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Human Rights Committee considers report of Czech Republic

Human Rights Committee 

17 July 2013

The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of the Czech Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Andrea Barsova, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Minority Protection, Office of the Government, Government Council for Human Rights, said that one of the most significant developments regarding the implementation of the Covenant had been the adoption of the anti-discrimination act in 2009, designed to strengthen protection against discrimination in all major areas of social life.  As the national body promoting equality, the Ombudsman provided assistance to victims of discrimination, conducted research and disseminated information on issues pertaining discrimination.  The new Criminal Code, which entered into force in 2010, focused primarily on the protection of individual human rights, such as the rights to life, health, liberty and dignity.  The Government had adopted comprehensive strategies for the promotion of the human rights of vulnerable groups, including women, children and Roma people. 

During the discussion, Committee Experts requested information regarding the Office of the Ombudsman and concerning steps taken to establish an independent human rights institution with a broad human rights mandate.  Concerning discrimination against Rome persons in social services, Experts inquired about the results of the national action plan for Roma integration and social inclusion.  Other issues addressed during the interactive dialogue included human trafficking, domestic violence, asylum procedures, and conditions of detention.

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

Ms. Barsova, in concluding remarks, thanked Experts for the views expressed and said that the Committee’s recommendations would be implemented to the extent possible.

Also in closing remarks, Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for its openness to respond to all questions and the willingness to resolve all issues discussed.  Mr. Rodley recalled several issues discussed during the review, including discrimination against Roma persons, prison overcrowding, human trafficking, and domestic violence.

The concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee on the report of the Czech Republic will be released towards the end of the session of the Committee, which concludes on Friday, 26 July.

The Human Rights Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 18 July at 10 a.m. to discuss a draft General Comment on Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right of everyone to liberty and security of person.

Report of the Czech Republic

The third periodic report of the Czech Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can be read here: (CCPR/C/CZE/3).

Presentation of the report

ANDREA BARSOVA, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Minority Protection, Office of the Government, Government Council for Human Rights of the Czech Republic, presenting the report (CCPR/C/CZE/3), said that one of the most significant developments regarding the implementation of the Covenant had been the adoption of the anti-discrimination act in 2009, which was designed to strengthen protection against discrimination in all major areas of social life.  As the national body promoting equality, the Ombudsman provided assistance to victims of discrimination, conducted research and disseminated information on issues pertaining discrimination. 

The new Criminal Code, which entered into force in 2010, focused primarily on the protection of individual human rights, such as the rights to life, health, liberty and dignity.  Alternative sanctions to imprisonment had been introduced.  The Code paid specific attention to racially motivated crimes, human trafficking, rape, child sexual abuse, child pornography, and other crimes violating specific provisions of the Covenant.  Criminal liability for legal persons had been introduced in 2011 to better address criminal activities conducted by corporate entities. 

Private law had been re-codified and the new Civil Code, which would enter into force in 2014, aimed at regulating all private relationships under a single codex.  The Civil Code contained the basic principles of private law, such as the principle of fairness, the protection of good faith, and the binding nature of contracts.

The Government had adopted comprehensive strategies for the promotion of the human rights of vulnerable groups.  A national strategy entitled “the right to childhood” had been implemented and was designed to meet the obligations arising from the Convention on the Rights of the Child; its main objective was to promote measures enabling children to live in a family setting with appropriate social services and protection.  National action plans to promote the human rights of older persons and persons with disabilities had also been implemented.  A Roma integration strategy had been adopted to enhance their social inclusion and to promote the rights of the Roma, both as individuals and as a national minority.  The Government had set up a Council for National Minorities, which included representatives of 14 national minorities living in the Czech Republic.

Independent courts protected the human rights and freedoms of the individual.  The mandate of the Ombudsman had gradually been extended and it exercised many of the functions of a national human rights institution according to the Paris Principles, although it was not registered as such.

The Czech Republic supported equal opportunities for women and men and various measures had been taken to achieve gender equality.  The Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women included representatives from the general public and academia, and helped design and monitor actions to achieve equal opportunities for men and women.  Major awareness raising campaigns, addressing gender stereotypes and domestic violence, would be launched in the near future.

Combating racism and extremism remained a top priority for the Czech Republic.  The coordinated approach adopted by law enforcement authorities and the public administration had resulted in the paralysis of extremist organizations.  The police was developing new instruments to handle risky situations during extremist marches.  The Government Commissioner for Human Rights regularly spoke out against racist discourse or incitement to violence or intolerance.  Anti-racism campaigns had been conducted in the past and resume in 2013. 

A new Roma integration strategy would be adopted in the near future, including new measures for the social inclusion and the equal protection of the rights of the Roma minority, such as instruments designed to improve their prospects in the labour market.  The active participation of representatives of the Roma in the integration strategy helped to foster mutual trust and understanding.  The Czech Republic was fully aware of the importance of education for the future of the Roma minority.  The overrepresentation of Roma children in the special education system had been addressed by legislative changes and through the education of teachers, child psychologists and other professionals.  The law now established that the placement of children in special education institutions was a last resort, subject to an expert recommendation and to the informed consent of the child’s parents. 

The right to free election for persons with disabilities had been improved.  Anyone could participate in the elections, provided that their legal capacity to exercise the right to vote had not been limited by a court.  Sterilisation and other medical interventions had been regulated by the new health services act, adopted in 2012.  Sterilisation was subject to the informed consent of the patient, who must receive all relevant legal and medical information and, since sterilisation was not a life-saving procedure, it could never be performed against the will of the patient.  Victims of unlawful sterilisation, or any other medical intervention, could claim damages from the hospital which performed it.

Regarding domestic violence, the primary counter-measure consisted of banishing perpetrators from common dwellings to prevent further attacks.  The most serious cases were criminally prosecuted and police officers responsible for investigating domestic violence received appropriate training.  According to the new act on victims of domestic violence, victims received the necessary assistance from law enforcement authorities, as well as legal, psychological and social assistance from registered non-governmental service providers. 

The new General Inspection of Security Forces had started its operations in 2012 and conducted independent investigations on crimes committed by members of the security forces, such as the police, prison services or the customs services. 

A strategic plan had been implemented to address human trafficking and to provide assistance to victims.  The strategy took into account new forms of exploitation, such as labour exploitation and domestic servitude, and a special programme to protect and support victims had been implemented.  Victims were provided with the necessary assistance and housing; and foreigner victims were able to legalise their presence in the country, provided that they participated in the criminal prosecution of perpetrators.  Victims could return to their homeland at the expense of the State and could access social services provided by municipalities and non-governmental organizations, regardless of their willingness to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities.

New regulations on health services established free and informed consent as a general prerequisite for the performance of any service.  The provision of social services was also subject to the free and informed consent of the clients or their legal representatives.  Medical treatment for persons deprived of liberty was monitored by the Ombudsman.  The national preventive mechanism conducted regular visits to detention facilities and issued recommendations for their improvement.

The detention of foreigners prior to their administrative expulsion was used as a last resort, when alternative methods were ineffective, and detention could only exceed standard limits in cases of persistent lack of cooperation with the authorities.  The detention of unaccompanied minors was only possible in cases of serious danger to public security, and unaccompanied minors were usually placed in special educational facilities.  Asylum-seekers were not detained but placed in reception centres, and they were transferred to open residence facilities after the completion of the admission procedure.  The Government had taken steps to increase prisons’ capacity and to reduce overcrowding. 

The protection of children from violence and abuse remained at the core of the legal system.  Serious physical and sexual attacks against children were regarded as crimes and they were prosecuted and punished accordingly.  Children in conflict with the law were treated with utmost care and respect; the aim was to positively influence their development, preventing further illegal activities and reintegrating children into society.  Law enforcement bodies had to care for and respect the rights of children, treating them according to their age and maturity. 

Although the law did not contain a specific ban on corporal punishment, it explicitly prohibited excessive punishment in violation of children’s health or dignity in all settings.  Corporal punishments were prohibited in public institutions.

Questions by the Experts

There was no national human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles, did this mean that the Ombudsman was not independent?  What legal remedies were available for citizens who wished to lodge complaints against public institutions?  What concrete steps had been taken to implement decisions taken by the Committee under its communications procedure? 

The problem of discrimination against Roma children in educational settings was a long-standing problem in the Czech Republic.  What had been done to ensure the social inclusion of Roma persons?  What results did the national action plan for inclusive education have?  According to information received by the Committee, mainstream politicians, at both national and local levels, had articulated racist and anti-Roma discourse, and anti-Roma demonstrations had been organized by far-right political groups.  What measures had been taken to address this phenomenon?

What progress had been made to prevent trafficking in persons, which was allegedly prevalent among women and girls for employment, prostitution and exploitation?  Experts inquired about the number of prosecutions, convictions and sanctions imposed on persons involved in human trafficking.  What were the successes and constraints of the various programmes intended to assist victims of trafficking?  What protection and assistance were provided to victims of trafficking who, due to security reasons, were not willing to cooperate with the authorities in criminal proceedings?  Experts also inquired about the alleged links established between criminal groups and State authorities concerning the obtention of residence permits for trafficked persons.

What measures had been taken to combat patriarchal attitudes concerning the role of women?  What impact and lessons have been produced by programmes designed to increase the participation of women in political life?  Regarding domestic violence, Experts inquired about the number of complaints, investigations, and penalties.  Did victims receive compensation?  How many shelters were available to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence, and how many women and girls used these shelters?

Response by the Delegation

The Ombudsman, who was accountable to Parliament and counted with a specific budget, was independent and had a wide mandate.  The Ombudsman was tasked with ensuring that the public administration operated in accordance with the principles of good governance and with monitoring correctional facilities.  Anyone could address a complaint to the Ombudsman, who had to investigate all allegations received and also played the role of a national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture.  The Ombudsman issued recommendations on draft legislation and could bring cases to the Constitutional Court in relation to acts of Parliament.

There were mechanisms to implement the Committee’s views concerning violations of the Covenant.  A law adopted in 2011 provided adequate means for the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and explicitly stipulated that its provisions were applicable to proceedings before the Committee.  This act also required the authorities, including the judiciary, to take individual and general measures without undue delay to put an end to violations of the Covenant identified in individual cases. 

The representation of women in political functions was relatively low across the political spectrum.  Women did not hold key positions in political party’s hierarchies and therefore few of them were selected as candidates.  The number of women elected to political office had stagnated since the last elections, but women were very well represented in the judiciary.  A Committee for equal representation of women and men in politics had been established as a working body of the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, and counted with representatives from the public administration, civil society, and political parties.  This Committee dealt with institutional, political and social opportunities for the promotion of equal representation of women and men in politics.  A three-year awareness campaign would be launched to address gender equality, gender-based violence, and gender stereotypes.

Under the relevant act, political parties could be disbanded under certain conditions, such as forced membership and corruption of State officials.  The suspension was not decided by an administrative court and the suspension could not be enforced during electoral periods.  Persons with mental disabilities were no longer automatically deprived of their legal capacity but decisions had to be taken on an individual basis.  According to the new law on elections, persons with mental disabilities could be deprived of their right to vote only after such a decision had been taken by a court.  If the limitation of an individual’s legal capacity was not reviewed within three years, full legal capacity would be recovered.

The Minister of Education considered the inclusion of Roma children in the educational system to be a key priority.  The national action plan for inclusive education introduced measures to end the persistent practice of segregation in schools and to prevent discrimination.  It was crucial to avoid the overrepresentation of Roma people in schools for people with mild mental disabilities.

The Ministry of Interior had approved a comprehensive strategy to deal with minorities’ issues.  The strategy instituted crime prevention assistants, people of Roma origin who were part of the municipal police and helped to improve the relations between the Roma minority and the authorities.  Crime prevention assistants could become police officers after two years of service.  No statistics were available on the relations between the Roma and police forces because of provisions protecting personal data.

Concerning forced sterilisation, the delegation underlined that the Constitution prohibited torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  The Ministry of Health had strengthened procedural guarantees to prevent the recurrence of unlawful sterilisations.  Sterilisation could not be performed without the informed consent of the patient and a compulsory two-week period had to be observed before a sterilisation was carried out.  Victims of illegal sterilisations were entitled to free legal aid.

Response of the Delegation

Working groups to address minorities’ issues had been established at the local level with the participation of minorities’ representatives.  The 2011 census had been an important source of information about the situation of minorities, individuals had been able to freely indicate their ethnicity but an answer to the question had not been compulsory.  Out of the 10.4 million people who participated in the census, 1.6 million did not declare any ethnic affiliation and 163,000 persons indicated two.  The Ombudsman had produced a report on data collection on minorities in schools, which concluded that it was possible to collect data on ethnicity in an anonymous manner.

Concerning the situation of the Roma minority, programmes to improve Roma housing had not been successful yet.  The need for a proper policy for social housing was recognized by the national authorities and a draft bill would be submitted before the end of 2013.  The housing benefit system was the primary tool for helping persons in need, but it was not always used properly and the situation varied from region to region.  A campaign against racism would be re-launched soon to combat anti-Roma hate speech; the campaign would target media and schools, and the Prime Minister would participate in the most important events.

Victims of human trafficking were considered to be particularly vulnerable and were provided with assistance and compensation.  It was very important to inform all relevant actors about the needs of victims of trafficking.  Since 2008, the length of rehabilitation programmes had increased from 60 to 90 days and victims were allowed to stay in the Czech Republic or could decide to return to their home country.  Victims’ collaboration helped identify and prosecute criminal networks and, in this regard, 190 victims had cooperated with the police.  Victims received assistance even if they decided not to participate as witnesses in criminal proceedings.  Allegations of corruption, and those regarding the existence of links between some authorities and criminal groups, were being investigated and would be duly prosecuted.

In 2013, 619 cases of domestic violence had been reported to the police.  In cases of extreme cruelty penalties imposed ranged from 4 to 8 years, and sexual violence was punished with prison terms between 5 to 10 years.  Many victims of domestic violence and human trafficking were entitled to immediate financial assistance and compensation.

Law enforcement officers who used excessive force could face a variety of sanctions.  Commonly, punishments for police misconduct included imprisonment, house arrest, public utility work, fines, reduction of wages, and the prohibition to undertake specific activities.  Compensation paid to victims of police misconducts ranged between 50,000 and 100,000 Czech crowns. 

Questions by the Experts

Experts inquired about slander provisions in the new Criminal Code, were they in conformity with the Committee’s general comment no.34, which stated that restrictions to freedom of expression provided by law must comply with certain characteristics?

Non-governmental organizations had told the Committee that no information was provided to people deemed to be mentally handicapped concerning their internment in psychiatric institutions.  According to reports, persons with disabilities were not treated in conformity with the Covenant and the Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, and mental health institutions were not properly monitored.  What steps had been taken in this regard?

Corruption was a widespread problem in the Czech Republic and a special anti-corruption helpline had been set up to denounce corruption amongst State officials.  How did it operate and what had the outcome been?  To what extent would the Government comply with the views of the Committee on this issue?  National courts had to follow the opinions of the Committee, since the Covenant was part of the Czech Republic’s domestic legal order. 

The Czech Republic had rejected the Committee’s previous concluding observations concerning the detention of foreigners under the age of 18.  How would the Government address the detention of minors seeking asylum for up to 120 days?  What was the rationale underpinning the decision to detain asylum-seekers, including children, for a period of 120 days?  Did the failure to cooperate at the beginning of the asylum procedure suffice to extend the period of detention?  How could the practice of 18-month long detention without trial be in conformity with the provisions of the Covenant?  To what extent was the situation in the source country being considered?  According to the information provided by the delegation, the stay in reception centres was intended for ID verification, medical examination and quarantine; which, the Experts noted, should not need more than a few days. 

Regarding conditions of detention, Experts requested information about prisoners’ work conditions, including access to work, sanctions imposed on prisoners refusing to work, and the deduction of imprisonment costs from prisoners’ salaries.  What measures had been taken to preserve the social benefits of prisoners who could not work?  The report noted that 58 individuals had been provided with alternative detention options in 2011, how many people had been provided with alternative detention options in 2012 and 2013?  The Ombudsman had criticised the low level of health care in prisons, what initiatives existed to address the concerns expressed by the Ombudsman in this regard?  What was the maximum length of detention in police custody?  When was legal aid available to people held in police custody? 

What steps had been taken to combat child sexual exploitation?  Was it true that children between 15 and 18 could legally engage in prostitution?  What impact had the criminalisation of child sexual abuse had?   There was no explicit ban on corporal punishment in the new Civil Code that would enter into force in 2014, could the delegation provide the Committee with detailed information on this issue?  How would the Government combat corporal punishment if it was not defined in the law? 

Experts inquired about the age of criminal responsibility.  How did the State ensure that juveniles were treated in a manner commensurate with their age, and that they were provided with appropriate assistance in the preparation of their defence during the pre-trial and judicial stages of criminal proceedings?

What measures had been taken to remedy the segregation of Roma children in schools, and what results had been achieved?  Did the new law on human trafficking protect victims who had suffered from violations in the past?  According to information received, only a handful of victims had received assistance in 2011 and 2012. 

Were appeal procedures available to persons with limited legal capacity interned in institutions without their informed consent?  Experts also requested information about the number of appeals in the context of cases where courts had approved the forced internment of a person with disabilities.

Response by the Delegation

According to the anti-discrimination act, there was a strong prohibition on discrimination regarding access to housing.  The Ombudsman had produce guidelines on social housing and discrimination for municipalities.  Compliance with these rules was monitored by the Ministry of Interior and victims of discrimination could lodge complaints with the relevant courts.

The new Civil Code enhanced the rights of persons with disabilities and individuals with limited legal capacity.  Persons with limited legal capacity had to be represented by a legal guardian acting in their best interest.  In the case of a conflict of interests, courts could appoint an alternative legal representative.  In case of involuntary hospitalisation, the person concerned had the right to free legal representation and to appeal the court’s decision. 

According to the family act, when exercising their parental authority, parents were obliged to thoroughly protect the interests of the child and could not infringe upon children’s dignity or endanger their health or their corporal, mental, emotional or moral development.  Corporal punishment in institution settings was prohibited.  Teachers were provided with training on Roma children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The implementation mechanism for the Committee’s decisions was effective and it implemented both the Committee’s views and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.  The Government’s position with regards to property restitutions had not changed.  The Committee’s general comment no. 33 did not stipulate that the Committee’s decisions were binding and this question had to be addressed by the Committee.  The Office of the Government counted with a long-term and successful experience in the implementation of the Committee’s views at the national level, including amending national legislation, changing policies and practices, and raising awareness among the relevant authorities.  The Committee’s views were published on the Government’s website and were transmitted to the Parliament. 

Detention periods for foreigners were in line with the Covenant, which set a maximum of 18 months.  The maximum length of detention was only used when foreigners obstructed the asylum procedure and the prolongation of detention was subject to judicial review.  The average time of detention was 76 days and, in this context, 223 persons had been in detention in 2012.  Statistics showed only a few cases of detention of under-age foreigners who posed a serious threat to public order.  Unaccompanied children, families with children, and people with disabilities were not detained during the asylum procedure.  Persons requesting international protection were not allowed to leave the reception centres until they were issued an asylum-seeker’s ID and underwent medical examination.  The prolongation of detention, for up to 120 days, in reception centres was also subject to review in court. 

The human and financial resources of the Office of the Ombudsman had increased as the mandate expanded.  The hotline for reporting cases of corruption had been closed in 2009, because other channels had been more effective for reporting acts of corruption.

Health care services had the obligation to inform patients, and informed consent had to be expressed in each case.  Patients had the right to appeal courts’ decisions regarding forced hospitalisation.  The Ministry of Health carried out inspections on mental health institutions with the cooperation of civil society organizations.  A specific institution had been established to improve the quality of health care.  The use of coercive means in psychiatric hospitals, such as powerful medication or straightjackets, had tended to decrease.  From a clinical point of view, they still made sense in a very limited number of cases.  Concerning sterilisation, patients had to express their informed consent in writing and a two-week period was compulsory between the expression of consent and the actual sterilisation. 

Child pornography and sexual assaults on children were strictly prohibited and punished.  All forms of sexual exploitation were prohibited by the Criminal Code.  Crimes committed against children constituted aggravating circumstances, which could result in stricter punishment.  Child prostitution was not specifically defined as a crime but such acts were prosecuted as part of other crimes, such as child trafficking, which aimed at the prosecution of customers of child prostitution as well as persons profiting from it.  Children between 15 and 18 years of age could engage in voluntary sexual intercourse, but coerced sexual intercourse and prostitution were prohibited.  As a result of better information among children and ongoing preventive campaigns, such acts were more often reported than in the past, including through a special police helpline. 

The improvement of detention facilities was under assessment.  A project for electronic monitoring was under discussion in order to offer alternative options to detention.  The rate of working prisoners was increasing.  The Criminal Code defined defamation as the communication of false information capable to considerably endangering the public esteem of a person, or to harm a persons’ job or family relations or personal spheres.  Defamation was sanctioned with up to one year of imprisonment, and up to two years in cases involving the media, protecting individuals’ honour and good reputation against defamation.

Persons with limited legal capacity were provided with legal aid, but no statistics were available on this issue.  Decisions on cases of involuntary hospitalisation were taken on the basis of the Civil Code, which contained provisions on appeals and courts’ obligation to verify the need for hospitalisation.  Special clauses covered the provision of legal aid in court proceedings against juveniles and persons involved in criminal proceedings against juveniles were trained to deal with children in conflict with the law.  Pre-trial custody was admissible only in three cases: if the suspect was in the position to run away; in the context of repeated criminal activities; or when suspects could influence witnesses.  The maximum length of pre-trial detention was four years but only for the most serious cases, which were the most difficult to investigate.  People sentenced to life imprisonment could be released after twenty years.

Concluding Remarks

ANDREA BARSOVA, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Minority Protection, Office of the Government, Government Council for Human Rights of the Czech Republic, thanked Experts for their views and said that the Committee’s recommendations would be implemented to the extent possible.

NIGEL RODLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for its openness to respond to all questions and the willingness to resolve all issues discussed.  Mr. Rodley mentioned several issues discussed during the review, including discrimination against Roma persons, prison overcrowding, human trafficking, and domestic violence.  Mr. Rodley also noted that the conditions of detention of people on the grounds of mental illness had improved but issues remained, such as the use of unnecessary coercive measures.

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