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A SINGLE ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW IS IN SIGHT

Equal rights fight quiets

THE LENGTHLY conflict over Slovakia's anti-discrimination legislation may have come to an end, as Deputy Prime Minister Pál Csáky and Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic agreed on the form of the law on January 15. As a result, instead of amendments to several laws, a single piece of legislation will guarantee equal treatment to all citizens in Slovakia, as required by the European Union.
Following several unsuccessful attempts, experts are outlining a compromise version of the act.

THE LENGTHLY conflict over Slovakia's anti-discrimination legislation may have come to an end, as Deputy Prime Minister Pál Csáky and Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic agreed on the form of the law on January 15. As a result, instead of amendments to several laws, a single piece of legislation will guarantee equal treatment to all citizens in Slovakia, as required by the European Union.

Following several unsuccessful attempts, experts are outlining a compromise version of the act.

According to the agreement, Csáky and Lipšic - both vice-chairmen of their parties, the Hungarian Coalition Party and the Christian Democrats (KDH), respectively - have set up a committee of experts who will prepare the final wording and introduce the bill in early February.

The law to guarantee fair treatment for everyone regardless of race, colour, sex, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, health condition, or sexual orientation should pass through parliament by April 15.

Working under new leadership, the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights, an already existing but so far ineffective institution, will safeguard the implementation of the law and decide on complaints against violations of the principles of equal treatment.

Csáky characterized the agreement on the future anti-discrimination law as "a triumph of common sense".

An initiator and co-author of several drafts of the act, Csáky had recently indicated that he would introduce yet another proposal to the government, regardless of the disapproval of his ruling coalition partner the KDH.

Another governing party, the New Citizen's Alliance, said that should Csáky fail to come up with his own version of the act before January 20, they would prepare a new draft.

In October of last year, even the opposition party Smer presented an anti-discrimination law, which, however, failed to be adopted in parliament.

"I am glad that we have reached such an agreement and I believe that together our experts will create a draft legislation that will not only be compatible with EU directives but, more importantly, will not be unconstitutional," Lipšic told journalists.

Earlier, he had criticized Csáky's recently proposed law, claiming that it would give more rights to homosexuals than required by the EU. He labelled Csáky's efforts as "an attempt at social engineering".

The KDH argued that sufficient provisions against discrimination already exist in the constitution. They also claimed that the law proposed by Csáky would be the first step toward allowing gay couples to adopt children, a policy they firmly oppose.

"Two and a half years of work plus three hours of negotiation [between Csáky and Lipšic]," said Jana Kviečinská, general director of the government's human rights and minorities department, summing up for The Slovak Spectator the work it took to reach the agreement.

The legislation, which has to be passed prior to Slovakia's entry into the EU, had been the cause of heated debate between members of the ruling coalition for years, as KDH had been against a single law.

KDH proposed amending the 18 laws already in existence to put them in line with the required anti-discrimination directives.

In March 2002, the government adopted an action plan against all forms of discrimination. However, in June 2002 the KDH halted the anti-discrimination bill because of the provision dealing with equal treatment for homosexuals. KDH deputy chairman Vladimír Palko argued that the EU did not require Slovakia to pass such a law.

European Parliament officials had earlier warned Slovak authorities that, if they did not approve anti-discrimination legislation by the end of 2004, they might face sanctions from the EU.

One of the 10 countries that will join the EU on May 1, Slovakia has to adopt anti-discriminatory legislation in line with the EU Race Directive, which implements the principle of equal treatment of people irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. The country must also meet the EU Employment Directive, which requires a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The EU Race and Employment directives, as part of the acquis communautaire, will become binding on Slovakia after it joins the union.

"We, for legal clarity, prefer one single anti-discrimination law," head of the European Commission delegation to Slovakia Eric van der Linden said in a recent interview with The Slovak Spectator. However, he added, "that is not the case right now in all of the 15 present member states."

Last November, Anna Diamantopoulou, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, warned Slovakia that the anti-discrimination laws of future EU members must cover discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. "This is not a matter of choice for governments, but an obligation," she said.

When amending the Labour Law in May 2003, Slovakia passed legislation forbidding employers from inquiring about their employees' sexual orientation, but it was far less than activists were expecting. They demanded an explicit provision prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals.

However, it is still unclear whether the proposed law will get as far as adoption. Laura Dyttertová, spokeswoman for the KDH, told The Slovak Spectator that the committee is working on a draft that would prohibit any inquiry concerning jobseekers' sexual orientation and that this provision would be similar to that of the Labour Law.

Talking to The Slovak Spectator, Csáky's spokesman, Martin Urmanič, confirmed that the committee of experts is already working on the final wording of the legislation, to be compiled from both Csáky's and Lipšic's drafts.

The main scope of the law, he indicated, should not be changed. He said that everything had been settled during the previous talks between his boss and Justice Minister Lipšic.

"We expect no surprises," Urmanič said.

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