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Anti-Discrimination Act finally passed

Prague, 18.6.2009 9:03, (ROMEA)

More than one year after Czech President Klaus vetoed the Anti-Discrimination Act, the lower house has overturned his veto and passed it. 118 MPs supported the legislation, 16 opposed it. The Czech Republic could have been subjected to high EU fines had it failed to pass the law, which outlines the right to equal treatment and bans discrimination in access to employment, participation in enterprise, education and health care.

Adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act occurred a year, a month, and a day after its veto. "By approving the Anti-Discrimination Act, the lower house and political representatives have finally shown they are aware not only of their obligations vis-?-vis EU legislation, but that it is necessary to establish a specific legislative framework for cases of human rights violations,” Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb said shortly after the law was passed.

The law precisely details the situations in which protection against discrimination is to be provided, how, and to whom. The law bans unequal treatment on the basis of sex, age, disability, race, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, faith or world-view. The law will not restrict anyone in their personal, public or political life. Its first priority is to strengthen the position of the individual.

The law means the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman) will systematically assist discrimination victims by engaging 15 top lawyers. The office performs a similar function in most European countries, where the practice has brought about positive results. The regulations are also positive because the ombudsman, as opposed to the courts, enjoys much more social prestige and people will turn to that authority with much more confidence than they would to a court.

The new legislation expressly anchors the principle of equal treatment for men and women in law. As for older people suffering from ageism, the Czech legal order has completely ignored them until now. The ban on discrimination and the definition of discrimination on the basis of disability in the area of health care provision, labor rights and education have also been missing from the Czech legal order until now. "By adopting the Anti-Discrimination Act, the legislative inconsistency has been resolved whereby the Labor Code referred to the discrimination ban in a law that had not yet been adopted,” Kocáb said.

“Passage of the law is to the credit of the lower house, but primarily to the credit of the Green Party, which has always done its best to get the Anti-Discrimination Act incorporated into our legal order. I believe that by approving the Anti-Discrimination Act, we as a society have demonstrated that we are not indifferent to protecting the rights of victims of injustice, and that the right to a dignified life in old age is just as important as the right to live in a state that is trustworthy and responsible toward its citizens. I believe no one’s human rights should be restricted because of their skin color, educational level, or religious or political convictions,” said Kocáb.

Former Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil (ODS) defended the law, on which his ministry worked for more than two years. He considers its current wording a compromise. "This law does no harm and should not vex anyone,” Pospíšil told MPs. In his view there is no danger that many lawsuits alleging discrimination will be filed now that the law has been adopted. The law requires a shared burden of proof, which means evidence must be submitted both by the defendant and the plaintiff, according to Pospíšil.

Czech MP Anna Čurdová (ČSSD) said the Social Democrats supported the law but it is not sufficient in her view. "Victims of discrimination will continue to be subjected to court proceedings,” Čurdová said. Moreover, the competencies of administrative authorities under the law will be few, as will the powers of the ombudsman. Czech MP Zdeněk Jičínský (ČSSD) says the lower house has already adopted so many poorly drafted laws that one more would not do any harm. ČSSD hesitated over the law until the last minute. Party chair Jiří Paroubek said previously that the law should be adopted and then its deficiencies addressed through amendments.

Czech MP Alena Páralová (ODS) voted against the bill. She considers it a legal fraud. Páralová and her party also did not agree with voting on the Lisbon Treaty; many ODS members left the Senate after it was adopted. Czech MP Eva Dundáčková also voted against the Anti-Discrimination Act. Most communists were also against it, as were independent MPs Juraj Raninec and Jan Schwippel and Christian Democrat Ludvík Hovorka.

The government rapporteur who represents the state to the European Court of Justice, Martin Smolek, recently told the MPs sitting on the EU Committee in the lower house that the Commission could initiate legal proceedings against the Czech Republic in a matter of weeks if the law was not passed. He urged the lower house to adopt the law and address its flaws through amendments.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, ROMEA, ROMEA, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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