THE PREVIOUS post of a deputy prime minister for human rights is now history after the government of Prime Minister Robert Fico eliminated the position within the Government Office. Nevertheless an advisory body that has responsibility for overseeing human rights in Slovakia is still functioning and that has been welcomed by representatives of NGOs who were concerned that the council might be eliminated as well. But since the council has no specific committee that monitors the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents in Slovakia, that community is calling for a new committee to be formed within the council.
The responsibilities of the previous deputy prime minister for human rights and national minorities has been distributed among several of Slovakia’s ministries, with human rights issues falling under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Miroslav Lajčák, the foreign affairs minister, became the new chair of the government’s Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality, informally known as the human rights council, on June 20, when the council’s statute was changed.
The changes transferred authority related to human rights from the Government Office to the Foreign Ministry and not only made the foreign affairs minister the chair of the council but also designated that his deputies would be the ministers of labour, justice, education and culture and one representative from the NGO sector. The activities of the council are administered by the human rights section of the Foreign Ministry, Renáta Goldírová, the spokeswoman for the ministry, told The Slovak Spectator.
No LGBT committee in place
The current government, however, has not made a change in what was perceived by human rights watchdogs as a mistake by the previous government: the council’s new statute does not include a committee to deal exclusively with the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.
NGOs involved with human rights issues and the rights of LGBT persons have called on the Fico government to include such a committee among the working bodies of the council.
“When the council and its committees were being defined, it was to be based on the original principle that every ground for discrimination as defined by the Anti-Discrimination Act should be given its own committee in the council,” a group of NGOs wrote in an open letter to the government, noting that the previous cabinet had violated this principle and refused to establish such a committee due to opposition from ministers from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
KDH strongly opposed
The cabinet of former prime minister Iveta Radičová dissolved a number of the government’s advisory bodies in March 2011 – the separate councils for national minorities and ethnic groups, NGOs, seniors, disabled people and gender equality as well as the committee of ministers for children – and replaced them with a newly-established Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality to advise the deputy prime minister for national minorities, a post held then by Rudolf Chmel from Most-Híd party.
After the March 10 general election, representatives of NGOs serving on the Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality, as well deputy prime minister Chmel, said that this advisory body was particularly important and should continue to be based in the Government Office.
Adriana Mesochoritsová of the Možnosť voľby civic initiative called the creation of the council in 2011 a breakthrough approach in Slovakia.
“This council, which serves as an advisory body to the government, has great potential to create a comprehensive approach to the protection and support of human rights and to solve the problems of all disadvantaged groups,” she told The Slovak Spectator.
In May 2011 the new council proposed that seven committees be created under its auspices, based on the grounds for discrimination as defined by Slovakia’s Anti-Discrimination Act, among them a committee to monitor the rights of LGBT citizens. The cabinet agreed to establish six committees but balked at the idea of one for LGBT rights.
“We regard this to be a homophobic act by Iveta Radičová’s government since the other proposed committees have been created,” said Július Kolenič from the Inakosť civic initiative, charging that the LGBT community is the only group protected by the anti-discrimination law without a committee within the council.
Romana Schlesinger, an LGBT rights activist from the Queer Leaders’ Forum, an NGO, and an organiser of the Rainbow Pride event termed the previous government’s decision “political” and said that the KDH had made it clear that the statute of the new council would be passed by the cabinet only without the LGBT committee.
“We regard this committee as being redundant, since human rights issues of all citizens are dealt with by the Government Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality,” KDH spokesperson Matej Kováč told The Slovak Spectator last May.
NGOs appeal to social-democratic principles
“Discrimination based on sexual orientation is as serious as discrimination based on race, origin or colour,” the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in February 2012, according to the letter to the government written by the NGOs, adding that arbitrary, lesser weight given to any of the outlawed reasons for discrimination within the government’s council is unacceptable.
The NGOs also appealed to the Smer-led government on the basis of social-democratic principles, stating that other European social-democratic parties within the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the European Parliament have called for securing “the same dignity, freedom and equal access to rights, education, culture and public services for all, regardless of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or age”, as stated in a declaration of principles enunciated by the PES.
“Since the government led by Robert Fico [of Smer] has declared similar principles, we expect it to right the mistakes of the previous government and remove the underprivileged status of one of the forbidden grounds for discrimination within the structure of the council, thus sending a clear signal that it puts equal weight on fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as on other kinds of discrimination,” the open letter states.
“We will consider the committees that the council currently has and we will submit to the government a proposal for their further changes or widening,” stated foreign affairs minister Lajčák.
A proposal should be submitted to the Human Rights Council shortly, “very probably as early as at its first session”, Goldírová of the ministry told The Slovak Spectator, but she did not specify whether a specific LGBT committee will be proposed at that time.
2. Jul 2012 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani