Human Rights Developments
The Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia will cease to be on January 1, 1993. The move toward permanent division of the Czech lands from Slovakia became more certain after the parliamentary elections on June 5-6, 1992, which resulted in Vladimir Meciar becoming Prime Minister of Slovakia and Vaclav Klaus becoming Prime Minister of the Czech republic. On July 17, the Slovak National Council issued a declaration of sovereignty. Within a few minutes of that declaration, President Havel announced that he was resigning, effective July 20. On September 24, after five rounds of voting, the federal parliament acknowledged its inability to elect a federal president. On September 3, the Slovakian constitution went into effect. As Czechoslovakia disintegrated, concerns increased about strident nationalism and the discriminatory treatment of ethnic minorities. In the Czech republic, measures against former communists continued.
In October 1991, the federal parliament approved a "lustration" law that excludes from a wide range of appointive positions-in government, state-owned companies, the academy and the media-those who are said to have collaborated with Czechoslovakia's repressive secret police agency, the StB, or who held positions in the Communist Party or other specified Communist-connected institutions since 1948. The law allows citizens to contest its findings before an independent commission. As of September 11, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had examined 146,000 applicants for government positions, 10,244 of whom were identified as having been secret police collaborators.
In a decision issued on March 5, the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ilo) wrote that "the persons covered by the [lustration law] are implicated essentially on the ground of their political opinion and not on account of any activities prejudicial to the security of the State within the meaning of Article 4 of the Convention [No. 111 on Discrimination in the Workplace]." The ilo estimates that the law would affect more than one million people, and called on the government to "scrap or change" it.
In the view of Helsinki Watch, the Czechoslovakian government and the Constitutional Court should repeal the lustration law. The law does not adequately guarantee a review of each case on an individual basis in a proceeding in which the accused is told the charges against him and is given sufficient opportunity to prepare a defense. Adequate consideration is not given to the possibility that false information might have been planted in police files, or that an individual might be able to cite extenuating circumstances in his or her defense. Furthermore, Helsinki Watch is concerned that with respect to past violations of human rights, persons are not charged with having violated a particular law or standard, but instead are being persecuted merely for having belonged to a now-discredited group.
In April, 99 members of parliament voted to ask the new Constitutional Court to review the law to determine its compliance with the Federal Charter of Basic Rights and Freedoms. By the end of November, the Court had not ruled on the case. Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar stated that his government would abolish the lustration law after January 1993.
On April 29, a list of journalists accused of collaborating with the former secret police was submitted to the parliament by the Federal Security and Information Service (fbis). Although the parliament voted to keep the list secret, it was leaked to the press within an hour. The names of some 380 journalists were made public, causing many of them to lose their jobs without ever having an opportunity to challenge the list's validity. By May, lists purporting to represent the entire roster of names in the StB files were unofficially circulating.
The treatment of Gypsies in Czechoslovakia has improved in some ways since 1989. Gypsies are now recognized as a national minority in both federal and republic documents outlining principles of government policy. Gypsies can publish and use the Romany language, form political parties, and establish culturalorganizations. Discrimination is forbidden by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Czech and Slovak Republics. Nevertheless, Gypsies face growing discrimination in housing, employment, and access to public and private services, and are increasingly the victims of physical and verbal attacks. Helsinki Watch received reports of police indifference and slow reaction to acts of violence against Gypsies. Some Gypsies also reported that their complaints are not accepted or pursued by the police.
Helsinki Watch also received reports that the police are often brutal in their dealings with Gypsies. For example, witnesses in the town of Lomnicka, Slovakia, reported that on May 5 fifty police entered the town and attacked men, women and children without justification. The police pointed pistols at several Gypsies' heads and shouted racial epithets such as "All Gypsies to be shot!" and "There you have it, you dirty Gypsy! All of you will die!"
Under the Communist regime, many Gypsy women were sterilized without their consent. As late as August 1990, Gypsy women were receiving monetary incentives to undergo sterilization. Complaints submitted by Gypsy women sterilized without their consent have been dismissed by local and republic prosecutors with only cursory investigations, and those responsible for carrying out these practices have not been prosecuted. Nor have government officials publicly condemned these past abuses.
