Czech ombudsman criticizes draft Roma Strategy, rejects idea of updating information about compensation for forced sterilizations
Stanislav Křeček, the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) in the Czech Republic, published the full wording of his comments on the Czech Government's draft Roma Strategy for 2021-2030 last week after nonprofit organizations criticized a press release issued by his office about the Strategy. Unlike his official press release, his full comments once again make light of discrimination against Romani people, above all in the housing sector, and criticize the Strategy's claim that there is a lack of data available.
The ombudsman's comments, which fill two A4 sheets of paper, also reject the idea of his office contributing to the aim of securing redress for women who have been illegally sterilized. He says that particular comment is a fundamental one, although his press release initially did not mention it.
The ombudsman alleges that it is the Government's own agencies and committees, as well as nonprofit organizations, that are to blame for the fact that not enough data about Roma exists. "My first reservation is about the submitters' statement that there is not enough data available to assess the situation, when not only is there a whole series of nonprofit organizations paid from the state budget to be involved with the questions under discussion, but there are also several Government committees and agencies that are following the same thing. Where are the results of their work?" he asked.
However, it is exactly nonprofit organizations that have been doing their best, for several years now, to advocate for the anonymized collection of data disaggregated by ethnicity, including the kinds of data that will make it possible to unequivocally ascertain who is benefiting from EU financing that is intended to aid Romani people. However, NGOs have encountered incomprehension from bureaucrats in the Government and its ministries, who allege that collecting data of that kind poses an insoluble problem.
Currently, however, the collection of such data is proposed by the draft Strategy, thanks to the advocacy of nonprofit organizations. "We want the Operational Programmes to produce data about how much money, for which purposes and with what impact, has been spent on Romani people," said Jan Husák, the former civil society vice chair of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs.
Křeček also attacks the Agency for Social Inclusion in his comments, which he considers absolutely dysfunctional. "I have to also mention the Agency for Social Inclusion, which I consider an absolutely dysfunctional institution because many municipalities refuse to collaborate with it - or the Platform for Social Housing, whose unrealizable proposals during the last election period essentially buried the bill on social housing. As far as I know, during the time they've been in action, the number of excluded localities almost tripled," the ombudsman said.
The Public Defender of Rights also said he is bothered by this particular sentence in the draft Strategy: "Romani people are one of the groups facing the most precarity on the housing market not just because they are overrepresented among low-income households, but above all because they face antigypsyism and discrimination." Unlike the wording of his press release, in his full comments on the Strategy he has again taken the opportunity to question whether Romani people face discrimination and reiterated that Romani people are themselves to blame for the fact that nobody wants to rent to them, saying of the Strategy's claim that: "It's unimaginable that anybody familiar with life in our communities could consider that to be the actual reality."
"Anybody even just superficially familiar with the issue of housing and Romani people knows and will confirm that the problems with housing that some Romani people actually have are not because of discrimination, but because a significant proportion of them devastate the housing stock and thereby transform parts of towns into excluded localities. Landlords' distate for entrusting Romani people with using their apartments stems from their behavior. Discrimination has nothing to do with it. However, without the effort and the interest of the Romani organizations themselves to correct this state of affairs, no integration can succeed. The draft Roma Strategy doesn't even bother to call for anything like that, i.e., for the Roma to play their part in correcting matters, let alone create the right conditions for this at state level," the ombudsman said.
"It is very easy to point the finger at civil society and demonize it for the dysfunction of the inclusion policy of this state, but civil society does not have decision-making power in its hands, it's just an instrument for putting out the 'big fires', as has been demonstrated already more than once during the last 20 years," Michal Miko, director of the RomanoNet organization, said about the ombudsman's remarks when asked for comment by news server Romea.cz. The ombudsman has also said that just one of his comments on the tasks proposed by the draft Strategy is "fundamental", namely, he rejects the idea of participating in any way in the process of providing redress to women who have been illegally sterilized.
