Slovakia internationally criticized for forced sterilization, police impunity for brutality against Roma, position on refugee reception and segregated education
The Slovak Spectator reports that the United Nations has sharply criticized reports of Slovak Police brutality against Romani residents. Repressive, systematic actions by police are occurring hand in hard with ineffective investigations of police misconduct.
The Slovak Government is also still denying that the systematic involuntary sterilization of Roma women has ever happened. Those are the findings of the most recent report on Slovakia from the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) which has confirmed concerns raised by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Centre for Civil and Human Rights, a Slovak human rights NGO.
“We are obliged to report human rights violations to international bodies in order to convince the Slovak government to act,” ERRC Executive Director András Ujlaky said. “The UN has made it clear that the government should state at the highest political level that there will be no tolerance for excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, including against members of ethnic minorities."
Police accounts of the clash with Romani residents in the settlement of Zabijanec differ greatly from those of the residents themselves. Police alleged that seven officers were injured on 1 August when 200 Romani people attacked them in the settlement, which is located in the village of Rudňany in the Košice Region.
Romani residents say police assaulted them first. “They [police] took a man who was sleeping only in his pants and didn’t know what’s happening to beat him outside,” said a local woman approached by Jarmila Vaňová, a reporter with the Romani broadcaster ROMA MEDIA (ROMED) on August 4.
ROMED later published video footage of its interviews with the Romani residents online. Zabijanec is among the most underdeveloped ghettos in Slovakia.
The settlement is located on the site of a former mine. Approximately 400 people live there in seriously deteriorated apartment blocks and huts with no running water.
Police were called to the settlement to address a brawl between family members. The Romani residents confirmed to ROMED that one of the two brothers involved called the police, who then intervened in other parts of the settlement for no reason.
One resident said police raided a place where a wedding had just been held. "Everyone was having a good time, I filmed how everyone was dancing nicely and enjoying themselves. Then the police assaulted innocent people here. Why didn't they investigate what was going on in the place where they were called for help, why did they come here to attack us?" the woman in the video footage asked.
Another woman describes officers bursting into her home when she and her children were asleep. "Our young children jumped out of the window. They were afraid they would be beaten," she describes.
One man describes how he and his father-in-law were beaten by officers in balaclavas and how they ran into the forest to escape them. Others confirm that officers were "pacifying" persons who had nothing to do with the street brawl between the two brothers.
"This is unfair. They beat innocent people. ... They should have dealt with what was going on, not come beat up innocent people for no reason," one man said.
The Romani residents interviewed also say 200 Roma did not gang up against the officers. "That's not true, there weren't any 200 Roma. The first to attack were the officers. There were children throwing rocks at the cops because they saw them beating up their parents," one Romani man said.
Another Romani woman confirms his testimony. "They did throw rocks, but it was adolescents, young children. They're claiming it was 200 people. I don't know what they would have done if it had been adults. It would be different if the whole settlement had attacked, but it was the police who attacked, they walked into people's rooms without permission and dragged the guys out..." she said.
"We want this settled with these officers because now they are going to be angry with us and we will be afraid to go to sleep in our own homes," another Romani man said. Another woman testified that "They beat my husband so badly that if he had taken another two or three blows to the head he would never have recovered. I would be left alone with six children. There was an argument between two Romani men here in the settlement, and that's why they came for our men, they came into our homes to beat them up. The children were in bed, we were in bed, and they dragged the Roma by their hair out of their homes and beat them. My two youngest children are so stressed out they can't go to sleep now. My husband is not even going outisde now, he is completely shattered. We will never forget this."
When asked by the journalist whether her husband had done anything to deserve such treatment, the woman responds: "Nothing whatsoever, he was lying down on the bed next to his mother, we were all together in the room - Dad, Mom, sisters and sisters-in-law. We were all staying inside so nothing would happen to us. We had locked the door, but they got in - they broke down the door. They didn't look to see if there were children, or elderly people, or pregnant women there, they just wanted to beat us. They beat our heads and our thighs... They kicked the guys. Our children saw us screaming. They were crying when they saw police beating their parents," says the woman, in tears.
News server Aktuality.sk reported that the police officers called to the scene were surrounded upon their arrival and 200 drunken men from the settlement threw bottles and bricks at them. Police allegedly had to call for backup during the intervention, including riot police, and fired warning shots three times.
Nine persons were taken to the police station, including a minor boy, Regional Police Director Juraj Leško told the news server. He said they were injured but alleged that they all refused medical treatment.
News server Pravda.sk reported that of those nine detained, five were charged with attacking a public official. Rudolf Sivý, a staffer with the Slovak nonprofit Zdravá komunita, also provided a video report from the settlement to Aktuality.sk.
In the report Šimon Horváth, age 17, shows a laceration above his eye and bruising and scratches on his shoulders, as well as a paper recording the charges filed against him. He claims he was initially taken to the police station in the neighboring village of Markušovce and that he refused to sign a confession staying that he had thrown rocks at the officers.
"They took me to the Spišská station, beat me up, and threw cold water on me four or five times," Horváth alleges. He claims to have spent four days in detention before being sent home with his charges.
"I was urinating outside when the commando came. They struck me from behind, knocked me to the ground, and dragged me to the vehicle," Horváth alleges, insisting that he never threw any rocks.
Racist stereotyping should not determine education policy
Amnesty International, the ERRC, and the Open Society Foundation Bratislava (OSF) have called on the Slovak government to refute the use of the “incest argument” to justify segregated education for Romani children in Slovakia. In April, the European Commission started infringement proceedings against the country for discrimination against Romani children in schools contrary to EU anti-discrimination law.
The Slovak Government has justified the disproportionate number of Romani children in schools and classes designed for children with mental disabilities by claiming that there is a higher prevalence of genetically determined disorders amongst the Slovak Roma due to their reportedly having the highest coefficient of inbreeding in Europe. Such arguments and those that describe the Roma as "sociopathological" are discriminatory and racist, according to the human rights community.
“Such statements should have no place in an official communication. Notably the country could ultimately be held accountable for discrimination against Roma at the European Court of Justice. The use of the 'incest argument' to justify segregated education for Romani children in Slovakia suggests that the government is failing to take seriously the grave charges made against it by the Commission,” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia acting Programme Director at Amnesty International.
In 2013, the Slovak Public Defender of Rights highlighted that Roma represented more than 88 % of the pupil in special classes and schools for pupils with mild mental disabilities that she surveyed. The misdiagnosis of mental disabilities amongst Romani children resulting in segregated education is a serious discriminatory measure propped up by the Slovak government that allows for the delivery of lower-quality education for Romani children.
“Higher occurrence of incest within Roma communities is a historic stereotype and using it as an excuse for educational segregation is not just a typical racist argument but signals a complete failure to genuinely address the key issue of discrimination. It effectively seeks to provide fuel for further racism against this already vulnerable minority,” said ERRC Executive Director András Ujlaky.
The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner has also criticized the treatment of Roma children in Slovakia’s schools, accusing the country of segregation in the classroom and blaming educational policies for high dropout rates. Nils Muiznieks warned Bratislava that “much more ambitious targets need to be set for eradicating the social exclusion and marginalization of Roma and persons with disabilities.”
Muiznieks spent five days in Slovakia examining the conditions there for the Roma population. “Segregated environments deprive Roma and non-Roma children of the opportunity to interact with each other and they also reinforce deeply ingrained anti-Gypsyism,” Muiznieks said.
An EU report on Roma integration has found that Slovakia plans to invest 450 million euros through 2020 to improve early childhood education, housing, and outreach activities in marginalized Roma communities.EU Justice Commissioner has called on national governments to “fight discrimination of Roma more actively and focus on elimination of hate crime and harmful stereotypes. We want to see Roma being treated equally, in schools, at their workplace, in housing and health care, just like other EU citizens."
Football hooligans protest in Slovak capital on World Refugee Day
Hooligans and ultras associated with the main Czech and Slovak football clubs (Baník, Brno, Slovan Bratislava, Sparta and Žilina) demonstrated their disagreement with the reception of refugees from Africa and the Middle East this summer in Bratislava. A counter-demonstration called "Bratislava Blockade" was convened by the "Bratislava without Nazis" initiative.
The protest against immigrants from Africa and "Islamization" was organized by the racist, xenophobic "Alternative Way" initiative. Various groups of Czech neo-Nazis, Polish rowdies and Slovak motorcycle clubs endorsed the demonstration.
The Facebook event was published by the Hooligans.cz website and shared almost 5 000 times, exceeding organizers' original expectations. "The public discussion about receiving refugees from countries afflicted by war, and the long-term media campaign identifying Islam with terrorism in recent months, have significantly played into the hands of militant neo-Nazis," the Antifa.cz website reported.
The purpose of the assembly as announced to the municipality was "To warn the Slovak public of the badly-constructed immigration policy of the EU", Aktuality.sk reported. Neo-Nazis rioted during the demonstration and 60 Czech citizens were among those arrested.
The Slovak Police confirmed to the Czech News Agency that 41 of them were suspected of the crime of rioting. A total of 140 persons were detained altogether.
Officers found dummy explosives on the demonstrators and so-called "cold weapons" (such as knives). Two officers were also attacked with tear gas and the suspected perpetrator was arrested.
Several thousand demonstrators turned out in Bratislava. The other event against intolerance was supported by far fewer demonstrators.
After the riot, the Government began to consider stricter rules for demonstrations. A total of 20 Czech citizens were eventually charged with rioting.
"If information [about an upcoming event] were to be so serious as to confirm the high probably of violence, then such an event should be banned," said Slovak PM Fico. He said another option would be to allow static demonstrations but ban marches.
Slovakia to sue over quotas for refugees
Fico also says the Slovak Government is determined to sue before the European Court of Justice over the decision to redistribute refugees throughout the EU-28 on the basis of quotas. A majority of EU Interior Ministers recently approved the redistribution scheme for 120 000 refugees.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voted against the measure and Finland abstained. Czech PM Sobotka said his country will not sue because to do so would significantly encumber Prague's negotiating position in future debates about how to address the migration crisis.
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