As the likelihood of Czechoslovakia's break-up increased during 1992, the 600,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia expressed concerns about how they would be treated in an independent and increasingly nationalist Slovakia. During debates on the Slovak Constitution, Hungarian deputies walked out in protest over the preamble that read "We, the Slovak nation" and over an amendment stipulating that the Slovak language will be the "state" language of the republic.
Although in general the press operates freely in Czechoslovakia, the Slovak government appeared to be trying to restrict press freedoms on several occasions. In early August, the Slovak government barred several newspapers from government press conferences. Two of the papers, Slovensky vychod and Smer, are being sued by Prime Minister Meciar for libel. According to The Prague Post, the Slovak government also "canceled a deal to privatize the near monopoly press Danubiaprint" and "revoked a broadcasting license granted to a company during the previous administration." The government appears to be using technicalities to suppress press freedom. The newspaper Smena tried to privatize but was prevented by the government on technical grounds; it is now in serious financial difficulties. An alternative university in Trnava has been harassed by the government, which froze its bank account on the grounds that its rector, who was appointed by President Havel, does not have the correct academic qualifications.
The Right to Monitor
Helsinki Watch is not aware of any instance in which human rights or other independent monitors have been hindered in their work by the government of Czechoslovakia.
The Bush administration made no significant public comment on human rights developments in Czechoslovakia during 1992. Although the human rights record of the Czechoslovakian government was generally good, the administration failed to exploit opportunities to address human rights issues connected with the break-up of Czechoslovakia, as well as the extensive abuses associated with the lustration process.
The Bush administration did indicate its concern about growing nationalism in Slovakia, and indicated that it had raised its concerns with the leaders of that republic. At a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East on September 29, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Thomas Niles called the developments in Slovakia "disquieting" and stated:
We are watching the situation there very closely and we have made quite clear to the government of Slovakia, to those who will by all appearance lead Slovakia into independence, Mr. Meciar and others, that certainly the quality of Slovakia's relationship with the United States will depend upon the observance of csce principles,respect for the rights of minorities, democratic principles....
The Work of Helsinki Watch
During 1992, Helsinki Watch focused primarily on two of the most important human rights concerns in Czechoslovakia: the decommunization process and the treatment of Gypsies.
Helsinki Watch engaged in a dialogue with the Czechoslovakian government regarding lustration legislation throughout late 1991 and 1992. In October 1991, after the federal parliament passed the lustration law, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to President Havel, criticizing the law as premised on the notion of collective guilt and urging that "each case should be treated on an individual basis in a proceeding in which the accused has ample opportunity to hear the charges and to defend himself."
In March, representatives from Helsinki Watch met with President Havel in Prague and raised their concerns about the lustration law. Previously, in December 1991, Helsinki Watch had sent a representative to Czechoslovakia to investigate the implementation of the lustration law. A newsletter issued in late April concluded that "Helsinki Watch has observed evidence of a `witch hunt' that already exceeds the literal terms of the law." Helsinki Watch called on the government of Czechoslovakia and its Constitutional Court to repeal the lustration law. Helsinki Watch also recommended that the Czechoslovakian government:
(1) set up an independent, non-governmental commission to investigate and report on abuses of the previous regime;
(2) prosecute those responsible for actual crimes, on the basis of specific charges and with full due process protections;
(3) assure that no prosecutions or other adverse actions against individuals-for example, in employment and education-take place solely on the basis of political associations or party membership.
An article written by Helsinki Watch regarding the lustration law entitled "Witch Hunt in Prague" appeared in The New York Review of Books in May 1992.
Helsinki Watch devoted much of its efforts in 1992 to a comprehensive investigation of the treatment of Gypsies in Czechoslovakia. A Helsinki Watch representative was in
the country from October 1991 to March 1992 to conduct interviews with the Gypsy population, experts on minority issues, and local and federal government officials. A report was issued in August.
On September 10, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to Josef Tuchnya, Slovakian Minister of the Interior, expressing concern about credible reports of police brutality and the use of racial slurs against the Gypsy community in the town of Lomnicka. Helsinki Watch called on the government to initiate a thorough investigation into these events.