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Roma reform and human rights strategy stuckTHE YEAR IN POLITICS
30 Dec 2013 Beata Balogová and Michaela Terenzani - Stanková Politics & Society
Human rights hit a dead end in 2013 and it is yet to be seen whether the state will find a way out of the problems caused by the less than tolerant relationship between the proponents of gender equality and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual) rights, and those defending the “traditional” family concept.
Slovakia should see its first-ever comprehensive human rights strategy drafted in 2013, but the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which serves as the government’s umbrella institution for the human rights agenda, postponed work on the strategy (setting a new deadline for June 2014) after it fell victim to a hate-fuelled campaign. Several religious organisations, MPs and supporters of traditional family have slammed the ministry for furthering LGBTI rights.
In early September 2013, less than a month before the original deadline for the strategy, the Foreign Affairs Ministry revealed that it had become the target of an organised campaign to spam its email addresses with messages delivering “personal invectives, rough offences and hateful blackmail” that “fanatical opponents of human rights in Slovakia” had been sending to the secretary of the government’s Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality.
NGOs, on the one hand, welcomed the postponing of the strategy and the ministry’s declared efforts to precede the draft with a public discussion and workshop to educate the public about human rights issues. At the same time, however, they stressed that a strategy is needed, and claimed there has been a void in human rights protection ever since the post of deputy prime minister for human rights and national minorities was abolished in 2012.
Forty representatives of NGOs and civil society organisations and 23 individuals signed a declaration to support the human rights strategy. The signatories criticised the campaign against the Foreign Affairs Ministry, saying that the strategy does not only focus on the rights of the LGBTI community, but that it also aims to protect all endangered groups, including children, seniors, minorities, religious communities, women, immigrants, asylum seekers, the disabled and poor people.
NGOs, however, pointed to numerous laws and actions approved by the current government that infringe on human rights, from the refusal to allow the village of Tešedíkovo to adopt its historical Hungarian name of Pered in spite of a valid referendum, to the controversial police raid of a Roma settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou in June.
Meanwhile, Slovakia’s most troubled minority, the Roma, have not seen much progress in their agenda. The government has not moved forward with the Roma reform, a big project launched in October 2012, which was expected to be introduced in stages within the first half of 2013. Instead, the government seems to have abandoned its plans.
The government’s proxy for Roma communities, Peter Pollák, who is also Slovakia’s first MP of Roma ethnicity, has not earned much respect among NGOs advocating Roma rights. They have repeatedly criticised him for being inactive. In June, the Civil Society Monitoring Report on the Implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS) and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in the Slovak Republic was prepared by a civil society coalition comprised of the Roma Institute, the Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK), Quo Vadis, and the Cultural Association of Roma in Slovakia NGOs. In it, they evaluated the fulfilling of those two documents from August 2011 to March 2013, stating that the government’s Roma policy is based on a discriminatory and sanction-oriented policy while ignoring an action plan passed by the previous government, according to a group of NGOs operating in Slovakia.
Later, the Milan Šimečka Foundation stated in its “Roma in Public Policies” report assessing the first year of the Robert Fico government, that Slovak politicians usually engage in excluding Roma communities from the majority population and accusing the minority of being responsible for problems faced by the nation. Pollák dismissed the report as biased.
At the year’s end, Roma rights activists had yet another reason to criticise the government’s approach to solving the problems of Roma, after parliament amended the law on aid in material need. Under the new rules, only people who spend 32 hours each month doing communal or voluntary work will get the so-called material need welfare subsidy of €61.60.
Radka Minarechová contributed to this story
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