The ruling that took 15 years: Czech town ordered to compensate some of the Romani residents whom it evicted and relocated
The High Court in Olomouc, Czech Republic has finally handed down a decision in the years-long dispute between the town of Vsetín and the former residents of an apartment building in the town center that no longer even exists today, awarding some of those former residents compensation for the damages associated with their being evicted and relocated in the amount of CZK 302 000 [EUR 12 600] total, as Jana Raszková, spokesperson for the town hall, communicated on Monday to the Czech News Agency in a press release. The town evicted and relocated the families, all of whom were Romani, from their homes in 2006 under Mayor Jiří Čunek (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL).
The building they were evicted from was in poor condition and the town subsequently demolished it. Some of the evictees were relocated into apartment units made out of repurposed shipping containers in the Poschla locality of Vsetín, while others were relocated into properties in another administrative region altogether in the areas of Jeseníky, Olomouc and Prostějov.
From the beginning the Romani evictees have alleged that the town leadership used force to evict and relocate them and caused them mental anguish. Some evictees criticized the fact that employees from the local authority forced them to sign papers that they were unable to read that were related to buying the properties - sight unseen - into which they were then relocated.
Allegedly the evictees were never given the opportunity to freely choose where they would move their families. A total of 52 Romani people who had suffered this treatment later filed a lawsuit against the town.
The plaintiffs sought a total of CZK 5.6 million [EUR 220 200] in compensation for this wrongdoing and a public apology from the town, to be made through the press. The first-instance court then awarded the families compensation for those damages in the amount of CZK 661 000 [EUR 26 000] total.
After the town appealed that ruling, the High Court has now reduced that compensation to CZK 302 000 [EUR 12 000] for 25 persons, acceding to the town hall's proposal for a settlement. "In the case of 27 of the 52 persons, the High Court rejected the lawsuit in full," said Mayor Jiří Růžička (KDU-ČSL).
"The claims of the remaining 25 persons have been partially met. The court awarded them compensation in a total of amount of CZK 302 000 [EUR 12 000]," the mayor said.
"At the same time, howver, it must be added that some of the plaintiffs who have been partially successful owe the town money, and in their cases the award will be used to cover those debts. In practice that means that of the compensation awarded by the court in the total amount of CZK 302 000 [EUR 12 000], CZK 130 000 [EUR 5 000] will cover the debts and the actual disbursal will just be CZK 172 000 [EUR 7 000]," the mayor said.
The plaintiffs have also partially succeeded with their requirement that the town apologize; while the apology does not have to be made through the press, a letter of apology must be sent to the families for restricting their choice of residence and way of life. Such letters have already been sent, according to the mayor.
The High Court verdict has taken effect, according to the town, but it has not ruled out appealing to the Supreme Court. The costs of the proceeding are high and the court ruled that the town is obligated to cover them, so the local authority may dispute that amount.
"Those costs are more than CZK 2.7 million [EUR 106 000], of which more than CZK 2.6 million [EUR 102 000] is compensation to the legal representative of the plaintiffs. The High Court ruled those be paid by the counterparty in full," the mayor said.
"In our opinion the court should take into account the fact that the plaintiffs have been only minimally successful and that should be reflected in the cost of the proceedings the town has to cover," the mayor said. The case of the evictions of these Romani tenants was also reviewed by the police, the prosecutor, and then-ombudsman Otakar Motejl.
While police did not find that Mayor Čunek had broken the law by evicting the tenants in this way, Motejl said the town hall had committed wrongdoing and violated the Romani residents' right to respect for their family life and privacy. Senators from the Human Rights Committee subsequently supported the ombudsman's stance on the issue.
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