Experts of Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Commend Slovakia on Improving Census Methodologies

OHCHR

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the thirteenth periodic report of Slovakia, with Committee Experts commending the State on improving census methodologies, and asking about low school enrolment rates for Roma children and housing segregation of the Roma community.

Sheikha Abdulla Ali Al-Misnad, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, commended Slovakia on new census methodologies, which would hopefully give more comprehensive data on the composition of the population. Questions were added to the census addressed to specific groups of the population regarding mother tongue, nationally or ethnicity. What were the objectives of these questions?

Ms. Al-Misnad said that only 34 per cent of Roma children attended nursery schools compared with 70 per cent of the general population, and only 33 per cent of Roma children aged 15 to 18 were enrolled in school. What measures were in place to support Roma children to attend school, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Country Co-Rapporteur also cited independent reports indicating that housing segregation of Roma had increased in recent years. More than 40 per cent of the Roma population lived in segregated communities with no paved roads or access to drinking water. What types of housing were provided to Roma and what were the requirements for acquiring social housing?

Introducing the report, Dušan Matulay, Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said that the State had developed a national action plan for the 2021 population and housing census. One activity conducted under this plan was to prepare a methodology for the census of the population in terms of nationality, ethnicity and mother tongue. The delegation added that a database of census data was currently being compiled. The new data would be used to strengthen minority rights and develop a new language act.

Mr. Matulay said that in 2021, the Government adopted a strategy for an inclusive approach to education and training, which aimed to ensure accessible and quality education for all children. The delegation added that in 2021, kindergarten education was made obligatory for children at five years of age. In January 2023, a new action plan would enter into force that would address communication barriers and segregation in schools. The Ministry also provided compensation for fees for after-school activities for children in need.

Mr. Matulay also said that the State had implemented a housing policy toward 2030, the objective of which was to gradually increase the overall level of housing so that housing would be affordable for the population. The delegation added that a new public housing project had been implemented to secure 2,000 public housing units for Roma persons. The Plenipotentiary Office for National Minorities had also proposed an amendment to legislation to prevent the construction of segregation walls.

In concluding questions, Ms. Al-Misnad noted that Slovakia had implemented several measures to support the integration of minorities. However, there was not enough support for the integration of children, and not enough children were enrolled in schools. More support for children needed to be provided, she said.

In his concluding remarks, Juraj Kubla, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva and acting head of the delegation, said that the dialogue with the Committee was an opportunity to discuss best practices and challenges in Slovakia. The Government pledged to study carefully and address the concluding observations of the Committee. To make real progress, the State party needed to change its minds and hearts, and it intended to do so.

The delegation of Slovakia consisted of representatives of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities; Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities; Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family; Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport; Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Transport and Construction; and the Permanent Mission of the Slovak Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Slovakia at the end of its one hundred and seventh session, which concludes on 30 August. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and seventh session and other documents related to the session can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 17 August at 3 p.m. to review the combined fifth to eleventh periodic report of Zimbabwe (CERD/C/ZWE/5-11).

Report

The Committee has before it the thirteenth periodic report of Slovakia (CERD/C/SVK/13).

Presentation of Report

DUŠAN MATULAY, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said that the Slovak Government was devoted to fighting discrimination and adopting measures for the future, but equally to rectifying shortcomings from the past. Since the last report, the State party had submitted two apologies. The first, dated 23 June 2021, was an apology for the manner of the intervention of the armed forces of the State against the Roma in Moldava nad Bodvou in 2013 and related events that led to the criminalisation of those who had been harmed. This was a commitment by the Slovak Republic to avoiding similar failures in the future and a signal that law enforcement authorities were sincerely interested in regaining the trust of civil society. The second, dated 24 November 2021, was an apology to women who had undergone sterilisation in violation of the law. A working group had been established to examine the circumstances under which sterilisations had taken place, as well as the possibility of financial compensation for the victims.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of the Slovak Republic had fulfilled the tasks of the strategy for Roma integration until 2020. In April 2021, the new strategy for Roma equality, inclusion and participation until 2030 was adopted. In April 2022, separate action plans for 2022-2024 were adopted in priority areas such as education, housing, employment, health, combatting anti-Roma racism and promoting participation. The Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities continued to implement individual national projects during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2022.

