Czech Republic: “Equal education for Roma children should be guaranteed”, says Commissioner Hammarberg

Strasbourg, 22/11/10  – “There has been virtually no change on the ground in the Czech Republic since the European Court of Human Rights found three years ago that the country had discriminated against Roma children by educating them in schools for children with mental disabilities.” This was concluded by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg after a three-day visit to the Czech Republic. He stated that the implementation of this landmark judgment (D.H. and Others v the Czech Republic)" is, worryingly, delayed and it is not clear that this will change in the near future”.

Commissioner Hammarberg welcomes the fact that an action plan to promote inclusive education for all children, including Roma children, is finally in place. The Czech authorities are also to be commended for establishing statistics on the situation of Roma children in education. However, with these statistics indicating that Roma children are still 12 times more likely than their non-Roma peers across the country to be educated in special schools offering inferior education – and much more likely than that in certain regions – “it is abundantly clear that the time is now for concrete action”.

The Czech authorities should now set clear, measurable and ambitious targets for transfers of children from special to ordinary education and for overall desegregation of the school system. With thousands of Roma children lost to the mainstream education system in the Czech Republic and condemned to a future as second-class citizens every year, the Commissioner urges the Czech authorities to ensure that the next intake of children in the 2011-2012 school year will finally mark a clear change of direction.

Roma persons remain the main target of hate crime. However, the Czech authorities have taken a more proactive approach to investigations, prosecutions and sentencing in recent years. The authorities report that the extreme right-wing movements are less active at the moment as a result of this approach. According to the Commissioner, these efforts must now be built upon and sustained in accordance with Council of Europe standards on recording racist incidents and responding to racist offences. It is particularly important to ensure that efforts to counter hate crimes are not limited to crimes committed by members of extremist groups.

The situation of women sterilised in the past without informed consent – the majority of them Roma – has registered a positive development in November 2009, with the Czech government’s expression of regrets over unlawful instances of sterilisation. However, due notably to legal obstacles, difficulties in obtaining evidence and the absence of an out-of-court settlement mechanism, these women are at present unable in practice to obtain compensation for what happened to them. “According to the information I could gather, only one woman has so far been able to do so”, said Commissioner Hammarberg, underlining the need to remedy this situation. The Commissioner was also informed that long-awaited legal changes to healthcare legislation on sterilisation and informed consent are expected to be adopted in the first semester of 2011.

Commissioner Hammarberg finds that there is a still a widespread and disturbing presence of anti-Gypsyism in Czech society, including public and political debate. This unfortunately provides fertile grounds for the problems experienced by Roma in the areas mentioned above as well as elsewhere, including the segregation of Roma in marginalised localities, a phenomenon which is reportedly increasing, and the placement of Roma children in institutional care.

During his visit, Commissioner Hammarberg held discussions with a number of authorities, including the Minister of Interior, Mr Radek John, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Karel Schwarzenberg, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr Marek Ženišek, the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Ladislav Němec and the Deputy Minister of Health, Mr Martin Plišek. He also met with representatives of the Section for Human Rights of the Office of the Government and the Deputy Ombudsperson, Mrs Jitka Seitlová.

Commissioner Hammarberg also held discussions with a number of non-governmental organisations and visited Roma communities in two different localities in Kladno.


Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37; stefano.montanari@coe.int

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