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November 19, 2018
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Czech Government revives position of Human Rights Commissioner

8.7.2018 9:04
Czech Deputy Human Rights Minister Martina Štěpánková (2015).
Czech Deputy Human Rights Minister Martina Štěpánková (2015).

Speaking in an interview for Czech Television on 28 June, Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Petr Krčál said the Government had approved Martina Štěpánková for the reinstated position of Human Rights Commissioner. Prior to the abolition of the post of Human Rights Minister and the allocation of the human rights agenda to the Justice Ministry at the end of 2017, she had been the Deputy Human Rights Minister.

After that transformation, Štěpánková became the deputy in charge of managing the Human Rights Section at the Office of the Government. Many experts criticized the resolution by which the Babiš Government entrusted the Justice Minister with coordinating tasks in the area of human rights, equal opportunities and the fight against corruption in December 2017.

On the basis of that resolution, neither the post of Human Rights Commissioner nor the post of Human Rights Minister were to have been reappointed for the next 20 years. News server Romea.cz has asked the newly-appointed Human Rights Commissioner several questions in connection with the Government's surprising decision.

Q: What are you anticipating will happen as a result of this revived function?

A: From the perspective of the subject matter on the agenda I do not anticipate any changes of a more fundamental nature, and moreover, just as I have been to date, I will still be in the deputy position in charge of managing the Human Rights Section at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic. As the deputy responsible for that agenda, I have now been appointed Human Rights Commissioner. I perceive this change to be rather that as the Human Rights Commissioner, I will communicate about and defend human rights more in public, not just with respect to the authorities, but especially with respect to academia and the broader public. That communication has been, to date, rather the role of whichever minister had human rights on their agenda.

Q: What will the first matters that you will focus on in connection with this position be? What do you currently perceive the priorities in the area of human rights to be?

A: We will continue with the subjects we have been focusing on until now - human rights are a very broad theme, so our agenda also has a wide scope. However, if I am to be concrete, then a big task for us is to design a concept for civic education, for example, and to prepare a social housing law, we are involved with that. In the area of the rights of persons living with disabilities we are currently actively focusing, for example, on improving the conditions for persons living with autism spectrum disorders. Another subject is reducing pay inequality between men and women, harmonizing family and work life, or the issue of domestic violence. A big part of our agenda is social inclusion and it is necessary to acknowledge that the problem of social exclusion is not going to be resolved overnight, but it will just be resolved through long, patient work, and for municipalities to be able to successfully address social exclusion together with local stakeholders, systemic steps are essential, such as facilitating debt relief, the existence of a social housing system, and eliminating trafficking in poverty. One important subject for us currently is support for Romani children, especially those from socially educated localities, in the education process. Statistics unfortunately demonstrate that the education system in the Czech Republic is not aiding children with overcoming the socioeconomic position of their parents. If a child is born to parents living in a socially excluded locality, that child has just a very small chance of managing to overcome a life in poverty and social exclusion. Another big challenge I see and that I must mention is combating intolerance and prejudice, which in the Czech Republic is aimed especially against Romani people.

Q: Recently it basically was not being counted on that this function was meant to even exist. Do you perceive this as an attempt by the Government to somehow rehabilitate this position and thereby the subject of human rights generally?

A: Since the agenda was not given to any other minister, it is certainly good that the function of Human Rights Commissioner was renewed and that there will be somebody here who will defend and represent the subject of human rights. In my opinion, however, what is more important than rehabilitating the position is rehabilitating the subject of human rights generally. In the Czech Republic many people perceive defending human rights to be unnecessary. However, it is necessary to be aware that human rights concern absolutely every single one of us. We will never be able to say that we already have human rights squared away and that is no longer necessary to be involved with human rights protection. Active protection of human rights is an ongoing, permanent component of any democratic society.

voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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