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Czech human rights community debates ethnic identification of felony perpetrators

Prague, 9.10.2011 8:57, (ROMEA)
Former Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Michael Kocáb (left) and journalist Patrik Banga (right).

Former Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb believes it might be good for police to record the ethnicity of felony perpetrators for a limited amount of time. He believes such information might contribute to breaking down the stereotypes held by the majority population against Romani people in particular.

Kocáb was inspired by a presentation made by Patrika Banga, an adviser to and correspondent for news server Romea.cz, at a seminar organized by the Czech Interior Ministry. The Czech Police say they do not keep records on the ethnicity of perpetrators.

"The widespread social stereotype is that Romani people are behind everything violent," Kocáb said on the Czech Radio program "O Roma vakeren", adding that in the currently exacerbated atmosphere, many people automatically assume Romani people are the perpetrators when crimes are committed. Kocáb said he believes the presumption of innocence is currently not functioning in Czech society: "People immediately say, 'Some Romani guy bashed someone again'."

His proposal was also addressed at a meeting with representatives of the Czech Interior Ministry. "We considered whether ethnicity might be mentioned for a limited period of time, because if the news comes out that 'Another machete attack has been committed,' some people will automatically say, 'The Roma went for their machetes again' - and later we might learn that actually the perpetrators were, say, Vietnamese," Kocáb said.

Patrik Banga, who presented the idea, agrees with Kocáb. "Recently the term 'Gypsy' (Cikán) has become synonymous with crime. This is why all crime is automatically attributed to Romani people. All you have to do is look at the discussions that run underneath online articles, or at the content of some blogs. Was a pensioner murdered? The Roma are automatically labeled as the perpetrators. Did someone rob a store? Initial news reports talk about Roma. That's why I believe it would be appropriate to record the actual ethnicity of the perpetrators of felonies. It might be proven that Romani crime does not exist to such an extent as people generally believe," Banga told news server Romea.cz.

Klára Kalibová, a lawyer with the In IUSTITIA association, is against recording the ethnicity of felony perpetrators. "Following the ethnic or national affiliation of the perpetrators of felonies is first of all unconstitutional, and second of all it is practically impossible. According to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, one's ethnic or national affiliation must never become a detriment, and everyone self-ascribes his or her nationality. When the ethnic origin or skin color of perpetrators is recorded, as is done in some parts of the United States, for example, the end result is racial profiling," Kalibová told news server Romea.cz .

According to data collected abroad, persons with darker skin or whose facial features do not correspond to those of the majority are unjustifiably monitored more frequently by police than members of the majority society. "It has never been proven that one's ethnic or national original predetermines the commission of felonies. We consider such claims to be explicitly racist. If, for various reasons, we decide to temporarily record the ethnic or national affiliation of felony perpetrators - for example, in order to prove that Inuits in the Czech Republic do not commit crime - this means in practice that we are admitting the possibility of the existence of ethnically conditioned crime. Last but not least, we must ask: How will national origin be determined? In short, who decides who is an Inuit? Are you an Inuit if you were born in Greenland? Does at least one of your grandmothers have to have been an Inuit? Do you have to like freezing temperatures, or have Asiatic eyes?" asked Kalibová.

According to Kocáb, the idea of recording the ethnicity of perpetrators of felonies was ultimately rejected during the Czech Interior Ministry debate.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, O Roma Vakeren, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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