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Czechs and Slovaks not doing enough on Roma and gay rights

  • Roma village in Slovakia (Photo: Blue Delliquanti)

The Czech republic and Slovakia are not still not doing enough to protect the rights of the Roma population, the Council of Europe said on Tuesday (13 October).

In two separate reports, the pan-European institution pointed out the continued discrimination of Roma, low access to education and the prevalence of hate speech.

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In the Czech republic, "the continued discrimination of Roma, in particular of Roma children, is a serious concern," Council of Europe secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland said in a statement.

The report published by the Council's commission against racism and intolerance (ECRI) expresses regret that 'Roma-only' schools continue to exist, providing a reduced curriculum and lower-quality education.

"No specific and measurable targets have been fixed for transfers of Roma children from practical to ordinary education and none appear to have taken place in practice," the report says.

It also notes that "discrimination and prejudice are still the key factors hindering labour market integration of Roma. Discrimination in housing has led to Roma having to rent accommodation in private hostels or dormitories at extremely high prices".

The ECRI studied Czech media coverage of Roma and found that "a large part of reporting about Roma is comprised of news of anti-Roma marches, increasing Roma criminality and the growing anti-Roma sentiment of the majority population. Most news items reviewed used the term "Roma", although the labels "Gypsy" and "inadaptable" also cropped up, usually as quotations from people interviewed."

The Council of Europe notes that the Czech republic adopted a concept for Roma integration and an anti-discrimination act in 2009. But it regrets that the concept "had little effect" and asks that the act's disposition "on the sharing of the burden of proof should apply in all cases and on all grounds".

On a symbolic level, the Council also demands that "a solution [is] found in order to relocate the pig farm away from the Roma Holocaust site in Lety", in the south-west of the country.

The report notes "a broad tolerance for LGBT persons in the country", with 80 percent of people agreeing that "society should accept homosexuality".

According to a poll cited by the report, "36 percent felt discriminated or harassed because of their sexual orientation in the year preceding the survey", against a European average of 47 percent.

The ECRI notes however that "in the case of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, the sharing [of the burden of proof] may only occur when discrimination is alleged in the field of employment".

It asks that the Czech Criminal Code "include specific references to the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity".

In another report also published Tuesday, the Council's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, asks Slovakia "to step up its efforts aimed at combating and eradicating discrimination in law and practice".

Muiznieks notes that although "Slovakia has a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the protection against discrimination", authorities "should continue the reform of the anti-discrimination framework so as to close gaps in the level of protection afforded on various grounds of discrimination, including gender."

The report expresses concern over "the frequent allegations of excessive use of force by police officers during raids carried out in Roma settlements".

It also points out "the chronic, pervasive segregation of Roma children in the education system and their very high drop-out levels from school" as well as "the lack of access of Roma to adequate housing and the continued practice of segregation of Roma settlements from non-Roma communities".

Muiznieks, however, "welcomes the recent legislative developments which aim, inter alia, to regularise the situation of some 10,000 existing informal dwellings".

The commissioner also express concerns about "the growing negative rhetoric and hate speech directed against LGBTI persons in recent years and urges the authorities to take measures to extend the provisions of domestic hate speech legislation to cover sexual orientation and gender identity."

According to a poll cited by the commissioner, 52% of Slovakia's LGBTI persons "considered that they had been discriminated on the grounds of their sexual orientation in the 12 months preceding the survey" and 64 percent considered that the violent incidents against them in the past year "were partly or entirely due to being LGBT persons".

But Slovakia, Muiznieks notes, is going to adopt an action plan for the rights of LGBTI persons and establish an advisory committee with competencies in this area. "These are positive developments," he writes.

He also invites the authorities to protect same-sex couples, as well as different sex couples, and reminds that the European Court of Human Rights considers that "cohabiting same-sex couples living in stable de facto partnerships fall within the notion of 'family life'".

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