slovak Constitutional Court had issued rulings against the actions of the Public Prosecutor's Office with regard to procedural issues in this area. Moreover, the Criminal Code had been amended on 1 January 2006, introducing the crime of illegal sterilization. Based on statistical indicators compiled by the Police, no case had been brought under the crime of illegal sterilization, as well as the illegal removal of tissue or cells, since those crimes had been introduced.

On 1 January 2005, the Ministry of Health had adopted a decree on medical services provided defining informed consent, with specific reference to sterilization. Since the establishment of the Office for the Supervision of Healthcare in Slovakia, the supervision of health care was carried out by an independent entity. There had been no actions, filings or errors brought to the attention of that authority regarding any case of sterilization. Moreover, under the new consent procedure, patients had a 30-day waiting period in which they could cancel their decision to undergo sterilization. All health facilities had received the new sterilization consent forms. Patients opting for sterilization had also to be informed by the doctor of the alternative family planning and contraception methods, and the irreversible nature of the procedure had to be highlighted.

In terms of training for healthcare staff, which included training with regard to issues affecting women and minorities, there had been trainings carried out every year for nurses. In 2005, 28 nurses had received training and in 2009, 51 had been trained. There were also 33 community healthcare workers working in the Roma community.

Turning to the issue of Roma education, the delegation said that Roma were involved in decision-making at all levels regarding the education of their children. The Advisory Board for Nationalities Education was composed of national minorities, which had requested education in their national languages. There were also Roma advisers to the Education Ministry, and a 19-member Board of Experts had been established to provide advice on Roma education. The Board had Roma members from all over the country, as well as representatives from NGOs.

Regarding placement of Roma in specialized schools and segregation of Roma in education, the delegation said that, according to the new Education Act, which the Roma community had been involved in drafting, children had the right to an individual approach adapted to their age, ability and health. The Act guaranteed equal treatment for all to education, as also established in the Anti-Discrimination Act. Children with special needs had a right to education tailored to their circumstances. Special needs children were divided into two groups: children with health difficulties and children with social difficulties. Specialized schools for children from socially disadvantaged environments admitted children who had been screened comprehensively and on the recommendation of the Advisory Board and the school principal. Children could not be simply moved to such a school based on poor school performance. If the nature of the needs of the pupil changed, or the level of the training was not adequate for the child's needs, the school principal, with the support of the Advisory Board, could recommend to the children's parents that their child be moved.

Slovakia did not consider that establishing specialized schools for socially disadvantaged pupils was discriminatory, as some Experts had suggested. The definition of socially disadvantaged pupils in the new Education Act was very targeted, and sought to provide for those children whose environment had significantly hampered their educational potential and rendered them unable to participate in the regular system. Indeed, that provision had been inserted in the Education Act on a recommendation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which had noted that the education level in the country was too low, hampering Slovakia's social and economic development.

Concerning diagnostic tests, based on a 2002 study on reintegration of specialized children into regular schools, a psychometric test had been devised to screen children, taking into account cultural differences, to ensure that children were not incorrectly routed to special education. The psycho-diagnostic tools were controlled by the Institute of Child Psychopathology. Each pre-school child that had not attended nursery school, and therefore might experience problems in integrating into elementary school, was submitted to psychological testing. Children were given sufficient time to allow them to integrate. At the end of each year there were control re-examinations of the children. There was a two-tiered system of control and verification, as specialized schools also reported to the regional educational centres.

The delegation highlighted a particular case in which Amnesty International had pointed out the problem of including Roma children in regular education in a particular town, and that had given rise to increased attention by the Government. Children from that town had been moved to regular education and had been subject to a two-year monitoring programme, following which the school principal had been dismissed.

Schools by law were obliged to adjust the training and education to suit individual children's needs. As of 1 November 2009 a new act was in force on pedagogical and specialized staff, introducing a teacher to work with children and pupils from socially disadvantaged environments. There were also subsidies provided to ensure that children could attend school. In relation to the Roma language, in 2009 there had been tenders for textbooks in the Roma language regarding a number of subjects.

Among measures to prevent segregation of Roma children in the education system, new legislative regulations had been adopted which prohibited all forms of discrimination against the Roma in the schools and provided an obligation on the authorities to provide suitable training and education for Roma children in schools, mixed with the regular population. However, implementing that legislation would take time, the delegation noted. It should be highlighted that there were villages in Slovakia where the population was 100 per cent Roma.

On the issue of housing for the Roma, since 2009, the Government had built 1,725 affordable apartments for low-income tenants – at a cost of over 5 million Euros. A total of 61 villages had been given subsidies to provide low-cost housing and allocations were also given to improve roads, communication infrastructure and water systems. Within the subsidy scheme, the Plenipotentiary Office for the Roma Community had provided grants and subsidies for drafting plans on low-income housing, water supply and others. For example, over 1 million Euros had been allocated by the Plenipotentiary Office for Accident and Disaster Relief in Roma areas, over 2 million had been allocated for housing projects and for education and training, 110 projects had been approved at a cost of over 900,000 Euros.

The delegation acknowledged that there was segregation of settlements in Slovakia. However, the Government, through the Plenipotentiary Office for the Roma Community, was working to reverse that situation, with the help of funds from the European Union. One way it was doing that was by requiring that low-income housing projects had to be integrated within local towns and villages. Work in that area was particularly being carried out in the town of Dobšiná, where a meeting was being held today between the Plenipotentiary Office and the Municipal Authorities regarding new housing projects.

Regarding representation of the Roma in the police force, the delegation noted that all applicants had to meet legally prescribed conditions, regardless of nationality. Internally, however, precedence was given to Roma applicants who met those conditions. While the Interior Ministry did not have statistics on the number of Roma in the police force, the delegation could affirm with certainty that they were present on the force.

The delegation also pointed to a pilot project that had become an integral part of police force work: the introduction of police specialists for the Roma community. Since 2001, when the project had been started, there had been over 100 police specialists added, and in 2008 another review of their work had been conducted, which found the project to have been successful and calling for it to be further expanded. There would gradually be over 112 additional such police specialists added, and at the beginning of 2010 there were to be 210 such specialists.

Turning to legislation on racially motivated crimes, the delegation said they had provided the Committee with a sheet containing statistics. In 2004, there had been a total of over 131,200 crimes committed in Slovakia, 76 of them, or .058 per cent, racially motivated. So the number of racially motivated crimes in Slovakia was very small compared with the overall crime rate. Since 2004, that share had never been more than .16 per cent of all crimes committed. Last year, there had been 132 racially motivated crimes committed in Slovakia, of which 68 had been "clarified". The percentage of "clarification" for racially motivated crimes was actually much higher than that for ordinary crimes – some 10 to 15 per cent better. Last year, 79 perpetrators for racially motivated crimes had been prosecuted, 4 of them juveniles. It was interesting to note that quite a few of these crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol. There had also been a number of crimes committed with regard to production of extremist literature and materials.

The Slovak Criminal Code did not contain a definition of racial discrimination as contained in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, the definition of several different crimes covered all aspects of racial discrimination as contained in article 1 of the Convention, the delegation affirmed. Moreover, the Anti-Discrimination Act clearly defined the term "discrimination".

Addressing the issue of racist attacks by skinheads and other extremist groups, the delegation said the existence of such groups in Slovakia was an undisputed truth. However, there had been a shift in the activities of those groups since the report had been submitted, moving from attacking different racial or minority groups towards a dissemination of nationalist materials, including celebration of Slovak history and heroes. Roma were not the biggest current target of attacks by these extremist groups.

