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HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT CARD TAKEN IN STRIDE

Officials unruffled

SLOVAK officials remained unruffled when commenting on the annual country report on human rights released by the US State Department last week, which massively criticises discrimination against the Roma, mentioning concrete cases of reported mistreatment.
Problem areas targeted in the report include police brutality, racially motivated attacks by citizens, anti-Semitism, and the trafficking of women.
However, the report also acknowledges the government's steps in addressing some problems.

SLOVAK officials remained unruffled when commenting on the annual country report on human rights released by the US State Department last week, which massively criticises discrimination against the Roma, mentioning concrete cases of reported mistreatment.

Problem areas targeted in the report include police brutality, racially motivated attacks by citizens, anti-Semitism, and the trafficking of women.

However, the report also acknowledges the government's steps in addressing some problems.

Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights Pál Csáky does not find the report overly critical.

"I think it [the report] judged the state's respect for human rights very realistically. They [the US State Department] notice that a really significant shift toward respect for human rights in Slovakia has taken place," said Csáky's spokesman, Martin Urmanič.

"The report does not address any of the areas covered by our ministry, so there is nothing we could comment on," Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga told The Slovak Spectator.

He refused to comment on any of the report's findings or the document as a whole.

Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic thinks the sections of the report dealing with the judiciary were balanced. "It pleases me that they [the authors of the report] have put a positive emphasis on our reforms," he told journalists.

"Problems with corruption and inefficiency in the judiciary continued, despite government efforts to overcome them. According to judicial experts, the first instance courts for both criminal and civil law were ineffective, and judges were severely overburdened by rapidly changing legislation without adequate training," the report reads.

"I admit, we are only in the beginning of the fight against corruption," Lipšic commented.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights László Nagy accepts the document's findings.

"I do not question the report; it addresses the problems realistically. But I think that the situation in Slovakia is not worse that in any other comparable European country," he told The Slovak Spectator.

He added that the problems with the Roma and the position of women, which have existed for years, could not be solved by simple governmental or legislative interference.

"Some ministries are not willing enough to cooperate with NGOs. This could be beefed up," Nagy pointed out.

The report also touched on anti-Semitism at the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS): "A SIS list of persons allegedly harming the country's interests, which was leaked to the press in mid-year, identified individuals as Jewish."

The SIS refused to comment. Last November, when the information was first leaked to the daily SME, an official SIS statement claimed that the intelligence service had "never collected information on people based on their religion or ethnic origin, only exclusively on their attitude towards the country's laws".

Slovak parliament's foreign committee chairman, Ján Figeľ, thinks that the report does have its credence but no consequences for the country, as Slovakia will definitely become a full member of NATO in April, the Slovak daily SME quoted him as saying.

Ivo Samson from the Slovak Foreign Policy Association said there was "definitely anti-Semitism present in the SIS." According to him, these reports could influence foreign investors and they could result in problems during Slovakia's NATO membership, too.

The 2003 annual report on human rights practices extensively documents accounts of police brutality against the Roma.

Slovak Interior Ministry spokesman Boris Ažaltovič said that last year there were no such cases but admitted that before 2003 there had been reports of police cruelty against the Roma.

According to presidential candidate Martin Bútora, it would be a mistake to pay no heed to the criticism by the US State Department. The former ambassador to the US is also pleased that the report notices the developments in fighting corruption.

Miroslav Kusý, a political analyst and honorary president of the human rights watchdog Slovak Helsinki Committee, dubbed the report positive, as it was "only pointing out problems that do exist. We do not try to deny having them," he told the SITA news wire.

He maintains that the report is partially based on outdated facts and may contain subjective perspectives. As an example, he mentioned the alleged illegal sterilisation of Roma women and the cases of police brutality against the Roma. Racism does exist in Slovakia, Kusý thinks, and he said he was glad that the report mentions this fact.

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