THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Human Rights Developments
On January 1, 1993, the Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia peacefully ceased to exist, after Czechs and Slovaks failed to agree on a workable federation during 1992. The Czech Republic, as one of the successor states, formally declared that it considers itself bound by the legal instruments ratified by the Federal Republic, including international human rights treaties and covenants.
The Czech Constitution, adopted in December 1992, incorporates Czechoslovakia's 1991 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which is similar in many respects to the U.S. Bill of Rights. In addition, Article 10 of the Czech Constitution states that "international treaties on human rights and fundamental freedoms . . . are directly binding and take precedence over the [national] law."
In 1993, the Czech Republic continued to struggle to come to terms with its communist past. The controversial "lustration" law of October 1991 remained in effect, excluding for five years from a variety of appointive public positions anyone who may have collaborated with the Czechoslovak secret police agency (the StB) or who held high positions in the Communist Party or other specified institutions after 1948.
In November 1992, ninety-nine members of the Czechoslovak Parliament brought the lustration law before the Constitutional Court to determine its compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. In November 1992, the Constitutional Court ruled that, primarily due to the questionable reliability of StB files, as well as difficulties of proof, those individuals identified in StB files as potential candidates for collaboration (otherwise know as Category C), could no longer be tried. The rest of the law, however, was upheld.
On July 9, the Czech parliament passed the Law on the Illegitimacy of and Resistance to the Communist Regime, which declares the Communist regime from 1948 to 1989 illegal and criminal. The new law invalidates any statute of limitations on and paves the way for possible prosecutions for past crimes committed in the name of communism. Helsinki Watch considered the law a retroactive criminalization of heretofore legal conduct, in violation of international law. Helsinki Watch had no information that charges had been brought under this law as of November.
By the end of 1993, over 96 percent of all those unjustly convicted under the communist regime had been rehabilitated by the Czech courts. In another attempt to deal with past abuses, in March 1993 the parliament established a commission to investigate repressive actions taken by the Czechoslovak security police against dissidents. The commission will work closely with the Prosecutor General's Office, as well as other government agencies.
On January 1, 1993, the Law of the Czech National Council on Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship, the republic's new citizenship law, went into effect. The law provides, inter alia, that Slovak citizens may apply for Czech citizenship until December 31, 1993 only if the applicant (a) has had official residency status in the territory of the Czech Republic continually for at least two years, (b) submits proof of having applied for exemption from Slovak citizenship, and (c) has not been sentenced in the past five years on charges of any intentional crime. After 1993, Slovak citizens will be treated the same as other foreigners when applying for Czech citizenship.
Helsinki Watch received reports that the citizenship law may have a negative impact on the Roma (Gypsy) minority. Many of the estimated 200,000 Romas living in the Czech Republic were forcibly resettled from Slovakia to the industrial areas of northern Bohemia after World War II, or resettled in the region by the communist regime in the 1960s. Many never applied for Czech residency, either because they did not believe it was necessary or because they livedin factory housing and thus were not eligible for permanent residency.
The Roma population may also be disproportionately affected by the requirement that the applicant have a clean criminal record. The Roma population is the poorest minority in the nation, with a high rate of unemployment that has been exacerbated by discriminatory hiring practices. As a consequence, the Roma population has a high rate of criminality. Moreover, many Romas are semi-literate, and some speak only a mixture of Slovak and the Romany language. Thus, they may not adequately understand the procedures required to obtain Czech citizenship or be able to prepare the necessary forms without assistance.
Several Czech towns initiated discriminatory policies against the Roma population during the past year. In late 1992, the town of Jirkov passed a controversial ordinance giving the town council wide discretion to evict or fine apartment occupants without a court order if certain hygiene or occupancy standards were violated. The town council of Jirkov acknowledged that these measures were aimed at controlling the migration of Romas to the town.
Similarly, at the end of December 1992, Jiri Setina, the Czech Prosecutor General, proposed a national anti-migration bill to deal with "the unrest caused by undisciplined groups of migrants" in certain areas. The migrants were clearly identified as Gypsies in the detailed report accompanying the bill.
The Jirkov ordinance and similar measures adopted by several other Bohemian villages, as well as the Prosecutor General's draft law, were severely criticized by human rights and minority rights organizations. These measures were voted down by the Czech parliament.
Some recent attempts have been made to improve conditions for the Roma minority, including a pre-school program launched in September by the Ministry of Education to provide higher-quality education and more individual attention for selected Roma children. Radio Free Europe reported that as many as 80 percent of the Roma children living in Prague are classified as mentally backward and placed in special schools, often based on language and cultural differences, as well as racism.
Despite official efforts to improve the treatment of the Roma minority, prejudice remains widespread among the general populace. Reports of racially-motivated attacks on Romas by skinheads continued during 1993. Discrimination in housing, hiring, education and access to services also remained pervasive. What is more, reports persisted that the Czech police did not respond to crimes committed against Romas.
The Right to Monitor
Helsinki Watch was not aware of any attempt by the government of the Czech Republic to impede human rights observers in their monitoring activities.
The U.S. government officially recognized the Czech Republic on January 1, 1993. Several high-level meetings between Czech and U.S. government officials were held during the year to discuss such issues as cooperation in the environmental and military fields. The Czech Republic received over $171 million in investment insurance assistance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. However, the administration made no significant public comment on human rights developments in the Czech Republic in 1993.
The Work of Helsinki Watch
Helsinki Watch continued to monitor the treatment of minorities, and especially the Roma minority, during 1993. In May, Helsinki Watch sent a mission to the Czech Republic to meet with human rights and minority rights groups. Helsinki Watch representatives traveled to Usti nad Labem to meet with Roma leaders and discuss the implementation of the citizenship law. This delegation also met with Czech officials and expressed concern regarding the effect the lawcould have on the Roma minority.
On June 30, Helsinki Watch addressed a letter to Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus regarding the provisions of the new citizenship law and its disproportionate impact on the Roma minority.