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Czech ombudsman removes his deputy from Govt councils after she disagrees with his official comments on the Roma Strategy

21.1.2021 7:16
Monika Šimůnková (PHOTO:  https://www.ochrance.cz/)
Monika Šimůnková (PHOTO: https://www.ochrance.cz/)

Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková objects to the official comments sent by Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) Stanislav Křeček on the Czech Government's Roma Strategy for 2021-2030. She feels she cannot remain silent and informed the ombudsman of her fundamental disagreement with the official comments by internal e-mail.  

In response, the ombudsman has removed her from three councils advising the Czech Government, including the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs, where she has been representing the Office of the Public Defender of Rights. She revealed that information in an interview for ROMEA TV.

"I had hoped I would at least be invited within our office to give input on what kind of official comments would be made by our office about the [draft] Romani Integration Strategy, because as Deputy Public Defender of Rights, along with my other colleagues, I have been working on the Strategy since last spring. Various drafts were sent to us, we were continually consulting on them, and for me it was a big surprise when I ascertained on Monday last week what the definitive wording of the comments made by the Office of the Public Defender of Rights actually was," she told ROMEA TV. 

"I have to state clearly that I fundamentally disagree with those comments. I believe they contain several pieces of information that are not true. The comments say the Strategy was drafted without knowledge of this subject matter, that it is not feasable, and many other things that are, for me, absolutely indefensible," she said.
 
"Last week on Wednesday I expressed my standpoint in an internal e-mail, stating that I fundamentally disagree with these comments, I cannot defend them, and they are not the kind of comments by the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, in my opinion, that this institution has been contributing when it comes to addressing Romani issues for the last 20 years," she said, adding that she received a response from the ombudsman two days later. "My stance surprised him, and because our opinions differ, he revoked, with immediate effect, my assignments to represent the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, both at the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs and at two other councils. One is the Government Council for Human Rights, the other the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men," she told ROMEA TV.

"It is possible to say I have probably been punished for daring to express disagreement with something that I actually cannot remain silent about as a person representing the institution of the Public Defender of Rights. I was elected by the Parliament of the Czech Republic just like the ombudsman was, so I genuinely cannot remain silent," she said.

In his comments on the Roma Strategy, the ombudsman criticized representatives of nonprofit organizations, the Agency for Social Inclusion, and the volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs. Those members have responded that the ombudsman does not know what his powers are, that his comments on the Roma Strategy involve untruths, and that he has been purposefully, systematically undermining the dignity of Romani people in his other remarks as well.

The removal of his deputy from the advisory bodies to the Government is even more peculiar because the ombudsman has responded to the recent critique of his comments made by the volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs by claiming that everybody is pursuing the same aim, which is the inclusion of the Romani community into society, and saying he finds it odd to be "personally" criticized. "We are all pursuing the same aim - the inclusion of the Romani community into society. I expressed serious doubts about whether it might not be time to reflect on a more effective Strategy, since this concept has not yielded any positive results so far, and the reaction is to criticize my person," stated the ombudsman in a response to the civil society critique made at the same time as he was removing his deputy from the Government councils. 

"If the Strategy acknowledges, for the nth time in a row, that the number of excluded localities is rising, that the number of children attending preschool is, on the other hand, not rising, that the number of Romani pupils completing school is also not improving, that the number of Romani youth who are not employed and not preparing for employment is rising, and so on, that despite the concepts adopted so far, which this current draft is based on, no positive result has been achieved, then it is high time to reflect on whether a different approach should be taken toward the problem. Again, I must reiterate that without the determination of the Romani people themselves and their active efforts, we will get nowhere," the ombudsman said to the Czech News Agency of the Strategy which, according to his deputy, his own office helped draft.  

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. 

LC, ryz, sam, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Monika Šimůnková, Ombud, Stanislav Křeček, Vláda



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