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Human rights report slaps country's wrist again

The following text contains the introduction of the 1997 United States Human Rights Report on Slovakia, along with a few excerpts from the 15 page annual report:
The Slovak Republic became an independent state in 1993, following the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (ČSFR). Its Constitution provides for a multiparty, multiethnic parliamentary democracy, including separation of powers and an independent judiciary. Slovakia chose to carry over the entire body of ČSFR domestic legislation and international treaty obligations, which gradually are being renewed or updated. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, some critics allege that the Ministry of Justice's logistical and personnel authority allows it to exert some influence on the judicial system.

The following text contains the introduction of the 1997 United States Human Rights Report on Slovakia, along with a few excerpts from the 15 page annual report:

The Slovak Republic became an independent state in 1993, following the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (ČSFR). Its Constitution provides for a multiparty, multiethnic parliamentary democracy, including separation of powers and an independent judiciary. Slovakia chose to carry over the entire body of ČSFR domestic legislation and international treaty obligations, which gradually are being renewed or updated. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, some critics allege that the Ministry of Justice's logistical and personnel authority allows it to exert some influence on the judicial system.

The national police, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, are the primary law enforcement agency. In addition to domestic law enforcement, they also have responsibility for border security. The Slovak Information Service (SIS), an independent Organization reporting directly to the Prime Minister, is responsible for all civilian security and intelligence activities. A six-member parliamentary commission, which includes no meaningful opposition participation, oversees the SIS. Civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces. Police have committed some human rights abuses.

Slovakia made continued progress in the difficult transition from a command-based to a market-based economy, with more than 85 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) now generated by the private sector. GDP growth continued to be strong at 6 percent, and inflation rose to just over 6 percent. Real GDP per capita is approximately $2,800, providing most of the population with an adequate standard of living. Unemployment was high at 13 percent, with some areas of the country reaching over 25 percent. A disproportionate number of unemployed are Roma, who face exceptional difficulties in finding and holding jobs partly as a result of discrimination. The economy is industrially based, with only 7 percent of GDP derived from agricultural production. Major exports are iron and steel, machinery and transport equipment, audio and video equipment, plastic materials, chemicals and fuels, paper, and paper products.

While the Government generally respected most of the human rights of its citizens, disturbing trends away from democratic principles continued, reflecting an intolerance for opposition views and a recentralization of state authority. Most notably, the Government, contrary to decisions of the Constitutional Court, refused to permit a referendum question on the direct election of the President to be printed on the ballot distributed to voters, and the Parliament refused to reinstate ousted Deputy František Gaulieder. Human rights monitors continued to report incidents of police brutality against Roma, although fewer than in 1996. There were credible allegations that the SIS conducted surveillance of some political figures, journalists, and their spouses.

There were also increasing credible allegations of politically motivated dismissals of public officials, intimidation of opponents of government policy, and interference with the electronic media. An atmosphere of intimidation led some journalists to practice self-censorship. The Government's failure to investigate seriously the 1995 abduction and assault of the president's son, the Gaulieder case and referendum fiasco undermine the Government's commitment to the rule of law. Discrimination and violence against women remain serious problems. A new law on universities threatened the independence of higher education. Roma faced societal discrimination, and the police often failed to provide adequate protection or follow-up against attacks on Roma by skinheads. Some ant-Semitic incidents occurred, and there was some discrimination against the Hungarian minority.

Press speculation that elements of the security services were involved in the 1996 death of Róbert Remiaš was widespread. Remiaš was a friend and intermediary of Oskar Fegyveres (a former member of the SIS and a self-proclaimed witness to the kidnapping of the President's son in August 1995). Remiaš died when his car exploded on April 29, 1996, in Bratislava. The investigation into his death has foundered for nearly 2 years and remained dormant at year's end; no suspects have been identified.

Human rights monitors reported cases of police brutality against Roma and some African students. More often the police are accused of tolerating violence against Roma by not halting or investigating attacks against Roma. For example, human rights monitors charge that police appear reluctant to take the testimony of witnesses to skinhead attacks on Roma. Further, they reported that police used the device of countercharges to pressure Roma victims of police brutality to drop their complaints, that medical doctors and investigators cooperated with police by refusing to describe accurately the injuries involved, and that lawyers often were reluctant to represent Roma in such situations, for fear this would have a negative effect on their practice. In 1996 the Banská Bystrica police chief, in reaction to a complaint by a nongovernmental Organization (NGP), admitted police errors in Prievidza and promised disciplinary action against the officers involved. No known action was taken in the case during the year.

The 1995 case of the violent abduction of the President's son Michael Kováč Jr. to Austria, during which he was tortured, remained unsolved. SIS personnel are alleged to be implicated. The SIS refused to permit its personnel to be questioned and has accused police investigators of wrongdoing. One lead police investigator resigned under pressure; another was removed from the case, as was their supervisor. The Government did not vigorously investigate the kidnapping case during the year, and the third investigator closed the case due to "insufficient evidence," noting that the incident may have been staged to embarrass the Government. Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors.

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