Slovakia: “Segregation and anti-Gypsyism at the core of Roma exclusion”

Strasbourg, 20/12/11 – "Concrete action to counter anti-Gypsyism and discrimination against Roma must be given priority by the authorities of Slovakia" said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing today his report following a visit to Slovakia carried out from 26 to 27 September 2011, which focuses on the protection of the human rights of Roma and persons with disabilities.

Racist and anti-Roma discourse is still common among mainstream politicians in Slovakia, as well as in the broadcasting and print media. "The Slovak authorities should increase their efforts to prevent the spreading of such prejudices, including by promoting self-regulation within political parties and the media and implementing more thoroughly the relevant criminal provisions."

In order to address continuing reported instances of violent hate crimes targeting ethnic minorities, including Roma, the Commissioner calls on the Slovak authorities to better apply the criminal law provisions establishing racial motivation as an aggravating circumstance.

The Slovak authorities have taken initiatives to tackle misconduct of law enforcement officers targeting Roma, but this practice persists. Efforts underway must therefore be extended, ensuring that effective investigations take place and any officials found responsible is adequately punished. "The Slovak authorities should consider the establishment of a body, independent from the police and prosecution authorities, able to investigate police misconduct, including in cases of racial discrimination", the Commissioner said.

The Commissioner is concerned that many Roma children in Slovakia continue to receive education of lower quality than their non-Roma peers due to policies and practices resulting in segregation. "Roma children are disproportionately placed in special schools for children with mild mental disabilities or assigned to Roma-only mainstream schools or classes. There is an urgent need to address this situation by fostering inclusive education."

Roma families also suffer from inadequate housing and a number of interconnected problems, including sub-standard material conditions, segregation, lack of security of tenure and difficulties accessing social housing. "Authorities at all levels should invest in the development of safe and affordable housing solutions for Roma in integrated communities and avoid housing programmes and practices that currently result in segregation. Walls separating Roma from non-Roma areas should be dismantled and never rebuilt. The Commissioner further recommends improvements in the material conditions prevailing in many Roma settlements, including ensuring access to potable water, electricity, sewage and waste removal, as well as transportation and road provisions.

Progress remains to be made in Slovakia in dealing with past practices and with cases of sterilisation of Roma women without their full and informed consent. Effective investigations into all such allegations and adequate punishment of those responsible must be ensured. "This includes both adequate compensation and a public acknowledgment and expression of regret over forced sterilisations" said the Commissioner.

Another concern is that many Roma children are placed in institutional care. "No child should be placed in institutional care solely on grounds relating to the poor housing conditions or financial situation of the child's family. Priority should be given to supporting and fostering the development of the child within the family, while the institutionalisation of children, including Roma children, should remain the exception."

The Commissioner notes that many persons with disabilities in Slovakia live in large institutions separated from the rest of society and that most children with intellectual disabilities are educated in special schools. "These situations of separation must be reversed" said the Commissioner as he called on the Slovak authorities to adopt a comprehensive action plan on de-institutionalisation and "make concrete advances in meeting their obligation to provide children with disabilities with inclusive education in mainstream schools." Furthermore, the Commissioner notes that persons with psycho-social or intellectual disabilities are often deprived of their legal capacity to make important decisions concerning their lives, including family matters, heath, and political participation. "Instead, these persons should be provided with the specific assistance they may need to take these decisions", he said.

On the same day, the Commissioner also published a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia, Mr Rudolf Chmel, calling for further efforts to achieve a fair balance between the promotion of the State language and the protection and promotion of national minority languages, with the aim to prevent tensions between communities.