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Czech Govt working group led by Human Rights Commissioner introduces proposals for addressing social unrest

Prague, 2.8.2013 0:45, (ROMEA)
Monika Šimůnková, now the Deputy Public Defender of Rights, was Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner from 2011-2013  (Source: www.vlada.cz)
Monika Šimůnková, now the Deputy Public Defender of Rights, was Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner from 2011-2013 (Source: www.vlada.cz)

A Czech Government working group to address social unrest was convened by the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner on 1 August. Due to the seriousness of the situation the meeting was attended by Czech PM Jiří Rusnok and Interior Minister Martin Pecina.

Eight proposals for resolving escalating problems in the regions were discussed. The working group was convened on the basis of information from the field collected by the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion.

The group will submit the proposed measures to the Government for discussion as soon as possible. The meeting was also attended by a member of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs, David Beňák.

"Social unrest has repeated itself in recent years, and unfortunately the intensity and number of such incidents are increasing. This is a trend to which the Government of the Czech Republic must respond, as it must also respond to the increased activity of right-wing extremists, which cannot be ignored. Experts agree this unrest is rising not only because the problems of socially excluded localities have been insufficiently resolved, but also because of a certain degree of dissatisfaction among the Czech population with the political and social situation in the country and their search for someone to blame for it, primarily members of the Romani population. Nevertheless, we must introduce a sufficiently forceful solution to the situation of these socially excluded places in particular. The entire public administration must contribute toward resolving this:  Mayors on the territory of their communities, police, and the ministries as well. We discussed their roles today," Czech PM Jiří Rusnok said after the working group meeting ended. 

"The outcome of today's meeting is a set of eight specific steps the group recommends that the Government discuss. They involve tasks for each ministry, such as the need to design a law on social housing, changes to the system of providing aid to those in material distress, and reintroducing compensation for the community service work performed by the socially vulnerable," Czech Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková said.

"The state administration must change certain systemic matters. It must stop the exploitation of housing benefits by residential hotel owners and must also define social housing so that it serves the needs of all citizens in the Czech Republic who find themselves in crisis situations. Aid must be provided so that people who are capable of working have the opportunity to do so, in particular through community service work, but also through well-designed active employment policies that will particularly target the regions with the highest unemployment," Šimůnková said.

"One of the most essential topics the proposals address is the need to provide enough social housing capacity. The current situation, in which thousands of people are ending up in complicated social situations because overpriced residential hotels are the only accommodation option they have, is completely unsustainable," Šimůnková said.

The proposals are based on a 30-page background material prepared for the working group by expert staff of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. They are based on the Agency's experiences from the places in which it has worked and from other sites around the country addressing the issue of social exclusion.

"This material is one of the most comprehensive ever submitted to help resolve the situation of social exclusion in the Czech Republic. It warns that in addition to some town councils not doing enough to resolve the problems arising on their territories, the state itself does not have enough systemic tools to resolve some areas of concern. The adoption of these proposals could significantly help communities to successfully resolve these situations. The municipalities themselves have repeatedly called for the introduction of some of the measures included in this proposal," explained Martin Šimáček, the director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. 

The working group has proposed that funding for active employment policies target municipalities with socially excluded localities, that compensation for those performing community service be reinstated, that certain amendments to the School Act be completed, and that a minimum level of preventative social service capacity be guaranteed to municipalities with socially excluded localities. According to David Beňák, a civil society member of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs, the meeting was fundamentally innovative. 

"The working group agreed on tasks that have already been articulated in other documents and can be implemented in the medium to long term. All of the tasks can be identified with as good ideas," Beňák told news server Romea.cz

Beňák also believes it would be better if these particular areas would be discussed by the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs as well. He expressed appreciation for the interest shown in this issue by Czech PM Rusnok and Interior Minister Pecina, but criticized the fact that the working group does not include a permanent member from the Romani community.

"It is definitely inappropriate that no one Romani is a permanent member of this working group. It is also inappropriate that none of the tasks selected aim for the active inclusion of Romani people in the process of addressing this social unrest, even though it concerns them first and foremost," Beňák told news server Romea.cz.

The creation of a working group to address social unrest was approved by the Czech Government last August. The group is convened only when cases of more serious social unrest arise in the regions.

The working group is comprised of the Human Rights Commissioner and of deputy ministers from the Ministries of Education, Interior, Labor and Regional Development, as well as the director of the Agency for Social Inclusion. The aim of the group is to make sure the approaches taken by the ministries and the state administration when resolving such situations are connected and coordinated to the greatest possible extent. The group was convened for the first time ever today in response to the repeated anti-Romani assemblies in České Budějovice and Duchcov and the possible threat of similar demonstrations in other towns.  

ryz, press release of Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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