Slovak anti-Romani law protested by Amnesty International, Justice Minister and Plenipotentiary for Roma Affairs
Amnesty International Slovakia is criticizing proposed measures for combating so-called "Romani crime" which were presented last week by Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák (Smer) and Police President Tibor Gašpar. According to AI, the measures are aimed against ethnic Roma as a group and violated international and national legal regulations about discrimination and equal opportunity, which means they are illegal.
"The proposed measures undermine the dignity of the group they target and bolster the stereotypical association of Romani people with criminal activity," AI said in a press release. The measures are also being criticized by the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Community Affairs, Ábel Ravasz, and by Slovak Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská.
Suppression of "Romani crime"
The Slovak Interior Minister has alleged that even though crime rates in Slovakia have been halved during the past 10 years, in Romani settlements they are not declining, but either stagnating or even growing in some localities - and in his view, it is unavoidable that measures aimed at suppressing "Romani crime" must now be undertaken. "For example, in the district of Krompachy, the Romani community comprises approximately 26 % of the inhabitants and 70 to 80 % of the criminal activity, and that is something that has to change," news server SME.sk reported him as saying - despite the fact that crime statistics disaggregated by ethnicity are supposedly not officially kept by Slovakia.
The maintenance of such statistics is one of the things the Interior Minister wants to change. "It is important for us to begin to keep specific statistics on Romani criminal activity so we can distinguish it from other crime and be able to directly target our measures," he told the Pravda news server.
AI: Use of more force against one ethnic group would be illegal
The measures the minister wants to introduce include, for example, increasing police powers so they will be able to use force more often against Romani suspects, and not just during suspected criminal activity, but also during misdemeanor activity or disruptions to public order. "Members of the police force would be spared the concern that they might be immediately investigated by the Interior Ministry Inspectorate [over the use of force against Romani people]," AI quotes Slovak Police President Tibor Gašpar as saying.
The officers would, according to the new measures, also have easier access to Romani people's homes or land. "The planned changes, again, are forgetting that all people are entitled to protection against the disproportionate use of force by police - there have been excessive uses of force in Moldava nad Bodvou, Vrbnica, Zborova and many other [Romani-inhabited areas]," AI states.
"These measures are targeting people on the basis of their ethnicity at a time when Slovakia is facing, from the side of the European Commission, proceedings for violating the Race Equality Directive in connection with discrimination against Romani children in education," warns AI. The organization is calling on the relevant bodies to halt the activities associated with such measures and to do their best to eliminate the intensifying, persistent discrimination against Romani men and women in Slovakia.
Ďuriš Nicholsonová: Kaliňák is playing the "Romani card" to save his career
Ábel Ravasz, the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Community Affairs, has objected to the bill on suppressing crime in Romani settlements. "I must seriously object to the description of this bill. I reject laws that distinguish among perpetrators of crimes or misdemeanors on the basis of their affiliation with an ethnic minority. This may be a favorite, popular communications shorthand, but I reject it," Ravasz said.
According to Slovak Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská, any law must be written so as to apply to all, not just to specific ethnic groups or settlements. "Individual measures must be assessed from that perspective. Tension in society is very easily incited through various populist bills and shortcuts, but it is very difficult to calm," she said.
According to the vice-chair of the National Council of the Slovak Republic (the unicameral legislature), Lucie Ďuriš Nicholsonová (SaS), the Interior Minister is just showing his incompetence and lack of awareness about the country's laws and their application in practice. She believes he is actually "playing the Romani card" to save his own political career.
"The minister has revealed not just how little he knows about Romani settlements, but also how little he knows about the work of his own police officers. He claims to want to bolster their competences so they could intervene against misdemeanors. Officers currently have sufficient competences under the law for that," she warned.
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