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Roma still face discrimination: AI

DISCRIMINATION against Roma remains a problem in Slovakia in terms of respect for human rights, according to an annual report by the human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI), released on May 28 in London.

DISCRIMINATION against Roma remains a problem in Slovakia in terms of respect for human rights, according to an annual report by the human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI), released on May 28 in London.

The report says that, in 2007, the Roma minority faced discrimination in Slovakia in its access to education, housing, healthcare and other services, as well as persistent prejudice and hostility. It also says that the Slovak authorities failed to respond adequately to attacks on foreigners and minorities, and cites concerns over the country's asylum system. Slovak officials responded that the report should have taken into consideration the things that Slovakia has already achieved.

"Of course there are problems in Slovakia and of course we have to solve them, but it cannot happen overnight; I think the report does not consider what the government of Slovakia has in many areas already achieved," Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights Dušan Čaplovič told private TV news station TA3.

According to AI, many Roma in Slovakia continued to be caught in a cycle of marginalisation and poverty, while huge numbers of Roma children were still being placed unnecessarily in special schools and classes for children with mental disabilities and learning difficulties. Roma settlements are very often physically segregated from neighbouring towns or village, with little public transport, and suffer from lack of access to gas, water, electricity and sanitation facilities, said the report.

AI also said that the Roma continued to suffer forced evictions. The report mentions reports from September 2007 that more than 200 Roma were forcibly evicted from their houses in Nové Zámky, moved to neighbouring villages and allocated inadequate housing.

AI researchers from London visited Slovakia three times last year, focusing their attention mainly on the education system. They spoke to state officials, but also to schools and Roma communities, AI's spokeswoman in Slovakia, Monika Navrátilová, told The Slovak Spectator.

Klára Orgovánová, of the non-governmental Roma Institute and a former government appointee for Roma issues, described the AI report was impartial and objective. Orgovánová also said that the government has not handled the problem of Roma segregation well enough, and has not developed a clear policy towards the Roma community.

"The government has not approved any principal materials in the sphere of education, nor in the sphere of housing," Orgovánová told The Slovak Spectator.

Local governments do not help to solve Roma problems either; on the contrary, they try to solve the problem of Roma who cannot pay their rents by moving their whole family out, she said.

"It is as if they were not afraid of such reports and criticism, instead treating these people much more severely," Orgovánová added.

In association with the treatment of members of minority groups and foreigners, the AI referred to the case of Hedviga Malinová, a Hungarian student.

In May 2007, Malinová lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court after police halted a criminal prosecution related to an allegedly ethnically-motivated attack on her by two men in Nitra in August 2006.

A police investigation in October 2006 concluded that Malinová fabricated her account, and in May 2007 criminal proceedings were opened against her for alleged perjury. In July 2007, Police Chief Ján Packa admitted that Malinová had been assaulted but "not as she described", the AI report writes.

Then in September 2007, Prosecutor-General Dobroslav Trnka admitted that some evidence from the investigation was lost as a result of "procedural errors by the police and the prosecutor's office".

Malinová filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in November 2007, claiming that she has been subjected to inhumane and humiliating treatment by the Slovak authorities.

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák disagreed with AI's comments on the case, and said that Malinová's rights had not been violated.

"It is not the first time that Amnesty International is wrong," Kaliňák told the SITA newswire.
According to the AI report, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, remained concerned at the low number of successful asylum applications in Slovakia. The government's Migration Office reported that between January and September 2007, Slovakia granted refugee status to only 8 people out of 2,259 applicants.

The Mustapha Labsi case is also mentioned in the report. According to AI, the Slovak government failed to reject the use of so-called "diplomatic assurances" from states not to torture people subject to extradition.

In November, the Bratislava regional court ruled that the extradition of Labsi, an Algerian national, was admissible. Accused of terrorist activities in France and the UK, Mustapha Labsi had been held in custody in Slovakia since May 2007 on the basis of an extradition request by Algeria. The Slovak prosecution said it had assurances from the Algerian authorities that Labsi would not face torture or execution. AI urged Slovakia not to accept any diplomatic assurances from Algeria. By the end of 2007, no substantive response from the Slovak authorities had been received.
The AI report also listed allegations of ill-treatment by the Slovak police, mentioning the case of journalist and Polish citizen of Kazakh descent Balli Marzec.

Last November Marzec was arrested for protesting in front of the Presidential Palace in Bratislava during a visit by the Kazakh president, for what the police called disrupting "the public peace". She told AI that she was punched in the stomach and hit on the head by one of the police officers. A medical examination performed during her detention showed minor injuries. However, shortly afterwards, in Poland, she underwent a second medical examination and had to undergo surgery to halt severe internal bleeding allegedly caused by the assault. In December 2007, Minister of Interior Kaliňák announced that the Bratislava police commander involved would be fired.
Kalinák said that the case was closed.

"We gave our full opinion in the case of Mrs. Marzec," he said. "This one is clear, there is nothing to be solved anymore."

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