DISCRIMINATION based on sex, race, religion, health, ethnicity, and sexual orientation will be banned in a single law as of July 1.
A strong majority of 107 coalition and opposition MPs approved the anti-discrimination law, which was welcomed by representatives of various groups including gays and lesbians, women, and the Roma.
Until now, non-discrimination requirements were incorporated into several laws. Human rights activists said such a system was inefficient and called for the legislation to be put the under one umbrella.
Marián Vojtek, the head of the homosexual association Ganymedes, welcomed the law, and noted that it was “just the first step on a long path to achieving acceptance of homosexuals as fully valuable parts of society.”
The law, which was passed on May 20, does not allow homosexuals to adopt children, nor to get married.
The law allows positive discrimination for disadvantaged ethnic or national groups, a move particularly welcomed by Slovakia’s Roma minority, which is known for its difficult economic and social situation. Unemployment among the Roma is far higher than the national average, and many see their limited access to jobs, schools, and health care as a result of hidden societal racism. The new law also bans inciting xenophobia.
Klára Orgovánová, the cabinet’s plenipotentiary for Roma issues, told the private news agency SITA shortly after the passage of the law that the minority of an estimated 350,000 - 500,000 people could profit from the legislative change.
The passage of the law came after years of effort to push through such legislation, often hindered by the opposition of the ruling Christian Democrats (KDH). The party’s MPs opposed or refrained from voting on the law on May 20.
Shortly after the law was passed, KDH member Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic announced to journalists that he would initiate a motion at the Constitutional Court against the law’s positive discrimination clause. He argued that positive discrimination was against the Slovak constitution and that it also “degrades the human dignity and strengthens stereotypes” of certain groups of people.
According to Orgovánová, however, the temporary tool of positive discrimination was “inevitable for those who are dealing with the problems of the Roma communities in Slovakia”, arguing that a large portion of the Roma do not have opportunities similar to those of other Slovaks.
According to Miroslav Číž, an MP for the opposition party Smer, positive discrimination is a natural part of every democracy through which the majority population shows solidarity with its potentially disadvantaged groups.
“[After all,] we create special conditions for handicapped people and pensioners,” Číž said.
“We should think about the scope of positive discrimination rather than about banning it”, he added.
Roma activists agreed that positive discrimination was necessary for them to overcome their current social problems and to be able to gradually catch up with the rest of society.
Tibor Loran from the Roma Communities NGO Council said that this was “the first time in Slovakia’s history that Roma will be able to live normal and standard lives in this society”.
The law was originally prepared by the Deputy PM for EU Integration Pál Csáky, who is also responsible for human rights and minorities in Slovakia, although MPs pushed through some changes to his draft.
“The new Slovak anti-discrimination law has a real chance of becoming a model piece of legislation in the enlarged 25-member EU,” Csáky said.
The EU recommends that its members approve anti-discrimination measures, although it leaves it up to the states whether to have the measures incorporated in several laws or have a single law covering the issue.
According to the new law, all forms of discrimination are banned and divided into four types. These are direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and illegitimate recourse.
The law defines direct discrimination as an action in which a person is treated less favourably than a different person would be treated in the same situation. Indirect discrimination is seen as a seemingly neutral action that favours one person to the detriment of another.
People can go to court to demand financial compensation for instances of discrimination. The Slovak National Centre for Human Rights will oversee adherence to the law.
The Slovak law also incorporates two EU directives that deal with the equal treatment of all people regardless of their racial or ethnic origin, and equal treatment in the workplace.
31. May 2004 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová