HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE REVIEWS SITUATION
OF CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS IN SLOVAKIA
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 18 July (UN Information Service) -- The Human Rights Committee has concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Slovakia on its compliance with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report at the end of its four-week session on 8 August.
Introducing his country's report, Igor Grexa, Director-General of the International Law and Consular Affairs Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, said that in response to recommendations made by the Committee after consideration of the initial report of Slovakia, the Government had amended the Constitution in 2001 to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. Now judges were appointed by the President of the Republic based on a proposal of the Judicial Council, and they were appointed for an indefinite period of time. Important changes had also occurred in the field of tenure, dismissal and disciplining of members of the judiciary.
Over the course of the discussion yesterday afternoon and this morning, Committee experts asked, among other things, about the lack of services for minority languages; about reports on the continued acts of placing Roma children in special schools together with mentally disabled children and the systematic and forced sterilization of Roma women; and about the absence of Roma deputies in the Slovak Parliament.
In response, the delegation said there was no policy on segregation, and the allegations of forced sterilization were unfounded. The finding of an inquiry had revealed that there was no evidence that the State had pursued a policy of sterilization.
Also representing Slovakia were Barbara Illkova, Deputy Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Peter Prochacka, Director of the Department of Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Peter Guran, Director-General of the Social Inclusion Section, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family; Robert Dohanyos, Director-General, Minority Culture Section, Ministry of Culture; Jaroslav Palov, Director of the Office for International Police Cooperation at the Presidium of the Police Corps; Marta Sikrova, of the Department of Minority Education, Ministry of Education; Daniela Geisbacherova, of the Department of International Law, Ministry of Defence; Alexandra Kapisovska, of the Department of International Relations and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice; and Daniel Belansky, of the Department of Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Slovakia is among the 150 States parties to the International Covenant and as such it is obligated to submit periodic reports to the Committee on its compliance with the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will meet in private. It is scheduled to take up the third periodic report of Portugal (CCPR/PRT/2002/3) when it meets at 10 a.m. on Monday, 21 July.
Report of Slovakia
The second periodic report of Slovakia (CCPR/C/SVK/2003/2) relates the major activities carried out by the State party in order to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Among other things, it says that since the presentation of the initial report, institutional mechanisms for the protection and observance of human rights have been strengthened in the country. In 1998, the Government established the post of the Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights, Minorities and Regional Development who is coordinating the government's activities in this field.
It also says that in February 1999, the Government established the post of Plenipotentiary for solving the Problems of the Roma National Minority. In addition, the Government approved the Strategy for the Solution of the Problems of the Roma National Minority and the set of measures for its implementation. Other institutional mechanisms in the areas of human rights included the Division of Minority Cultures established at the Ministry of Culture. The Government collaborates with non-governmental organizations that are active in the area of protection of victims of violence.
The report provides responses and explanations to the Committee's observations and recommendations made after its consideration of the initial report of Slovakia.
Presentation of Report
IGOR GREXA, Director-General of the International Law and Consular Affairs Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, said that the new Slovak Government had decided not to continue the policy of "persistence of political and social attitudes in the country adverse to the promotion and full protection of human rights" as the Committee had observed during its consideration of the initial report. The Government was also able to change the political attitudes, and that policy was confirmed by the parliamentary elections of 2002.
In reaction to some of the Committee's recommendations, although Slovakia had not been too happy about some of the concluding observations, the Government had adopted several reforms to the Constitution, Mr. Grexa continued. Although it was not an easy task to change the Constitution of the country, it did it in response to the Committee's request.
Mr. Grexa said that the 2001 amendment to the Constitution had strengthened the independence of the judiciary. Now, judges were appointed by the President of the Republic based on a proposal of the Judicial Council, and they were appointed for an indefinite period of time. Important changes had also occurred in the field of tenure, dismissal and disciplining of members of the judiciary. Amendments to the Constitution had also paved the way for change in the basic legal codes, such as the Penal Law and the Code of Criminal Procedures.
Mr. Grexa also said that in line with the Committee's recommendations, the Government had in 1999 ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant prohibiting the use of capital punishment. In February 2001, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women took effect with respect of Slovakia; and in November 2001, the State had signed the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Slovakia had already ratified all 12 basic international conventions against terrorism, Mr. Grexa said. The Constitutional amendment also had a direct impact on the area of human rights. The preferential status of international human rights treaties over domestic laws was also strengthened.
Mr. Grexa said that his Government was primarily interested in the full development of minorities and in their integration into civil society and their coexistence with the majority population. Each minority had specific needs and preoccupations in that respect, but the most difficult and urgent tasks clearly involved the Roma population. The authorities considered the Roma issue to be one of its short and long term priorities. They recognized and supported particular development programmes to ensure the integration of the Roma into society, while preserving their specific features. Action was concentrated on the education, employment, health care and housing aspects affecting Roma.
The members of the Slovak delegation responded to written questions prepared by the Committee Experts in advance in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of Slovakia.
Under the main subject of the Constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant was implemented, a question was raised if the provisions of the Covenant were invoked before State organs, the Constitutional Court and ordinary courts. The delegation said that in recent years, the Constitutional Court had had before it two cases in which the petitioners directly invoked the provisions of the Covenant. They included a petition filed by a group of deputies, members of the National Council of the country, in which the Court ruled on non-conformity of the preamble to the State language law.
On the state of emergency, the delegation said the National Council had adopted a law in 2002 on "Security of the State in Wartime, State of War, Crisis and Emergency", in which the provisions of the Covenant were fully complied with. The law fully respected the principles of international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.
Concerning the compatibility with the Covenant of counter-terrorism measures taken by the State party, the delegation said that all anti-terrorist measures taken by the Government were fully compatible with international law and with the decisions of the relevant international organizations. New legislation had amended the definition of a terrorist group in conformity with the directives of the Security Council's Counter Terrorism Committee.
The first public defender of human rights -- the Ombudsman -- was elected by Parliament in May 2002, the Slovak delegation said. That institution was independent of any State organ. At the end of June 2003, the number of petitions filed with the Ombudsman exceeded 2,500. Many of the petitions were filed against public administration authorities. Among public authorities, most complaints were brought against proceedings, decisions or inactivity of courts.
The delegation said that the equal treatment law -- anti-discrimination law -- was not yet adopted in the country, due to divergent political and legal opinions concerning certain specific issues to be provided for by the law. There was a group of lawyers and politicians who were of the opinion that it would be preferable to amend the existing laws which explicitly would provide for the application of the principle of anti-discrimination.
With regard to equality between men and women, Slovakia had adopted in March 2001 a "Concept of Equal Opportunities of Women and Men" in order to implement the policy of equality, the delegation said. The Government had also adopted a long-term strategic document -- the National Action Plan for Women. It aimed at improving the situation of women in various areas.
Several important changes were introduced in the field of legislation, and certain specific measures were taken to combat the phenomenon of violence against women, the delegation said. An amendment to the Criminal Code, adopted in 2002, had introduced more comprehensive provisions on the criminal offences of rape and sexual violence. Perpetrators of domestic violence were removed and were not allowed to approach their victims.
Under the main issue of the right to life, treatment of prisoners and other detainees, liberty and security of the person and the right to a fair trial, the delegation was asked to provide information and statistics on measures taken to prevent ill-treatment during police investigation. The delegation said that where unlawful police violence was actually established, consistent and vigorous steps were taken against the police officers concerned. The system of police training was reorganized in 2002. To raise the work of police to a higher standard, special attention was paid to the training of police officers under international community policing programmes.
The Police Force Act laid down the obligation to advise a person, whose rights or freedoms had been infringed as a result of police action, of his or her rights provided for under the Act, the delegation said, referring to a question on the existence of restrictions in respect of the right of detained persons. The detainee was allowed to inform a close person and to request legal aid. The only exception that might objectively occur was where the relatives or counsel were not accessible within the time limit of 48 hours.
On the issue of elimination of slavery and servitude, the delegation said that the Government was currently launching a major communication campaign in all the media aimed at the prevention of trafficking in women. The International Organization on Migration (IOM) was involved in the effort. Slovakia had enacted a strict definition of the criminal offence of trafficking in people and trafficking in children. A special department for the trafficking in human beings was set up within the Ministry of the Interior. In 2002, Slovak courts had sentenced six persons for trafficking in women.
Concerning freedom of religion and conscience and non-discrimination, the delegation said that Slovakia considered its legislation governing the status and activities of churches and religious societies to be fully compatible with the International Covenant. Churches and religious societies could conduct their activities irrespective of whether they were registered or not.
Committee Experts raised a number of follow-up questions on, among other things, the conditions under which the Covenant could be derogated during a state of emergency; the definition of terrorism; the manner in which deportations were carried out; the obligation of "non-refoulement" of refugees; the compatibility of the new refugee law with the Refugee Convention; the persistence of discrimination against women and the counter-discrimination measures, including cases of sexual harassment; the progress made by women in public affairs; lack of restraining measures against male perpetrators of violence; allegations of ill-treatment under police custody; the existence of "cage-beds" in psychiatric and mental hospitals; the disparities between the duration of civil and military services; and the application of the right to freedom of conscientiousness.
Responding to the questions raised, the members of the Slovak delegation said, among other things, that since the country succeeded the former Czechoslovakia, it had assumed all international treaties ratified before the division of the Republic. Since then, it had also approved European and international conventions relating to human rights.
Concerning the state of emergency, the delegation said that during such a situation, the principal human rights were not derogated. In the event that the State's security was threatened, the Government could promulgate a state of emergency for 60 days. The rights and freedoms set forth in the Covenant were respected despite the gravity of the situation during the emergency.
The definition of terrorism incorporated in the Criminal Code was interpreted within the legal framework of the Constitution, the delegation said. The threat of terrorism should be in line with the definition of the Code.
On the issue of "non-refoulement" of foreigners, the delegation said any foreigner could be expelled in case he or she was implicated in crimes and sentenced accordingly. However, the individual could not be expelled to a country where he or she could face torture or ill-treatment. The expulsion procedures could not be applied against individuals recognized as refugees under the Refugee Convention.
Women played an important role in the country's development, the delegation said. Many women served as deputies in Parliament, as city mayors and as heads of several electoral posts. The number of women in higher Governmental posts was also encouraging.
With regard to the "cage-beds", the Government had been attempting to stop their use in mental hospitals, the delegation said. The Government had also listened to the recommendations of the European Union on that matter. The existence of the "cage-beds" was required by the physicians who treated the patients in order to prevent any violence against other patients. The Government was in favour of removing such beds from psychiatric clinics.
Affirmative actions had been carried out by the Government concerning the Roma population in terms of housing, health care and education, the delegation said. The Government had been endeavouring to improve the living conditions of the Roma population through the implementation of a series of development programmes.
There were 60 registered religious organizations dealing with development in the country, the delegation said. The registration process did not take into account the number of members of each organization. Registered Churches could receive financial allocation from the State, while non-registered Churches did not enjoy that privilege.
The obligatory military service was for a period of nine months while the civil service could take a longer time, the delegation said. The military service could be followed by a military training for 12 to 16 months. The civilian service was accomplished in various areas of the society, including health, education and NGO activities. The Government of Slovakia was envisaging to abolish military services and to continue to maintain a professional army.
The Slovak delegation continued to respond to the written questions prepared in advance. Responding to a question on the deletion of the criminal offence of defamation of the Republic and its representatives, the delegation said that the legal provisions had been dropped by the Government after the Constitutional Court decided to suspend them. The criminal provision which provided for the prosecution of verbal attacks against public officials in general had also been deleted.
Concerning the measures taken to reduce discrimination against the Roma minority, the delegation said that the Government had approved in 1999 and 2000 the "Strategy of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Addressing the Problems of the Roma National Minority" as part of its efforts. Programmes of a "comprehensive Roma settlement development programme and field social workers programme" had also been adopted by the Government to promote the Roma causes. In April 2003, the Government had approved basic guidelines for its policy of integration of Roma communities up to 2010. The Roma were equal citizens enjoying all rights and obligations.
The Government of Slovakia had taken steps to ensure that Roma children had equal access to and opportunities to attend regular schools, the delegation said. Out of the total 128,918 children attending kindergartens, 4,391 were Roman children. However, the attendance rate of Roma in kindergarten was too low. For that reason, the Government had introduced mandatory attendance of kindergartens by children prior to entering elementary school. In the elementary schools, out of 576,331 pupils, 47,701 were Roma, and as many as 94 per cent of pupils who had to repeat the year were Roma children. The Roma children accounted for 55.13 per cent of missed classes, and for as many as 94.5 per cent of unexcused missed classes. A high percentage of Roma parents showed no interest in the school performance of their children.
The delegation was asked about the extent of racist attacks on minorities, particularly violence and harassment by skinheads towards the Roma minority, and allegations about failure on the part of the police and the judiciary to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. They said that the year 2002 had seen a remarkable increase in the number of cases of prosecution opened in connection with racially motivated criminal offences. In 2002, the number of cases prosecuted on suspicion of a racially motivated offence went up to 109, while in 2001 it was 27. The skinhead movement had no solid background in Slovakia. Its creation was the result of the country's opening to the European sphere.
In follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked, among other things, about the lack of services for minority languages; about reports of the continued acts of placing Roma children in special schools together with mentally disabled children and the systematic and forced sterilization of Roma women and the measures taken to avoid such coercive acts; and the absence of Roma deputies in the Slovak Parliament.
Responding, the delegation said there was no policy on segregation, and the allegations of forced sterilization were unfounded. The finding of an inquiry had revealed that there was no evidence that the State had pursued a policy of sterilization. The allegation was based on false rumours and no actual crime of sterilization was committed by State organs. However, there were shortcomings in the legislation and the way in which the Roma were approached. The issue of sterilization had been debated by the country's legislators to amend the existing provision on the issue.
* *** *