U.N. committee criticizes Czech Republic on human rights

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the Czech Republic on Friday to amend its laws to end discrimination against the Roma population. Olga Szantova looks into the situation:

During its three weeks of negotiations, the committee, composed of 18 independent experts, examined the situation of the estimated 10 million Roma living in Europe. In particular it dealt with the records of several countries, including the Czech Republic. As far as this country is concerned, the committee, and I quote, reiterates its concern at the lack of criminal, civil or administrative law provisions expressly outlawing racial discrimination in education, health care, social care, the penitentiary system as well as in the private sphere.

Much has been said and many reports have been published on racially motivated crime in this country. But does the Czech Republic also lack the laws dealing with the issue? Speaking over a very bad phone line, the head of the Press and Public Relations Department at the Ministry of Justice, Dr. Vladimir Voracek, denied this allegation:

"Our penal code has a number of clauses dealing with racial discrimination in great detail and contains relatively severe punishments for breaking the law. We do not think it is in any way lacking in this respect."

The UN committee report places education first among the spheres where the Czech Republic lacks proper legal prevention of racial discrimination. Ms Irena Maskova of the Education Ministry's International Department says the legal coverage of Roma rights in education is adequate: But what about the actual situation in schools? A very high percentage of Roma children are sent to so-called special schools for the mentally handicapped. Is that in accordance with the law? And so, it seems that the problem may not lie as much with the laws and regulations as such, as with their implementation in everyday life.

Author: Olga Szantová
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