THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Human Rights Developments
Although the human rights situation in the Czech Republic has improved dramatically in recent years, continuing human rights concerns related in particular to the treatment of Roma (Gypsies) and the increase in skinhead attacks against them during 1994. More generally, tensions over nationality and integration provided the context for legal discrimination against certain non-Czechs. For example, the Law of the Czech National Council on Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship, adopted on January 1, 1993, was amended in 1994 to extend the date for Slovak citizens to apply for Czech citizenship under more favorable conditions than other foreigners until June 30, 1994.
The law provided, inter alia, that Slovak nationals can be denied Czech citizenship if they have criminal records dating five years prior to application. Human rights and minority rights groups expressed concern that the law would have a negative impact on the Roma minority, many of whom are Slovak citizens although they may have lived their whole lives on Czech territory. As the U.S. Helsinki Commission pointed out, "The law attaches to past criminal acts new penalties (i.e. loss of citizenship) which were not in existence at the time of the crime, has the impact of discriminating against the Czech Republic's largest minority, and is being implemented in a manner which fails to provide the kinds of administrative law protections" envisioned in human rights documents. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 Slovak citizens, most of whom are Romas, have been left without Czech citizenship as a result of the law. On September 13, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected a challenge to the law on the basis that it was discriminatory.
There continued to be reports of violent attacks on Roma. For example, following the killing of a policeman allegedly by a Roma man on June 19, two Roma houses were set on fire in the town of Bruntal. Many of the attacks were carried out by skinheads. On July 15, skinheads threw Molotov cocktails into the home of a Roma family in Jablonec nad Nisou, severely injuring a young girl and her mother. Some Romas reported that the police were often unwilling to protect citizens of Roma ethnicity.
On April 29, after much controversy, the Czech parliament adopted a law providing for the restitution of Jewish property confiscated by the Nazis during World War II. The government identified for return some 202 synagogues, cemeteries and other community buildings still in the possession of the state or municipalities. Under the new law, Jewish property that was later sold to individuals would not be returned, but financial compensation would be paid by the state.
During 1994 representatives of the Sudetan Germans, who were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, increased pressure on the Czech Republic to provide restitution and repatriation rights. Czech government officials had consistently refused to negotiate with the Sudetan Germans, but during 1994, the German and Austrian governments began to support more vocally the demands of the Sudetan Germans and to suggest that a resolution of their demands might be linked to the Czech Republic's admission into the European Union. International human rights documents prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnic or national origin and guarantee that all individuals shall receive equal treatment of the law and shall have the right to obtain adequate reparation for damages suffered due to discrimination.
On April 13, the Czech Constitutional Court held that provisions of Article 102 of the criminal code that prohibit defamation of "the government, parliament and the constitutional court" were unconstitutional. Although human rights observers applauded the court's decision, they pointed out that the criminal code still prohibits defamation of the Czech Republic and of the President of the Republic. Petr Cibulka, editor-in-chief of the anti-communist weekly Uncensored News, had been charged under these provisions for having made critical remarks about Czech President Vaclav Havel. On March 17, President Havel pardoned Cibulka.
The Right to Monitor
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any attempt by the government of the Czech Republic to impede human rights observers in their monitoring activities.
Although United States and Czech officials met frequently during 1994, the only significant comments on human rights in the Czech Republic were found in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. Its section on the Czech Republic was, for the most part, accurate in reporting on the human rights situation and appropriate in tone. However, the report described as "cultural" the "central issue" in the controversy over the provision in the citizenship law requiring a clean criminal record for a five-year period prior to the application, stating "ethnic Czechs see five years as reasonable, Roma see it as punitive." By doing so, the State Department appeared to be trivializing serious human rights issues raised by the law.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki's primary concern in the Czech Republic continued to be the treatment of the Roma minority and, in particular, the impact that the citizenship law would have on Roma. In September, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki wrote to Minister of the Interior Jan Ruml expressing concern and requesting specific information regarding the impact of the law on the Roma minority.