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MPs dodging Roma rights report
9 Sep 2013 Beata Balogová Politics & Society
SLOVAKIA’S ombudswoman, for the first time during the 12-year existence of the office, has submitted to parliament a special report pointing to serious violations of human rights by some state bodies in relation to policies toward Roma. Long-term violations of the basic right to education of a large number of under-age children from socially disadvantaged environments, violations of the inviolability of habitation by demolition of Roma dwellings as well as a mid-June police raid that allegedly left dozens of Roma injured in the Budulovská settlement near the eastern-Slovak town of Moldava nad Bodvou, are detailed in the report by Jana Dubovcová. Despite Dubovcová urging parliament to discuss her report and take timely action to improve the situation, the report has not made it onto the agenda of the ongoing session. According to Dubovcová, while the most urgent issue in her report was the violation of the rights of children to education, parliament was reluctant to discuss the report in order to prevent a debate over the controversial police action in Moldava nad Bodvou, which was also included in the document.
In late August, the parliamentary committee for human rights and national minorities, in a vote orchestrated by Smer deputies, did not recommend that parliament discuss the report.
“The proceeding of the parliamentary [human rights] committee fully revealed our reality, which is the difference between what we declare about human rights and what we in reality do about it,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator on September 4.
Nevertheless the Moldava nad Bodvou raid continues to evoke concerns about the police’s action itself as well as the subsequent investigation launched by the Interior Ministry, which found no police failing. Dubovcová claims that neither the Interior Ministry nor its inspection is independent enough to assess the police action.
The parliamentary committee for human rights and national minorities refused to express concern over the Interior Ministry’s investigation of the raid and declined to hear testimony from the Roma from Moldava nad Bodvou, with head of the Smer deputy faction Jana Laššáková saying, as reported by the Sme daily, that “the committee is not an investigation body and thus it is not our task to question someone. No one has invited them”.
Dubovcová negatively assessed the proceeding of the parliamentary committee for human rights as well as parliament, stressing that she submitted her report as a constitutional body in line with the law and requested its timely discussion because of the serious nature of the findings. She said that though this is the first time in 12 years that the public defender of rights submitted such a report, this is not a sufficient excuse for not discussing it in parliament.
“This only stresses the serious nature of my findings,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the parliamentary committee, which is tasked with guarding human rights as well as the rights of national minorities, has indeed completely resigned from its role in the way it handled her report.
In addition, Dubovcová noted that the committee opted not to discuss an incident where one municipal government, without any legal justification, levelled homes of people based on a law on waste. She is optimistic that her report will be put on the agenda for parliament’s next session.
Segregation in the schools
“It cannot be excluded that in some schools and localities children are subjected to unequal treatment based on their ethnicity as far as their access to education as well as how and in what conditions they are being educated,” Dubovcová wrote in her report, which is based on inquiries at 21 schools.
For children from special classes it is practically impossible to acquire a certificate of apprenticeship or a secondary school final exam, which fundamentally impacts their chances to access jobs and break free of poverty, the report suggests. Lawyers at Dubovcová’s office said that the number of socially disadvantaged children of Roma origin is many times higher as a percentage than the number of non-Roma kids.
Meanwhile, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) also noted in its September report that thousands of Roma children in Slovakia are starting another new school year in separate schools and classes. AI criticises the Slovak government for what it calls inactivity in addressing the segregation of Roma children in Slovak schools.
The Moldava nad Bodvou raid
Eyewitnesses claim that members of a SWAT unit, in approximately 20 cars, rode into Moldava nad Bodvou’s Budulovská Roma settlement late in the afternoon on June 19 and raided homes of the Roma, according to a statement issued by ETP Slovensko, a non-profit group that works with ethnic minorities. Police detained 15 people. Some 30 people were injured during the raid, according to ETP.
The raid was preceded by a conflict involving some settlement residents with a police patrol after a party on the night of June 16, according to ETP Slovensko. That conflict saw police detain two local Roma men. One was released four days later and the other remained in custody, according to Sme. Locals contend that the June 19 raid came as revenge for the earlier incident, according to the testimonies recorded by the Roma Media Centre (MECEM).
Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák backed the police on July 30, saying that the raid “was conducted correctly and was justified”. Yet Kaliňák and Dubovcová differ in their assessment of the police action. According to Dubovcová, the raid was avoidable and that methods and tools not appropriate in a democratic society were used.
Yet, the Interior Ministry and the Police Corps now have a deadline for letting Dubovcová know what measures they adopted to fix the problems listed in the report, and if they fail to do so, she could turn to the government.
“If they do not adopt [the changes] or I consider these [changes] insufficient, in line with the law on the public defender of rights, I will turn to the Slovak government,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that nevertheless, only parliament can establish an independent body to investigate police raids in cases where there is a suspicion of inappropriate action.
Kaliňák in late August claimed that Dubovcová’s report on the police action was politicised, adding that the use of “hyperbole harmed the whole case”. The minister also said that reports of 30 injured and an attack on a child, which were never substantiated, harmed the case the most, the SITA newswire reported.
When responding to Dubovcová’s argument that the ministry’s investigation unit “does not have the attributes of an independent control body”, Kaliňák said that the inspection is not a criminal prosecution body and that, for example, it is not required to hear from witnesses. If the law was violated or someone suffered bodily harm it is necessary to turn to prosecutors, he said.
Kept in custody
Police kept Ernest R., the second detained Roma from the Budulovská settlement, in custody for more than two months despite a health report that he is not capable of distinguishing the consequences of a crime and that he posed no threat to society. Deputy Prosecutor General Peter Šufliarsky has meanwhile ordered an inquiry into information published by the media on the custody, according to Sme.
“At the moment it is proven in a legally acceptable way that a person who is under criminal prosecution, due to health reasons, is not responsible for his/her acts, it is necessary that responsible state bodies immediately take action; halt the criminal prosecution and immediately take steps for securing his/her treatment and if needed then take steps to protect the public from their possible dangerous behaviour,” Dubovcová said in reference to the case to The Slovak Spectator.
Radka Minarechová contributed to this story
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