The Ministry of Health had established the healthy regions organization, which implemented policies and measures to prevent discrimination of marginalised groups, including Roma, in both the public and non-public sectors. In 2021, the Government adopted a strategy for an inclusive approach to education and training, which aimed to ensure accessible and quality education for all children. The State had developed a national action plan for the 2021 population and housing census. One activity conducted under this plan was to prepare a methodology for the census of the population in terms of nationality, ethnicity and mother tongue.

The Ministry of Justice was preparing a comprehensive amendment to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code that increased protection against propaganda and disinformation, and blocked support for extremist groups. The definition of hate crimes was also expanded to include discrimination based on real or perceived citizenship, language, lack of religion, disability and gender identity. A provision was added to the Criminal Code to make racial motives an aggravating circumstance in certain ordinary criminal offences. Free legal, social and psychological assistance had been provided to foreign male and female victims of hate crimes since January 2022.

The housing policy of the Slovak Republic until 2030 had also been implemented. The objective of this policy was to gradually increase the overall level of housing so that housing would be affordable for the population.

In 2021, the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for National Minorities developed an action plan for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and ethnic groups for 2021-2025. The public service broadcaster, Radio and Television of Slovakia, was also working to improve its use of the languages of national minorities. One of its main tasks under the new legislation effective from 1 August 2022 was to broadcast content and regionally balanced programmes for national minorities and ethnic groups in their own languages.

Questions by Committee Experts

SHEIKHA ABDULLA ALI AL-MISNAD, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, commended the State party on its methodologies for the 2020 census, which aligned with the Committee’s recommendation in 2018 for more reliable statistical data on the socio-economic status for minorities. The new methodologies would hopefully give more comprehensive data on the composition of the population. Questions were added to the 2022 census addressed to specific groups of the population regarding mother tongue, nationally or ethnicity. What were the objectives of these questions? Ms. Al-Misnad called for updated comprehensive statistics on the demographic composition of the population.

Ms. Al-Misnad also commended the State party for establishing the Slovak National Human Rights Centre, and its efforts to comply with the Paris Principles. What were the differences in function between this institution and the Ombudsperson? There was a low number of cases under the Anti-Discrimination Act litigated by the Centre, allegedly due to the Centre’s lack of resources. What legislation was in place to ensure that the Centre had the needed financial and human resources to carry out its mission effectively? The Ministry of Justice had proposed a bill to Parliament to strengthen the Centre’s independence and transparency, but this had rejected. What was the reason for this rejection? Did the Centre have legal authority to promote the ratification and application of international treaties and to bring cases in its own name to litigation institutions and courts?

Ms. Al-Misnad expressed concern that the implementation of the anti-discrimination act was weak in practice, due to its low degree of enforcement through the legal system and the extreme length of court proceedings. What was the result of the measures taken to intensify the enforcement of the act?

The Committee commended efforts to train law enforcement authorities in preventing and responding to hate crimes. What activities and training had been designed specifically to raise awareness about and combat racial discrimination and excessive use of force? Were there any public awareness campaigns aimed at the broader public that promoted the Convention?

There had been reports of increased hate speech, in many cases promoted by political figures during election campaigning against minorities. How many hate crimes had been investigated and prosecuted by the National Criminal Agency? What were the mechanisms by which persons from minority groups could raise claims of discrimination? Ms. Al-Misnad welcomed the creation of a special unit within the national criminal investigations police to combat extremist hate crimes and hate speech. However, this unit was allegedly not independent and its ability to deal with hate crime and hate speech was very limited.

TINA STAVRINAKI, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that the term “marginalised Roma communities” was used in the census. How did the State party prevent the stereotyping effect of this term? Had the State party fully enforced its anti-discrimination act, ensuring that the principle of shifted burden of proof was applied? What were the findings of the evaluation of the national action plan for the prevention and elimination of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance for 2016-18, and was a new plan being prepared?

Twenty hate crimes were recorded in the State in 2020, 16 were prosecuted and six were convicted. Did these crimes include hate speech? Why did the number of cases decrease from 2019? Why was the number of convictions low? What measures had been taken to condemn hate speech?

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