One of the planned tasks in the draft Strategy is providing compensation to those who have been sterilized without their informed consent. The draft Strategy would task the Office of the Public Defender of Rights and the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism with participating in the creation of a report reflecting on new knowledge about the illegally performed sterilizations that have happened both before and after 1989.
The report would be developed for publication by the close of 2024. "I disagree that the Office of the Public Defender of Rights has been listed as one of the entities responsible for that aim, as that task does not fall within the legal limits of my tasks," the ombudsman said, stating that by creating such a report he would have to review both the criminal law and political level of the cases, which he believes is inappropriate - and moreover, his predecessors previously reviewed the issue, which should be enough.
"My mission in particular is to initiate redress, which my predecessor did by publishing his Standpoint, and which my deputy did by issuing a press release in which she called on lawmakers to discuss and adopt the bill facilitating compensation for sterilizations performed unlawfully," the ombudsman said. According to Gwendolyn Albert, a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs who also contributed to drafting the Roma Strategy, the proposed task has to do with the broader question of whether the Office of the Public Defender of Rights should review for the public which of its recommendations have or have not had an impact on the situation of those concerned.
"Since the ombudsman made those recommendations in 2005, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights has just issued that brief press release by the Deputy Public Defender of Rights, Monika Šimůnková, where she supports lawmakers adopting the bill to compensate those who have been forcibly sterilized, and where she briefly mentions the change in the legal options available to those women, which transpired after the first recommendations were issued. In my opinion, it would be good if the Office of the Public Defender of Rights were to update the public with information about what has actually happened with the recommendations made by Otakar Motejl in 2005. How many women have attempted, successfully or not, to achieve compensation through the courts? How have negotiations transpired regarding the compensation by the state, given that one of the most important recommendations that he made, specifically, the recommendation to compensate, might soon be undertaken?" Albert explained to news server Romea.cz.
"I am aware that this is a slight expansion of what the Office of the Public Defender of Rights customarily does, and the idea may not have been communicated absolutely clearly - I consider this a first attempt. What is much more important is the bill to compensate the victims and whether it will be firmly scheduled on the agenda of the lower house soon," Albert said.
The ombudsman's remarks about the Strategy have been criticized in a statement made by six volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs who say Křeček does not understand the extent of his own powers when he claims the creation of a report reflecting on new findings in relation to the illegally performed sterilizations would not fall into his purview. The members also say the ombudsman's remark that the Strategy is an unrealizable document written without knowledge of the issue is an inexcusably predujiced thing to say.
How the draft Roma Strategy for 2021-2030 came about
The first draft of the Strategy was prepared by the Office of the Czech Government's Department of the Office of the Romani Minority Affairs Council and Secretariat for the Czech Government Council on National Minorities. Public consultation on the Strategy was opened at the close of April 2020.
The consultation was meant to take the form of an online questionnaire. That approach was criticized by several volunteer civil society members of the Council on Romani Minority Affairs and also by nonprofit organizations.
According to those critics, Romani people had been insufficiently involved in drafting the Strategy's text, which had been submitted to them as a fait accompli. Led by the RomanoNet organization, which brings together several significant pro-Romani and Romani organizations, the nonprofits called for the Strategy to be reworked and expressed an interest in contributing to that work.
The first common meeting of RomanoNet's working groups on the Strategy happened on 24 June 2020 at the Impact Hub in Prague, where proposals for new aims and measures were made as well as suggestions for revision of the Strategy. After that, a series of common video conferences were held until the close of November during which the specific content of the logistical frameworks accompanying the Strategy and the specific tasks for each ministry were formulated.
The final form of the analytical portion of the Strategy was also completed. The material was submitted to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who chairs the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs, on 10 December 2020, and then sent to the interministerial commenting procedure on 17 December; ministries and other entities entitled to comment will do so during January 2021, after which the Government should approve the Strategy.
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