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Czech Foreign Minister agrees with Hammarberg report, calls on other ministries to take action

Prague, 28.2.2012 17:49, (ROMEA)
The cover of the report shows activists for the human rights of Romani people covering their faces with enlarged fingerprints during a protest in front of the French Embassy in Bucharest, Romania to protest against the expulsions of Romanian and Bulgarian Romani migrants from France in 2010. © AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Yesterday Thomas Hammarberg, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, released a report in Brussels calling on European countries to correct the human rights situation of the Roma and Traveller minorities, including the segregation of Romani children in education in the Czech Republic and elsewhere. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has also called it a disgrace that the Czech Republic has not yet compensated Romani women who have been forcibly sterilized, an issue the Commissioner's report also mentions. Schwarzenberg said it would be good if other ministers would also speak out against the discrimination of Romani people. The report is available at http://www.romea.cz/dokumenty/prems79611_GBR_CouvHumanRightsOfRoma_WEB.pdf

In addition to criticizing forced sterilization, Schwarzenberg criticized the fact too many Romani children are being sent to the "special schools". "This is simply discrimination... We must fix this, there should not be the slightest doubt about that," he said. "It would be good if other cabinet members would call for fixing this too instead of just calling for a bigger deployment of police to the Šluknov district and such," he said.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková said that despite long-term criticism of the Czech Republic, the situation is not changing much. She said the Government has already approved proposals for improving the situation and that there is a need to start promoting them.

The Hammarberg report says that despite the 2004 School Act, a disproportionately high number of Romani children are still being placed in the "special schools". The practice is similar in several other European countries.

According to a ministerial decree, as of this school year only children with "light mental disability" are to attend the "practical schools" in the Czech Republic. Their parents must give informed consent to their enrollment. However, the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner pointed out that "light mental disability" is often considered interchangeable with social disadvantage. "Unfortunately, the situation is not changing. The Czech Republic should do more than it has to date," she told the Czech Press Agency.

Hammarberg has condemned all manifestations of segregation, i.e., the separation of Romani children from all other pupils. The Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner says it is necessary to start promoting the various steps of the Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion which the Government adopted last year. One of those steps is the strengthening of preschool preparations. For example, children from the ghettos should be assisted with acquiring the habits and skills needed to handle mainstream school instruction. Teaching assistants should help them with that as well. The money currently financing the "practical schools" should be reallocated to finance those services.

Hammarberg's report also states that violence against Romani people has spread throughout Europe since 1989 and that the number of serious cases of violence for which extremist groups are responsible has significantly increased. In the Czech Republic, the most recent violent incident occurred in the early morning hours of last Sunday, when two unidentified men threw several Molotov cocktails into a residential hotel in Aš which includes Romani tenants. The Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner condemned that crime today.

Hammarberg's report also referred to the forced sterilizations of some Romani women in the former Czechoslovakia and present-day Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The Czech Government Human Rights Council has recommended the state compensate those women between CZK 300 000 and 400 000 each. Šimůnková considers that proposal to be a big success. The Government should discuss it in a few months.

In November 2007, the Czech Republic lost a case before the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg filed by 18 Romani children from Ostrava. The judgment found that by assigning the Romani children into "special schools", the country had violated their right to education and discriminated against them.

ČTK, František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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