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NGOs: Investigation of raid insufficient

IN A CASE already drawing concerns from international human rights groups, the Interior Ministry found no police failings in a mid-June police raid that allegedly left dozens of Roma injured in the Budulovská settlement near the eastern-Slovak town of Moldava nad Bodvou. Yet, non-governmental organisations, like ETP Slovensko, a non-profit group that works with ethnic minorities, Amnesty International Slovensko and the European Roma Rights Centre, are calling the investigation insufficient.

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák(Source: TASR)

IN A CASE already drawing concerns from international human rights groups, the Interior Ministry found no police failings in a mid-June police raid that allegedly left dozens of Roma injured in the Budulovská settlement near the eastern-Slovak town of Moldava nad Bodvou. Yet, non-governmental organisations, like ETP Slovensko, a non-profit group that works with ethnic minorities, Amnesty International Slovensko and the European Roma Rights Centre, are calling the investigation insufficient.

In July, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had asked ministry officials to investigate the incident, which involved some 50 SWAT unit police officers and drew condemnation from local human rights watchdogs.

“In this case I am standing behind the police raid since it was conducted correctly and was justified,” Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said on July 30 in response to the investigation request from the government proxy for the Roma community Peter Pollák, as reported by the SITA newswire.

The Slovak police have also dismissed claims of inappropriate action in association with the June 19 raid, with Police President Tibor Gašpar telling the parliamentary committee for human rights on July 3 that information circulating about the police raid has been misleading and untrue.

Nevertheless, ETP has called on the respective bodies to secure an in-depth investigation of the case due to what it called “the prevailing serious suspicions about the inappropriate use of coercive means and illegal proceeding on part of the police based on existing evidence, which however was not the subject of the investigation”.

The group also called for publishing the full text of the investigation for the sake of “public control”, the TASR newswire reported August 2.

Eyewitnesses claim that members of a SWAT unit, in approximately 20 cars, rode into Moldava nad Bodvou’s Budulovská Roma settlement late in the afternoon on June 19 and raided homes of the Roma, according to a statement issued by ETP Slovensko. Police detained 15 people. Some 30 people were injured during the raid, according to the group.

The raid was preceded by a conflict involving some settlement residents with a police patrol after a party on the night of June 16, according to ETP Slovensko. That conflict saw police detain two local Roma men. One was released four days later and the other remains in custody, according to the Sme daily. Both are being prosecuted in connection with the clash, during which a police patrol car was damaged. Locals contend that the June 19 raid came as revenge for the earlier incident, according to the testimonies recorded by the Roma Media Centre (MECEM).

However, Kaliňák on July 30 said that the police did nothing more than check the identity of 18 people, with coercive means required for just seven people.

“All have been evaluated as justified,” Kaliňák said, as quoted by SITA, adding that coercive means were applied only to males, and refuting media reports about a child being injured during the raid.

According to Kaliňák, the raid was a standard police action. He added that last year there were 228 identical police actions performed. Over the first six months of this year there were 111 such actions, he said.

“As a matter of fact, over the past two weeks, there was no transgression there,” the minister said, adding that the incident has been overblown.

However, the NGOs argue that the inspection checked only written materials of the police and focused on statements of the intervening members of the police, SITA reported on August 2, adding that village residents, as the concerned party, should have been interviewed. That is the basic attribute of any investigation into whether the police acted appropriately, the NGOs claim.

The fact that the inspection did not even interview village residents has, according to the NGOs, a substantial influence on the results of the investigation and its objectivity and trustworthiness. ETP and the witnesses are ready to provide the investigators with further evidence, they say. According to the ETP, the testimonies of witnesses, audiovisual materials capturing the impact of the raid as well as medical records of people who after the raid sought medical help in Moldava nad Bodvou and Košice, could help to clarify the case, SITA reported.

In response to the results of the official investigation, Pollák said his powers do not enable him to assess the legality and legitimacy of the police operation in question, TASR reported. Pollák has also stated that after meeting representatives of the injured Roma, the mayor and local councillors in Moldava nad Bodvou and with the police officers who conducted the operation, he was confronted with two opposing accounts of the events. Pollák admitted the action seems rather “controversial”, TASR reported.

Pollák said he is ready to assist the police in introducing measures that would facilitate a more objective assessment of operations and would have a preventive effect on people’s behaviour and on the way in which they are treated during police actions.

Police have also been criticised for failing to make video recordings of the raid, with Kaliňák saying that in the future the police will probably change this practice. The recording, he said, would have proven that the raid was in line with the rules, SITA wrote. Pollák has proposed that police prepare video recordings of such operations.

Kaliňák and Gašpar will try to elaborate guidelines for preparing recordings from such police actions with the minister saying that “we have to do it in a way that a third of the police are not used for shooting [the videos]”.

Janez Lenarčič, director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, sent a letter to Slovak officials on July 2 asking “for information about measures the Interior Ministry passed with the aim of securing the independent, thorough and effective investigation of the police action”, the Interior Ministry’s Ivan Netík told Sme last month.

Lenarčič also pointed to a 2003 OSCE action plan which called for improving relations between police and Roma, questioning whether those goals had been met. That document proposed creating a code of ethics for police officers, as well as specific methods for dealing with Roma.

The report on the inspection of police intervention does not include the names of witnesses or police officers involved, evidence or an explanation of the proceedings during the investigation, according to Sme, which obtained the report based on a Freedom of Information Act request, as reported in its August 7 issue. Sme quotes Martin Vavrinčík of ETP as saying that “most of the text explains legal regulations”.

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