“The Czech Republic should spare no effort to address the long-standing problem of the exclusion of Roma people and people with disabilities, and to ensure that they can live in equality and dignity”, said Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, today, following her five-day visit to the Czech Republic.
The two main issues the Commissioner addressed during her visit, the rights of Roma and the rights of people with disabilities, have been a constant focus of her Office ever since it first started addressing these twenty years ago. “While there have been some positive developments, I am concerned at the persistence of many of the same problems of discrimination and exclusion that each of my predecessors identified”, said the Commissioner. She emphasised that concerted efforts were necessary to effect a real breakthrough, so that these problems, which negatively affect the groups involved, but also society as a whole, do not linger in the years to come.
The Commissioner noted that Roma continue to face discrimination in virtually every area of life, including education, housing, employment, as well as in their interaction with the police. The Commissioner also discussed the treatment of Ukrainian Roma, which stands in contrast to that of other Ukrainian refugees, and which has highlighted the deep-rooted prejudices against Roma that still exist in Czech society.
The Commissioner met with victims of forced sterilisation and discussed ongoing problems that many of them still face in effectively accessing the compensation mechanism that is now in place. “The establishment of this compensation mechanism was a crucial signal of the willingness of the Czech Republic to tackle this historical injustice. It is important to now get this right to ensure victims are not further humiliated and traumatised.” The Commissioner called for a quick resolution to evidentiary issues, especially when medical records had been destroyed, to provide clear guidance on the assessment of applications, to reassess rejected cases in view of such guidance, and to speed up the process so that victims would finally see justice done.
The Commissioner paid specific attention to inclusive education, since ensuring that children of all backgrounds and abilities, including Roma children and children with disabilities, can learn together is a fundamental building block for a more tolerant and fair society. In this respect, the Commissioner addressed numerous issues, including the need to ensure that pedagogical assistance remains fully available to those who need it, and to tackle discriminatory practices in relation to enrolment or the drafting of catchment areas. The Commissioner also noted with concern that continuing efforts to refine testing tools had not prevented Roma children from being diverted into lower quality or separate education. “A real paradigm shift is necessary to move away from the focus on testing, since this still acts as a tool of exclusion in the education system”, the Commissioner stated.
The Commissioner also noted that many people with disabilities continue to live or undergo long-term treatment in large-scale institutions. “Efforts to deinstitutionalise the social and health care systems and to fully move to community-based support for people with disabilities should be redoubled”, the Commissioner said. The Commissioner also discussed the conditions in institutions, including reported instances of serious ill-treatment. Other areas requiring urgent attention include safeguards in relation to involuntary treatment and the deprivation of legal capacity. Further steps are also necessary to ensure accessibility of public places, media and information.
The Commissioner visited the Grafická primary school in Prague, and the Centre for Social Services in Stod. In their respective areas of inclusive education and community-based social care for people with disabilities, these places show that change is possible. Through a combination of inspirational leadership, close cooperation with communities, and persistence, the school and centre had both gone through a remarkable transformation, which should act as an example for the entire country. However, this requires, first and foremost, a radical shift in mindset of all those involved, which puts inclusion at its heart.
The Commissioner welcomed that the authorities were generally very aware of the above-mentioned issues, and that they had developed numerous strategies and action plans to address these. However, there continued to be a fragmentation of responsibilities, both at the central government level and between the state and the regional and municipal authorities, which created significant barriers for the successful and full attainment of these policies. “There are many good ideas and intentions that could really help Czech society to become more inclusive, but these need proper implementation and enforcement. Unfortunately, an important gap still exists here.”
The Commissioner discussed the Istanbul Convention and welcomed the readiness of her interlocutors to move its ratification forward. “The time is right for the Czech Republic to join this gold standard in the protection of women and girls from violence against women and domestic violence”, the Commissioner emphasised. Among other issues discussed, the Commissioner also urged the authorities to take concrete steps to improve the protection of the rights of LGBTI people.
The Commissioner’s visit also provided an opportunity to follow up on her emergency mission of March 2022 on the situation of people fleeing the Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine. She discussed the ongoing challenges to take care of large numbers of refugees in the Czech Republic, which has become one of the main host countries for people fleeing Ukraine. The Commissioner acknowledged and welcomed the extraordinary efforts made by the Czech authorities and the people of the Czech Republic in this regard.
During her visit, the Commissioner met with the authorities, the Public Defender of Rights, UNHCR, and numerous representatives of civil society. The Commissioner’s report on her visit to the Czech Republic is forthcoming.