THOUGH during 2003 there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, the arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, or inhuman or other degrading treatment, and the Slovak government generally respected human rights, there were problems in some areas, the US State Department says in its annual report on human rights practices in the Slovak Republic.
"Police officers allegedly beat and abused persons, particularly Roma. The performance of the security forces, particularly the police, continued to improve during the year. Investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes improved, although sentences imposed by some judges appeared lenient, leading some nongovernmental organizations to claim that perpetrators were not adequately punished," reads the report.
According to the US State Department, there were 165 complaints of police brutality reported in the first six months of this year, compared with 102 complaints in the same period of 2002. The suspected officers went to trial in only 3 percent of the cases.
From October 2002 through June 2003, Minister of the Interior Vladimír Palko dismissed 236 officers, of whom 6 percent left the force for committing physical abuse or making threats. A supervisor who witnessed a racially motivated crime and did not act was also released from duty.
Reports of sterilisations of Roma women under coercion or without informed consent did not escape the attention of the US State Department, which did not find that the Slovak government promoted or approved the operations. The report acknowledges that the government did investigate and took some steps to address the problem.
According to the report, skinhead attacks on Roma and other minorities continued and the Roma faced considerable social discrimination. Trafficking in women also remained a problem.
The report, which calls attention to discrimination against the Roma, comes into the hands of the Slovak government at a time when it is struggling with massive social turmoil in the central and eastern parts of the country fuelled by members of the minority who protest the cut of their social benefits.
The Slovak Spectator was unable to get the Slovak government's reaction to the report before going to print, but will report it in next week's issue.
The latest progress report of the European Commission on Slovakia, released on November 5, which softened earlier criticism that the central European country had received in May 2003, concluded that, despite all the evident efforts, the situation of the Roma minority remains very difficult.
"A majority of the community is still exposed to social inequalities and discrimination in education, the criminal justice system, and access to public services. The living conditions of the Roma essentially remain far below average," said head of the European Commission delegation to Slovakia, Eric van der Linden, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator in mid November 2003.
Alvaro Gil-Robles, commissioner for human rights for the council of Europe, also urged the Slovak government in late 2003 to strengthen its laws and practices related to the Roma in Slovakia
Last year, marking the International Day of Human Rights on December 10, Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda made a public wish that the rejection of all forms of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism become a major principle in relationships between the state and its citizens, the news wire SITA wrote.
However, on the same day, Columbus Igboanusi, director of the League of Activists for Human Rights and an international human rights lawyer, warned that Roma offenders in Slovakia routinely get higher sentences than offenders from the rest of society. Slovak officials rejected his claims.
On December 2, 2003, the United Nations Human Rights Commission appealed to Slovakia to take greater care to protect women and the Roma community.
"Slovakia should adopt necessary policies and laws to fight domestic violence," the UN Human Rights Commission wrote. It also appealed to the government to eliminate the segregation of Roma children, which still exists in Slovak schools, create crisis centres to help victims of violence, and better shield women who fall victim to forced prostitution.
Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said the criticism was political. He claimed that Slovakia observes human rights, but admitted that there was room for improvement. Slovakia is expected to respond to the criticism by August 2004.
The report makes the positive observation that the media was generally uncensored, and individuals reported that they were able to criticise the government without fear of reprisal. Independent newspapers and magazines regularly published a wide range of opinion and news articles that were distributed nationwide.
The US State Department also records positive changes to the country's judicial system.
In October, Parliament approved a law on property restitution that provide citizens a second opportunity to apply for the return of land confiscated by the state between 1948 and 1990. The citizenship requirement was criticised for violating international restitution standards. The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic stated that up to 30 percent of the unclaimed land might have been confiscated from Jewish owners between 1938 and 1945 and sought monetary compensation from the state, reads the report.
1. Mar 2004 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová