WHILE Slovak state officials turned a deaf ear to Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová’s report pointing to serious human rights violations by state bodies in its policy toward Roma and proposed to relocate her office from Bratislava to the east instead, the diplomatic community awarded her a prize.
The United States Embassy in Bratislava presented Dubovcová with the Human Rights Defender Award on April 2 in recognition for “her efforts to defend and promote the rights of all Slovak citizens, and to ensure those rights are recognised and upheld by all relevant institutions throughout Slovakia”, the embassy wrote in a memo sent to The Slovak Spectator.
Oľga Pietruchová of the Labour, Social Affairs and Family Ministry’s gender equality department received the embassy’s Woman of Courage Award for her “valiant efforts to uphold and promote the rights of all people, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” the embassy said.
“We at the US Embassy admire and respect the work both of these impressive individuals have done to strengthen the human rights environment in Slovakia,” US Ambassador to Slovakia Theodore Sedgwick said. “The examples they set daily have a direct impact on the lives of many, and I applaud their valiant efforts”.
According to the embassy, the activities of Dubovcová send a clear message “that everyone has basic rights, and that since anyone’s rights can be abused, everyone’s rights must and will be defended”. She has taken brave steps to systematically protect the rights of all Slovak residents, including those who are most vulnerable, and often ignored, the embassy said.
“Key to why we selected Ombudswoman Dubovcová was how she worked so tirelessly, despite clear opposition to her efforts, to make the government, parliament and the entire country aware of the human rights abuses that continue to take place throughout Slovakia,” said US Embassy spokesman Matthew Miller.
The ignored efforts
Dubovcová has tried in vain to get the government to discuss her report, which points to serious violations of human rights by state bodies in its policy toward Roma, including the controversial and violent police raid in a Roma settlement near Moldava nad Bodvou.
Instead, state officials accused Dubovcová of violating the law and mixing politics with her human rights agenda. At the specially summoned session of parliament on January 30, which featured what some have termed hate speech by a high-level Smer official, deputies of the ruling party rejected a resolution drafted by the opposition condemning the government’s treatment of Dubovcová.
Then, in a vote orchestrated by the ruling Smer, 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.
Since last summer, international groups have confronted Slovakia over the controversial police raid.
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.
After Dubovcová tried to draw the government’s attention to the raid, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák accused her of lying, threatening police officers and harassing the government on political grounds.
Although the ministry’s first investigation of the raid found nothing wrong when assessing the incident, a subsequent independent probe resulted in the launch of a criminal prosecution over four acts: the abuse of powers of a public official, the violation of privacy, stirring mayhem and the crime of torture and other inhumane or cruel treatment.
7. Apr 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová