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

Committee on the Elimination 
  of Racial Discrimination

13 August 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined tenth and eleventh periodic report of the Czech Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Andrea Baršová, Director, Human Rights and Minority Protection Department, Office of the Government, introducing the report, said that the Antidiscrimination Act, adopted in 2009, was a fundamental piece of legislation governing the protection against racial and other discrimination in key areas of life, which gave the Public Defender of Rights, i.e. Ombudsperson, the mandate for asserting legal treatment.  In February, the Czech Republic adopted the Roma Integration Strategy to 2020 which embraced antidiscrimination, fighting violence incited by hatred, and promoting Roma integration at both central and grassroots levels.  The fight against racism, extremism and xenophobia was anchored in the Government policy; racist propaganda and racial abuse were crimes, irrespective of whether they were perpetrated by individuals or legal entities.  In 2014, the Campaign against Racism and Hate Violence had been launched, which aimed to consolidate social and economic cohesion nationally and locally, raise awareness of issues related to social exclusion and hate violence, and encourage greater tolerance towards minorities and foreigners.

Committee Experts commended the adoption of the 2009 Antidiscrimination Act,  which was an important instrument to combat racial discrimination and xenophobia, and stressed the need to address the remaining areas of concern, including hatred against foreigners, racially motivated crimes, and rights of Roma and other national minorities.  They noted with concern the growing negative sentiments towards foreigners and asked about sanctions for politicians and members of the Parliament who engaged in hate speech.  Experts inquired about measures to prevent and eliminate the stigmatization of refugees and asylum-seekers and noted that asylum-seeking children were held in prolonged detention with their families, sometimes as long as six months.  Roma faced widespread discrimination and suffered high levels of violence, including disproportionate use of force, noted the Experts and asked about political participation and representation of Roma, education of Roma children and about measures to address discrimination against Roma in search for employment and in access to social housing.

In concluding remarks, Noureddine Amir, Vice-Chairperson and the County Rapporteur, expressed satisfaction with the answers provided by the delegation, including to most difficult questions raised in the discussion.

Ms. Baršová acknowledged the knowledge of Experts and their interest in the situation in the Czech Republic and said that the Government was aware that, in addition to existing challenges, many new challenges needed to be tackled, including the expression of anti-Muslim feelings and the use of new media and technology to reach the population.

The delegation of the Czech Republic included representatives of the Office of the Government, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Monday, 17 August for a discussion with non-governmental organizations from Norway and the Netherlands, whose reports will be considered next week. 

Report

The combined tenth and eleventh periodic report of the Czech Republic can be read via the following link: CERD/C/CZE/10-11
 
Presentation of the Report

ANDREA BARŠOVÁ, Director, Human Rights and Minority Protection Department, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, introducing the report, said that protection against discrimination was an integral part of the Czech legal system; in addition to the key regulation of discrimination in the Penal and Civil Codes, the Antidiscrimination Act had been adopted in 2009.  It was a fundamental piece of legislation governing conditions for protection against racial and other discrimination in key areas of life, and it also set out the means of protection against discrimination, through judicial proceedings, remedy and compensation of victims.  Together with other laws, the Antidiscrimination Act presented a complex system of protection against discrimination and gave an important role of asserting equal treatment to the Public Defender of Rights, i.e. Ombudsperson.  Parliament was currently debating an amendment to the Antidiscrimination Act introducing the concept of public actions brought by the Ombudsperson in discrimination cases, which would seek the cessation of discrimination and the elimination of the after-effects thereof.  Once this amendment was adopted, steps would be taken for the accreditation of the Ombudsperson as the national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.  The post of the Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation had been reinstated in 2014; it chaired the Government Council for Human Rights, the Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, the Government Council for National Minorities and other government advisory bodies in the realm of  human rights.

The Roma Integration Strategy to 2020 had been adopted in February 2015 and addressed housing, education, employment, health care and services, and Roma culture and language.  It embraced antidiscrimination, fighting violence incited by hatred, and promoting Roma integration at both central and grassroots levels, and sought to ensure that Roma children enjoyed the same opportunities in education as other children by providing them with preschool education and encouraging secondary and further education and lifelong learning.  Further, the Government aspired to greater public awareness of the societal context and history of the Roma and of dignified ways of recalling the Roma Holocaust.  The fight against racism, extremism and xenophobia was solidly anchored in the Government policy; racist propaganda and racial abuse were crimes, irrespective of whether they were perpetrated by individuals or legal entities, while law enforcement agencies were intent on thoroughly punishing all racially motivated crimes.  Victims of racist violence were entitled to free specialized assistance and monetary aid.  An Anti-Extremism Concept was published annually and contained not only repressive but also preventive measures to forestall the rise and spread of extremism, including training of the police and public prosecutors.  Recently, the police had focused intensively on hate crimes on the Internet and social networks, and a simple user-friendly hot line had been made available to facilitate reporting of hate expressions online.  In 2014, the Campaign against Racism and Hate Violence had been launched, which aimed to consolidate social and economic cohesion nationally and locally, raise awareness of issues related to social exclusion and hate violence, and encourage greater tolerance towards minorities and foreigners.

