European Commission: Czech ombudsman's discriminatory remarks are of serious concern, we will take action
The European Commission (EC) says it plans to call for a meeting with the Czech Public Defender of Rights, Stanislav Křeček, as well as with the newly-appointed, relevant authorities in the Czech Republic about his anti-Romani remarks. The EC is doing so in response to a letter sent to them last year by several Czech nonprofit organizations complaining of his behavior.
News server Romea.cz has seen the EC's own written response to the NGOs. Last February, 14 organizations and several individuals wrote to the EC expressing fears over the ombudsman's remarks potentially deterring Romani victims of discrimination from contacting the Office of the Public Defender of Rights.
The organizations also drew attention to individual instances of the ombudsman's discriminatory remarks. "Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček, through his repeated, public remarks about minorities, especially about Romani men and women, is potentially deterring victims of racial discrimination from filing official complaints with the equality body," the organizations wrote in February 2021, adding that the fulfillment of the aims of the EU's directive on racism is thus endangered.
"His actions to date contravene the values anchored in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU," the organizations' letter went on to say, noting that the ombudsman's behavior is deterring Romani organizations from engaging in constructive collaboration with him. Representatives of the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers at the EC have responded as follows: "We share your opinion that the repeated discriminatory remarks by Stanislav Křeček give rise to quite serious concerns. For that reason, the Commission has decided to immediately respond and discuss this matter both with him and with the newly-appointed relevant Czech authorities."
Coincidentally, the organizations received the EC response just before the ombudsman published a new set of statements about socially excluded localities that have once again outraged Romani people. According to the EC's letter, in the longer term it intends to propose new legislation to prevent such situations.
"We thank the EC representatives for their attention to our initiative and we anticipate that further steps will be taken vis-a-vis the Czech institutions. At the same time, I would like to point out that we agree with the opinion expressed by the EC representatives regarding the functioning of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights per se and that our reservations are about the way it is being represented by the ombudsman," Petr Máčal, director of the IQ Roma servis organization, which initiated the letter, told news server Romea.cz.
With regard to individual cases of discrimination, the EC's letter states that "it is appropriate that domestic authorities alone assess specific facts and circumstances around the application of domestic law in any specific situation. The European Commission is unable to either intervene or act as an appeals body with regard to such matters."
The organizations also complained that the Czech Republic's high-level representatives are silent about the ombudsman's remarks. "The fact that there has been zero reaction leads me and us to the conviction that the Czech Republic is violating EU law and does not intend to seek redress through its own lawful procedures. It is appropriate for the European Commission to get involved with this matter with the aim of ensuring the effective application of EU law through an infringement procedure," the organizations said in their letter.
The EC's response also states that despite the ombudsman's public statements, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, according to their information, is meeting its obligations. "As far as the Czech equality body's functioning goes in general, on the basis of an investigation that we have performed, as well as from the publicly available reporting, we have understood that the staff of the Czech equality body, despite the difficult situation described above, continue to fulfill their obligations. The annual report by the equality body published in February 2021 discusses cases involving housing and segregation in the schools. Under the current state of EU law, a reduction to the number of initiatives objecting to discrimination on the basis of Romani origin in and of itself would not represent a sufficiently strong reason to submit this matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union, especially given that Czech legislation is in accordance with EU law," the EC representatives stated in their letter.
"In the present case, any drop in the number of complaints alleging discrimination on the grounds of Romani origin could appear conditioned by these circumstances. However, the Commission would not be able to demonstrate that any reduction in the number of such complaints is a direct consequence of the appointment of Stanislav Křeček and not the result of other factors, including the pandemic. In view of the above, the European Commission does not intend to launch a new infringement procedure against the Czech Republic at this stage and will close your complaint," the EC letter ends, adding that it will continue to monitor the situation closely in any event.
Křeček was elected Public Defender of Rights two years ago. From 2013 - 2019 he was Deputy Public Defender of Rights under Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová.
The Czech President and Senate propose candidates to the posts of the Public Defender of Rights and his or her deputy, each of whom is then separately elected by the lower house. The term of office is six years.
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