INTERIOR Minister Robert Kaliňák is responding to critics who allege human rights violations occurred as part of a June 2013 police raid on a Roma settlement near Moldava nad Bodvou in eastern Slovakia. In doing so he urged people to “let the police work” and alleged that inquiries into the case risk turning law enforcement officers “into bystanders” who are afraid to take action when it is needed.
In an opinion piece facetiously titled “I am a racist” published by the Sme daily on January 22, Kaliňák asserts that: “The activists, journalists and also the ombudswoman, none of them have stood up for the rights of the majority citizens in Moldava nad Bodvou, who on a daily basis are being terrorised by people from socially excluded groups.”
“Slovaks are not racists; they do not mind the Roma, Arabs, Asians,” Kaliňák wrote. “They mind people who are un-adjustable and who continuously violate laws.”
Kaliňák was commenting on a June 19 incident, during which 63 police officers raided the Roma settlement informally named Budulovská, purportedly seeking seven men for which they had arrest warrants. They found none of those men, but violence ensued and 15 other Roma were taken to the police station.
While police allege they were attacked upon entering the 800-person settlement, none of the 15 detained were ever charged with a crime resulting from the clash. Several of the Roma were injured, and at least one of them contends that he underwent two more severe beatings at the police station itself. A second alleges he left the station bleeding from his rectum. An NGO active in the settlement, ETP Slovensko, documented the injuries with photographs.
“They told us, ‘Every time you speak, you will be beaten’,” Milan Hudák, 30, said during an interview in September 2013. He was beaten and tasered, he said, before being taken to the police station and beaten twice more.
“They said, ‘We will break your arm so you can’t write and your mouth so you can’t speak’,” Hudák added.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, looked into the incident and concluded that there was no wrongdoing by police officers. However, an investigation by Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová concluded that there were grounds for concern over the incident and questions about the objectivity of the Interior Ministry’s follow-up investigation. That report never made it before the full parliament, as it was shelved by a committee dominated by the ruling Smer party, of which Kaliňák is a leading member.
Months later, Dubovcová was invited to address the cabinet during its January 8 session to report on her findings. Instead, she was blocked from speaking and Prime Minister Robert Fico lectured her on the legal conditions surrounding such cases, she said.
The United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and other international groups have expressed their own misgivings about the incident and the subsequent investigation.
Dubovcová made several recommendations to police for reforms that could prevent such incidents and allegations from occurring in the future. Among them was a call to use recording devices when engaging in such raids to maintain a record. She told The Slovak Spectator that the actions of the police in Moldava nad Bodvou “evoke justified doubts about its inevitability or appropriateness and, unfortunately, since June 2013, I have not been informed about the adoption of concrete preventive measures”.
“In my opinion it is a mistake that the police and the Interior Ministry have not adopted these measures and that the government did not discuss them,” Dubovcová said.
Kaliňák frames the incident as a straightforward security and criminal problem and argues it is being distorted by human rights groups. In a September 2013 interview he was unapologetic about the raid. He alleges that Dubovcová is acting with political motivations in an attempt to harm him and the government.
Kaliňák’s January 22 piece included a lengthy listing of crime statistics from the Roma settlement where the raid occurred. Kaliňák writes that “the average crime rate for the citizens of this settlement is multiple times higher than the average for the whole of Slovakia”. Of the 404 citizens registered at Budulovská No. 26, 28, 30, 32, there are 112 people who are “criminally responsible”, of which 64 have a criminal record. Altogether they committed 493 crimes, he claimed.
“Thus it is not OK to say that there is a non-problematic community in question,” Kaliňák wrote.
Reaction and scepticism
Martin Vavrinčík with the Košice office of ETP Slovensko, who works in the settlement, told The Slovak Spectator that he has no evidence to dispute Kaliňák’s crime numbers, but notes that Kaliňák also wrote in his piece that some 1,400 people live in the Roma settlement, nearly double the 800 who actually do.
“If that number is incorrect, it certainly draws into question some of the others,” he said.
Vavrinčík also noted that Kaliňák has yet to visit the settlement in person.
“We want to invite him to speak to the victims,” he said. “We go there every day without the assistance of the police.”
Dubovcová has sought to highlight at least two major issues. The first is to gain a full understanding of what occurred during the raid and, if necessary, proceed with criminal cases. The second is the lack of transparency with which the follow-up investigation has been handled.
The Prešov-based prosecutor’s office concluded on January 16 that there were grounds for opening a criminal case in association with the incident, which includes allegations of unlawful beatings by police officers, unjustified detention and questionable entries into private homes.
“This is at least a sign that there are some doubts about the police version of events,” Vavrinčík said.
But in what has become somewhat of a circular process, once again it will be someone from Kaliňák’s Interior Ministry – this time an investigator at its Banská Bystrica inspection department – that will work the case.
Vavrinčík is not optimistic about the results.
“A final outcome will require us to go before international bodies,” he said.
Such a process is likely to take years, as cases that go before the European Court of Human Rights, for example, must first proceed through all domestic legal channels. Vavrinčík said that ETP Slovensko is prepared to carry forward with such efforts. He also expressed doubt that Kaliňák, a likely prime minister to-be should Fico win presidential elections in the spring, will ever admit wrongdoing or missteps by the police or his ministry.
“There is no way for him to turn back now,” Vavrinčík said.