Questions by Committee Experts

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Vice-Chairperson and the County Rapporteur, commended the State party for the format of the report, which had been prepared in line with the Committee’s guidelines, and noted the absence  of demographic statistics and the lack of up-to-date information on the ethnic make-up of the population.  The National Action Plan on combatting racial discrimination had been initiated, but covered only a few points of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and not the whole strategy.  The Government should be more aware of day-to-day lives of migrants and asylum-seekers; there were asylum-seeking children held in prolonged detention with their families, sometimes as long as six months.  Racial hatred was a crime, and yet there were politicians and members of the Parliament who engaged in hate speech; what sanctions were there for hate speech by political and public figures?  There were many manifestations of racism towards foreigners, including refugees and asylum-seekers; Roma were not the only ones subjected to stigmatization. 

Another Expert expressed concern about the growing negative sentiments towards foreigners and noted that in a recent poll, 66 per cent of respondents considered foreigners responsible for increased criminality and 65 per cent considered them responsible for the growing unemployment; foreigners of Muslim background were particularly vulnerable in this regard.  There was an amazing disparity in Roma figures and the delegation was asked what was being done to address this even before the next census was due, and also to explain the system of participation in public and political life locally and nationally.  With regards to the Roma Integration Strategy, the Expert asked about the process of consultation prior to its drafting, the decrease of the proportion of Roma children in special schools and in mainstream education, and measures to address the particular discrimination against Roma in their search for employment.

The delegation was asked about the evaluation and major achievements of the Comprehensive Strategy against Social Exclusion and how the Agency for Social Inclusion worked, about organizational structures of the 400 communities in which Roma lived in marginal circumstances, and to comment on the level of political inclusion of ethnic minorities. 

Significant progress had been achieved by the Czech Republic in the fight against racial discrimination, said a Committee Expert, who expressed concern at instances of hate speech during public manifestations, directed against foreigners, refugees and asylum-seekers, and in particular about Islamophobic utterances.  What sanctions and actions were being taken against political and public figures engaging in hate speech?  What measures were in place to prevent and eliminate stigmatization of foreigners, refugees and asylum-seekers, and how were asylum-seekers under the age of 18 dealt with?  The unclear situation of stateless persons was also a source of concern.

According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Roma faced widespread discrimination in the Czech Republic, while the Committee against Torture had noted high levels of violence against the Roma, forced sterilization of Roma women, and the overcrowding of detention facilities.  What measures were in place to protect foreigners and asylum-seekers from violence, and was there anti-Semitism in the country?

The 2009 Antidiscrimination Act was an important instrument to combat racial discrimination and xenophobia, but having good laws was not enough as they must be effectively implemented.  While recognizing the overall progress achieved in the area of  human rights, there was a need to address remaining areas of concern, including hatred against foreigners, racially motivated crimes, rights of Roma and other national minorities. 

The delegation was also asked to comment on the increase in the number of socially excluded localities, failure to take measures to promote employment of Roma in public sectors, and why there were no measures to support access of Roma to university education which was where the preparation for work took place.  Experts also asked about the very low rate of prosecution of hate speech crimes, noting that of more than 200 cases only two resulted in sentences, and requested explanation of expressions used in the report of “communist genocide” and “Roma Holocaust”.  What was the cause for the surge of such a strong anti-Roma sentiment in Europe and in the Czech Republic?

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Vice-Chairperson and the County Rapporteur, recognized the important role of municipalities in reducing the number of socially excluded localities, and expressed concern that some municipalities refused to rent public housing to Roma, while the central government did not have appropriate administrative tools to deal with such situations.  Mr. Amir took note of the measures taken to tackle trafficking in human beings and regretted that the report lacked information on human trafficking, victims and perpetrators, and on other policies in place to tackle trafficking in persons.  Persons inquiring about asylum rights were not listened to by the authorities, and there were reports of many being expelled from the country before they had time to present their asylum request. 

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee needed a better understanding of who were disadvantaged groups in the Czech Republic,  and asked the delegation to explain the legal status of international treaties, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in the domestic law and whether they could be invoked by a victims of racial discrimination. 

Responses by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that the Czech Republic had long been a multi-national and multi-lingual country and its understanding of nationality and ethnicity adhered to the basic assumption that it was up to each individual to decide about his or her ethnicity; this concept was entrenched in the Constitution and had direct impact on data collection.  Because of negative experiences on collecting data on minorities, particularly Roma, whereby those were politically misused, the Law on National Minorities prohibited the collection of ethnic data that could distinguish an individual, therefore there were no registers which included ethnicity.  Everyone had the responsibility to participate in a census, but it was up to the individual to declare his or her religion, ethnicity or nationality.  The census was regulated by a very specific law and the next was due in ten years, during which all concerns about better statistics would be taken into consideration.

The Agency for Social Inclusion was a project run by the Office of the Government and was meant to extend the hand of the Government to excluded localities, and support the measures by local governments in the process of social inclusion of persons at risk.  The mission was to connect all local stakeholders so that they could cooperate in the process of social inclusion, and it ensured that Roma were part of the process.  It prepared situational analysis and estimated the needs of the localities, particularly Roma in the areas of housing, education and employment, which formed the basis for preparation of strategies which were binding documents for municipalities.  Until 2013, the Agency had been active in 15 municipalities, nine new localities had been selected for cooperation in 2014 and an additional ten would be added in 2015.  So far, approximately 46 million euro had been invested, supporting 47,000 persons in 121 projects. 

In order to address hate crimes and hate violence, the Czech Republic had put in place the Hate Free Campaign, focused on Roma and other minorities such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and also foreigners and migrants.  The campaign also dealt with prejudices and “myths” , such as over-reliance of Roma on social benefits, for example, by providing information and data on the issues.  The National Council for Roma Minority Affairs was an expert advisory body to the Government, to which representatives of Roma were appointed based on their experience and merit.  The Roma Integration Strategy was opened to consultation before it was adopted, and a series of meetings and workshops had been held with experts and local governments during the drafting stage. 

The rights of national minorities were granted in the new Law on the Protection of National Minorities; in terms of the rights of national minorities in the context of elections, the information was available in all 14 minority languages in all municipalities where more than 10 per cent of the population were national minorities.  There were four minorities which enjoyed specific rights, namely Polish, Slovak, German and Roma, who historically lived in border areas; their specific rights were mainly in the field of education and bilingual municipality signs and radio broadcasting, and those rights were incorporated in the national legislation.

Committee Experts raised the issue of extremism and hate crimes and the delegation said that the term “extremism” had been defined in the 2002 report on extremism and the crime in extremist context meant any crime that had been reasonably judged to be motivated by racial, religious or ethnic reasons.  The number of crimes motivated by hate was less than one per cent of all crimes committed in the country, and most were related to hate speech, hate propaganda and verbal assaults.  Currently, the major problem in the Czech Republic was hate speech on the Internet and social media and the police was closely cooperating with private sector social media companies.  There was one member of Parliament who had been sanctioned for his hate statements against Roma on Facebook, while another one was currently being investigated.

The community of Muslims was quite small, less than 10,000 members, and Islamophobia was quite a new issue for right-wing extremists who until now were dealing mainly with mobilization against Roma, and since recently, on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe.  There were no physical attacks against Muslims, and all hate-motivated activities were online.  There were not many attacks against Jewish communities, again, most hate activities were on social media and Internet; last year, less than 50 crimes had been motivated by anti-Semitism.  In 2013, there had been 26 anti-Roma demonstrations and marches, organized by right-wing extremists; last year, the number of demonstrations decreased, mainly because supporters found out that the organizers did not have any solution to the issue, but only sought to raise their own profiles.  Prevention and education played a very important role in the fight against racism and xenophobia.  The police was receiving regular training in hate crimes and had developed a database on expert opinions and good practices on extremism and hate crimes, while new Guidelines which would reflect new jurisprudence would be published later this year.

The Czech Republic currently operated three detention centres for migrants and asylum-seekers, which were regularly visited by the Public Defender, international organization and national non-governmental organizations.  Particular attention was being paid to the situation of children and their families, who were being transferred to a specific detention centre where they enjoyed better living conditions; the law also stipulated shorter periods of detention for families with children, which was only 90 days, and not 180 as was the case with other migrants.  Unaccompanied minors were never detained, unless there were doubts about the age, in which case they were detained until the age determination procedure was completed. 

The National Strategy for Trafficking in Human Beings focused on the protection of victims and prosecution of perpetrators.  It was important to say that support to the victims was not dependent on specific residential status, citizenship or illegal presence on the territory.  The support was provided by non-governmental organizations in the form of free of charge housing, health care and psychological support, while special protection was provided to victims who were witnesses in criminal procedures.

The Experts asked the delegation to explain what the term “communist genocide” meant.  The Criminal Code provided sanctions and imprisonment of up to six month for denial, questioning, and approval or justification of Nazi, communist, or other genocides, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace.  Communist genocide included well-known crimes committed in the former Soviet Union, like the man-made famine in Ukraine in 1930s, or for example the Khmer Rouge crimes in Cambodia.  The Criminal Code also extended to the crimes dealt with by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court.  The issue of access to courts and justice, including through free legal aid, was currently being discussed by the Ombudsperson and the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Labour provided support to the social inclusion of specific groups and minorities through employment through a number of projects, including the award of the Ethnic-friendly Employer label, the setting up of a website where employers provided experiences of hiring Roma and other minorities, free advice on social entrepreneurship, and others.  Foreigners who received asylum had the right to work after the period of 12 months; an amendment was being prepared to shorten this period to six months.

The definition of socially excluded areas had been developed with social scientists and public authority experts, it could be a street or a part of a city; it was a place where more than 20 people were concentrated and they lived in inadequate conditions.  They were defined by scientists in cooperation with civil society and local authorities.  There had been an increase in the number of socially excluded areas, from 310 in 2006 to 606 in 2014, but the areas today were smaller and contained fewer numbers of people.  The National Strategy on Social Housing 2015-2025 would be discussed in September 2015; it tackled the problem of special segregation and promoted the new system set up on desegregated living.  The Strategy would be implemented by municipalities with support and financing from the Government.

The Public Defender of Rights or the Ombudsperson was the main institution for the protection of human rights; it was independent and its human rights portfolio was continuously expanding.  Anti-discrimination jurisprudence was still evolving, given that the law was only six years old. 

The Czech Republic had  made progress in the education and educational placement of Roma children, including through legislative changes, for example through the 2015 amendment to the decree on education of children with special needs which had put a stop to the inappropriate placement of children.  A major amendment to the School Act in 2015 had changed the paradigm to the provision of special education and saw a major shift in the categorization of children with disability: the categorization to children with health disadvantages and children with social disadvantages had been abolished, and had been replaced with the provision of individual support, starting in 2016.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts welcomed the upcoming adoption of the Law on Free Legal Aid and asked about the situation of People of African Descent, the integration of Roma in European Social Fund projects, compensation of victims of forced sterilization, measures to reduce the number of Roma children in institutional care, and the situation of stateless children.

Responding, the delegation said that People of African Descent did not make a substantial group in the country, and the Czech Republic was not well aware of the relevant issues.  There were two operational programmes under the European Social Fund that had Roma as a target group, including the programme on research, development and education which had specific measures in supporting integration of Roma in primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Vice-Chairperson and the County Rapporteur, asked about the investigation and prosecution of, and sanctions for perpetrators in connection with the 2013 anti-Roma protests, efforts to ensure that refugees and non-nationals were encompassed by the social protection system, the result of the petition by Muslim communities concerning the banning of Islamic schools and Islamic teaching in some schools and prisons.

Another Committee Expert acknowledged the response concerning difficulties in providing intent in anti-discrimination claims and stressed that the Convention covered both discriminatory intent and discrimination in fact, and drew the attention of the delegation to the Committee’s general recommendations on special measures and hate speech.

Responses by the Delegation

The law established the possibility of affirmative action in relation to discrimination, but the question was to what extent was this positive action a solution; in particular situations, where whole areas were depressed, the approach that targeted a locality, municipality, or area would be a better solution to the problems facing Roma.  The policies should include not only Roma, but all persons in similar situations. 

The Employment of Roma in the public administration was not an easy issue; Roma were encouraged to seek employment, but many posts required higher education and at the moment there were not many Roma with the required level of education.  With regards to social security benefits for migrants, the delegation said that there were several categories of persons in refugee or refugee-like situations, which defined their level of protection.  The basic principle was to secure the access of everyone to support depending on individual situations, but also to make sure that social benefits were not the reason for seeking residence in the country.  The system was not nationality based, and persons with permanent residency were treated in the same manner as Czech citizens. 

In a further series of questions and comments, Committee Experts asked whether television would be used as a media for dissemination in the ongoing campaign against racial discrimination, provision of free legal aid to needy categories of the population, and whether sterilization was used as a contraceptive measure and why it affected specific groups in the population.  

In response, the delegation confirmed that the television was being used by the Hate Free Campaign, and that Regional Association Centres, the Czech Bar Association and numerous non-governmental organizations were providing free legal aid and advice.  Since 2008, no cases of unlawful sterilization had been recorded, while sterilization of psychiatric patients was prohibited by law.

Concluding Remarks

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Vice-Chairperson and the County Rapporteur, expressed satisfaction with the answers provided by the delegation, including to most difficult questions raised in the discussion.

ANDREA BARŠOVÁ, Director, Human Rights and Minority Protection Department, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, said that it was obvious from the composition of the delegation that many institutions were involved in combatting discrimination.  This was in addition to the independent institution of Ombudsperson, whose research on the issue of discrimination would be carefully examined in order to determine areas for further improvements.  The Government was aware that many new challenges needed to be tackled, including the expression of anti-Muslim feelings and the use of new media and technologies to reach the population.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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