OMBUDSWOMAN Jana Dubovcová has finally made it to parliament, but the outcome of the debate on how the government treated her and her report pointing to serious violations of human rights by state bodies in its policy toward Roma is not quite what her supporters were looking for.
In a vote orchestrated by the ruling Smer party, the deputies expressed concerns over what Smer called an abuse of the issue to stir anti-Roma and anti-police sentiments, with the speaker of parliament proposing to move Dubovcová’s office out of Bratislava to the eastern part of the country. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Robert Fico weighed in on the ongoing controversy surrounding a controversial violent police raid on a Roma settlement near Moldava nad Bodvou, by stopping in to visit with police there while bypassing the Roma settlement.
“From what I have heard during the discussion of deputies, I concluded that one of the reasons why the parliament and government did not allow a discussion on my findings about the approach of our bodies towards the Roma could be hidden racism of influential politicians,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator on February 5.
At the specially summoned session of parliament on January 30, which featured what some have termed hate speech by a high Smer official, deputies of the ruling party rejected a resolution drafted by the opposition condemning the government’s treatment of Dubovcová. Instead they passed a text submitted by head of the Smer caucus Jana Laššáková, the SITA newswire reported.
Fico backs police
“I reject the idea that in Slovakia an atmosphere is created where if the police use means that the law makes possible, it is at odds with the human rights,” Fico said on February 1 during his visit to the Moldava nad Bodvou police, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Thus, I want the police in Slovakia to know that the Slovak government simply is standing behind them.”
According to Fico, the police are meant to help and protect, but when necessary they should use force in line with the law. Fico however argued that he did not travel to Moldava to assess the police raid from last June.
The Roma settlement informally named Budulovská was raided by 63 police officers on June 19, 2013. They were 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 settlement, none of the 15 detained were ever charged with a crime resulting from the clash. Several of the Roma were injured. An NGO active in the settlement, ETP Slovensko, documented the injuries with photographs.
Dubovcová noted that when Fico visited Moldava nad Bodvou, he was just a few kilometres from the very Roma settlement.
“If the prime minister had no other barriers, then he would have managed the geographical distance to the settlement, sending out a signal that he is a prime minister for all, not only a group of citizens,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator.
Fico suggested that the visit to the police station had not been planned in advance, but while he was in the region he simply had the urge to stop by: “Some statements, often even irresponsible, made against the police, encourage different asocial elements. It was my job, and I did it with great pleasure, to encourage the police”.
Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, who accompanied Fico, told the press that similar police operations have been conducted in the past, and will be carried out in the future as well, according to SITA.
Moving to the east
In lieu of dealing with the merit of Dubovcová’s report, Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška proposed to relocate Dubovcová’s office to Košice, where she would be housed in the building of the Constitutional Court. Fico has called it a reasonable idea. Paška argued that Dubovcová would be closer to the problems she wishes to assess.
“Since I have examined conditions in six prisons, will he then move my office to a prison?” Dubovcová asked, while suggesting the proposal reflects a “lack of understanding about the whole range of activities of the public defender of rights”.
If Dubovcová wants to be interested in marginalised groups, about what happens to the Roma, she should be closer to these people, Fico said during the opening of a new departure terminal at the Poprad Airport on January 31, according to SITA.
Dubovcová suggested that the prime minister is wrong since the Constitution does not define her role as having to solve problems; on the contrary, the problems should be resolved by the government, and she believes the government should address the issues she has already pointed out. She explained at a press conference that the relocation of her office would require severance payments for employees costing the equivalent of up to a full-year’s budget of her office.
Human rights council reacts
Meanwhile, Police President Tibor Gašpar said during the February session of the government’s human rights council that in assessing the Moldava nad Bodvou raid one should wait for the results of the investigative bodies. The Prešov-based prosecutor’s office is responding after an initiative from the General Prosecutor’s Office concluded on January 16 that there were grounds for starting a criminal prosecution in association with the incident.
Yet, Dubovcová warned that even if prosecution bodies conclude that no crime was committed, it is still a valid concern that the police could have violated the rights and freedoms of some inhabitants in Moldava nad Bodvou, SITA wrote.
While Gašpar said that he fully respects the institution of the ombudswoman, he also suggested that he is confused when the arguments arguments made by police in defence of the raid are considered irrelevant. The police president argued that the police are intervening at settlements on a weekly basis, while the interest of the police is to protect rights that the Roma mutually violate.
Since last summer, human rights institutions have confronted Slovakia over this issue. Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák told the Human Rights Council meeting that an assessment of guilt or innocence must come after the investigations are complete. Lajčák said the raid should be investigated without delay so that society gets clear answers.
Roman Cuprik contributed to this report
10. Feb 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová