Human rights commissioner criticises ERRC over report

Jan Jarab

The Budapest-based human rights watchdog, the European Romany Rights Centre or ERRC, released a critical report on Monday, saying the Czech Republic had done little to combat discrimination against the country's Roma minority. Quoting the findings of a UN committee on eliminating discrimination, the ERRC claimed that widespread discrimination remained a problem in this country, particularly in the state administration. But the ERRC's report has been sharply criticised by the Czech government's Commissioner for Human Rights, Jan Jarab. He says it's simply a rehash of previous documents, containing claims that the Czech government has never tried to deny.

"I haven't seen the report itself. What I suspect is that the ERRC is selectively quoting from various documents. Last month, in August, there was a major event concerning our periodic report on the fulfilment of obligations stemming from the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was discussed in front of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, and I think we were mainly praised there. I think we were praised both for the quality and the self-critical tone of our report and the performance of our delegation there - I was the head of the delegation. Indeed, what we were criticised for were those things that we openly admit are a problem. Then the ERRC comes out and publishes a report saying 'Committee criticises the Czech Republic over racism'. I think that's not a particularly serious way of dealing with the matter."

Will you be demanding an explanation from the ERRC?

"No, not at all. That's their right. They're not saying anything untrue. It's true of course that there is a statement, both in our reports and in all reports or recommendations that stem from them, that these problems exist. Nobody denies that. I just find it a little absurd that these problems are being trumpeted as having been found out by the ERRC. Even in front of one of the committees - in this case the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was as constructive as possible, our report was praised as being of very high quality, very self-critical - the steps the Czech Republic had taken since the last report were highly appreciated. Of course we were told that these problems, which we admit, continue to exist and we have to do more in the period leading to the next report five years from now. But it's so cheap to come out and say 'the Committee still criticised the Czech Republic for not having solved the issue of racism'. Yes, indeed, and that will be the case five years from now - we will not have eliminated all racism from our society five years from now. I would be far too optimistic to think so."

Your job is an advisory one, the Commission for Human Rights is an advisory body - you advise the government. Do you get the feeling that the Czech government is taking your advice to heart?

"Sometimes yes, and sometimes less so. It's always a struggle from an advisory position to persuade the powerful branches of the executive that sometimes they need to make changes. The fight for implementing changes in the legislation - and particularly in making them really effective - is an ongoing process."