Controversial amnesties to face another challenge

LATE August marked 15 years since the notorious abduction of the son of Slovakia’s then-president Michal Kováč, an incident which an Austrian court later ruled was the act of a Slovak state agency. The culprits responsible for Michal Kováč Jr’s abduction, as well as those who thwarted a 1997 referendum to establish direct election of Slovakia’s president, have never been prosecuted or punished thanks to two amnesties granted in 1998 by then-prime minister Vladimír Mečiar after he had temporarily assumed some presidential powers.

Vladimír MečiarVladimír Mečiar (Source: Sme - Tomáš Benedikovič)

LATE August marked 15 years since the notorious abduction of the son of Slovakia’s then-president Michal Kováč, an incident which an Austrian court later ruled was the act of a Slovak state agency. The culprits responsible for Michal Kováč Jr’s abduction, as well as those who thwarted a 1997 referendum to establish direct election of Slovakia’s president, have never been prosecuted or punished thanks to two amnesties granted in 1998 by then-prime minister Vladimír Mečiar after he had temporarily assumed some presidential powers.

The recently installed centre-right coalition has now re-opened the issue of overturning the so-called Mečiar amnesties, and has made this part of its programme statement.

“We want to submit the proposal in this legislative term only once, some time over the course of the next year,” the leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Ján Figeľ, told the ČTK newswire. The KDH has consistently opposed Mečiar’s amnesties and the ‘dark times’ that followed the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr.

The past 12 years, since Mečiar lost power in 1998, have seen numerous court actions to weaken or completely overturn the amnesties. Mečiar himself has recently sunk from public view after losing his parliamentary seat at the June 2010 general election; his party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), failed to clear the 5-percent threshold required to win seats.

However, a constitutional law, requiring a three-fifths majority (90 of 150 votes), is needed to cancel the amnesties. That would mean that some MPs from Smer, the main opposition party, would have to support the proposal, as the ruling coalition only commands the support of 79 MPs. The previous, Smer-led government, and especially its head Robert Fico, maintained that Mečiar’s amnesties could not simply be abolished and that they should therefore be respected as a guarantee of legal security. The current prime minister, Iveta Radičová, and her cabinet now say they want to discuss the issue with both Smer and the Slovak National Party (SNS), the other opposition party.

On August 30 Prime Minister Iveta Radičová commented that Mečiar did, undoubtedly, have the right to grant the first amnesty while he was acting as president, but added that “it is the second amnesty, in which he corrected the first one, that has become controversial”.

In 1998, Mečiar granted two blanket amnesties. The first one dealt with the abduction of Michal Kováč Jr and with the thwarted referendum. It comprised a single sentence and stipulated, according to an official court translation, that any persons related to the “notification of the abduction” were granted amnesty.

The subsequent, second amnesty issued by Mečiar became the effective umbrella against investigation or prosecution of the case because it stated that it covers “the suspicion of criminal offences allegedly committed in the context of the reported abduction ... which allegedly occurred on August 31, 1995.”

The HZDS has already stated that it believes cancelling the amnesties would be against the principles of the rule of law, and that it regards such attempts as revenge and an unacceptable criminalisation of Slovak politics.

A leading figure in Smer, Miroslav Číž, has commented that it is “an incredible stupidity that such issues are being opened up”.

“They [i.e. the centre-right parties] were in power for eight years [i.e. between 1998 and 2006], if they had wanted to cancel anything,” Číž said. “They do not have a constitutional majority, I do not know what they want to achieve with this, by inserting this problem into society.”

Číž, a lawyer by profession, told the daily Hospodárske Noviny that he believes it is impossible to cancel the amnesties.

It is not the first time Mečiar’s opponents have tried to overturn the amnesties. Former prime minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, who temporarily inherited presidential powers after winning the general election in 1998, cancelled the amnesties soon after taking office.

However, the European Court for Human Rights decided on September 23, 2008, that the amnesties issued by Mečiar could not be legally reversed.

Meanwhile, former President Michal Kováč said in an interview with the ČTK newswire on August 21, 2010 that he hopes the current government will manage to cancel the amnesties, which he believes have hindered the investigation of his son’s abduction. Kováč added that he believes Mečiar should be prosecuted in connection with the abduction.

“He is responsible for the abduction of my son,” Kováč told ČTK. “He should be prosecuted, yes. Although belatedly, he should be.”

Kováč Jr survived his abduction, although a go-between for a witness in the case later died when his car mysteriously exploded in 1996. Several secret service employees were later implicated over the incident, though none were ever charged.

President Kováč and Mečiar were once political allies, but had fallen out by 1995. At the time of the abduction Kováč was Mečiar’s most senior political opponent.


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