As to why there had been such a shift, the delegation pointed out that, after some very serious attacks that had occurred in the first decade of the millennium, the Government and the police had adopted very serious measures to combat that phenomenon, including the amendment of the Criminal Code to contain new provisions, and the establishment of the expert working group coordinating committee to combat racist crime, which included representatives from non-governmental organizations, government institutions, government ministries, the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Slovak information services. In addition, there had been a review of cases of racially motivated attacks, which had led to a change in the structure of the police force. New departments had been established at the national police level, but also within regional police forces, which now had eight departments solely focusing on extremism and racially motivated crime. A preventive programme had also been drafted at the national police level to provide information to teachers, pupils and parents on what kind of expressions were considered "extremist" in Slovakia. Finally, there had also been preventive activities, focusing on the State administration staff, because, in a number of instances, teachers or social workers encountered such problems.

The delegation said it could not give an answer to the question on why the Ombudsman's Office had not recorded any violations due to racial discrimination. The Ombudsman was a completely independent institution and carried out reviews independently. The delegation could, however, speculate on that result. The Ombudsman was tasked with observing the legality of administrative bodies only. It was thus not fair to compare the results of the Ombudsman to cases of discrimination that might be brought by individuals.

As to the difference between extremism and racially motivated crimes, the delegation said that extremist crimes were clearly defined and included production and dissemination of extremist materials and incitement to national and ethnic hatred. The delegation agreed with the Committee that not all racist crimes were extremist crimes; also not all extremist crimes were racist. For that reason they had introduced the term "special bias" in the definition of extremist crimes which allowed for extremist crimes with a racial motivation to be punished more severely.

Further Oral Questions Posed by Experts

In a second round of questions, an Expert, while welcoming information on the revised consent procedure for sterilizations, was concerned that there could be a language issue for Roma women and asked what guarantees existed that the women who had consented had fully understood the terms. An Expert noted the statement that there had been no such cases brought in recent years. He then asked when the most recent cases had been brought, and what the outcome had been and what compensation had been given if any.

On education, it was asked how members of the Advisory Board for Nationalities Education were selected. He believed his question as to whether there was a consensus among the Roma on education for their children had been misunderstood. He wanted to know how Roma parents regarded special schools for their children, as it appeared they still felt school was an "alien" institution. Furthermore, had he heard the delegation say that there was a high incidence of mental retardation among Roma children? A number of Experts echoed that question, and asked for clarification on why that was and how the analyses were carried out.

In a comment on the distinction between extremism and racial discrimination, an Expert said they needed to look at the outcome of the placement of racist acts and extremism in the same law. It appeared extremist acts were linked to totalitarian ideologies in Slovakia. If the aim was to focus more severe scrutiny and punishment on such acts that was okay, but it also risked acts of racial discrimination being considered as somehow less severe. It was a situation that needed to be monitored.

Other questions by Experts included what sorts of penalties had been handed down in racial discrimination cases that had gone to trial; questions about the value and basis of the psychodiagnostic tools used to determine whether children required special education, in particular protections to ensure that language and culture was not playing a factor in such determinations; and concern that extremist groups in the country might be forming into a militia of sorts.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to those questions and others, the delegation said, with regard to sterilization, pursuant to the law health personnel had to convey "understandably" the information required by law to the applicants for sterilization, who had 30 days to withdraw their decision. In addition, there were health workers in the Roma communities to help the Roma to be able to communicate with doctors, including gynaecologists, as well as to learn about health issues.

There had been no incidents of forced sterilization in Slovakia, the delegation clarified, so therefore there could be no cases involving compensation.

Further answers would be supplied in writing, owing to a lack of time.

Preliminary Concluding Observations

In preliminary concluding observations, ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, paid tribute to the openness of the delegation during the dialogue; it tried to answer all the Committee's questions. He particularly welcomed the replies to questions on decisions of the Constitutional Court, and noted that the Constitutional Court had relied on the European Court decisions. That was a positive thing that it was relying on international jurisprudence, and he hoped that in future the Convention could also be relied on. The picture presented was largely positive, though in particular areas the situation was far from easy. More detailed observations and recommendations would be made in the Committee's formal written concluding observations.
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