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Czech Republic

Additional Information on Compliance with the Principles Set Forth in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, under Article 25 of the Convention

Re: Part I.

1. Under the 1999 plan of legislative work of the Czech Government, approved in Government Resolution No. 632/1998 as amended in Government Resolution No. 600/1999, the Government prepares a Bill on the protection of rights of national minorities. This task has been assigned to the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for issues of legislation and human rights, in co-operation with Ministers of the Interior, Education, Youth and Physical Education, and of Culture. Legislative work is co-ordinated by Government Commissioner for Human Rights who also chairs the Government Council for Nationalities. Representatives of minorities, members of the Government Council for Nationalities, also participate actively in drafting the Bill. The timetable of the work envisages that the proposed Principal Theses of the Bill will be presented to the Government (the Government Legislative Council) before the end of November 1999, while the Bill is to be presented by 30 June 2000; the Bill is expected to be debated in the Czech Parliament in the second half of 2000.

The proposed Principal Theses of the Bill on national minorities have been circulated for the inter-ministerial commenting procedure.

2. The latest law on citizenship is Act No. 194 of 29 July 1999, which amends Act No. 40/1993 on Acquiring and Losing the Citizenship of the Czech Republic as later amended. The former Act, which came into effect on 2 September 1999, makes it considerably easier to acquire Czech citizenship for erstwhile Czechoslovak citizens who for various reasons have lived in the Czech Republic without any legal title at all or as foreign nationals since the split of the Czechoslovak federation. These former Czechoslovak citizens may acquire Czech citizenship by signing a statement to this effect. Parents may include children younger than 15 years in their statement. Provided the person in question meets the conditions stipulated in the Act, he/she is legally entitled to acquiring Czech citizenship. The above Act positively has a positive bearing especially on the Roma’s status in the Czech Republic. The new Act on acquiring and losing Czech citizenship also allows forth certain exceptions from the principle of single citizenship, i.e. as regards double, Czech and Slovak citizenship: citizens of the Czech Republic who on the date of the federation’s disintegration were citizens of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, will not lose their Czech citizenship when acquiring the citizenship of the Slovak Republic. Also, former citizens of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic who upon the federation’s split opted for Slovak citizenship are also deemed to be Czech citizens. The former provision applies mainly to the Slovaks who live in the Czech Republic while the latter concerns Czechs who live in the Slovak Republic.

3. Under Article 1 of the Czech Constitution the Czech Republic is a unitary state, which implies that it is not a federal (composite) state. The principle of a unitary state is not affected by the country’s administrative division. The status of minorities and the rights of citizens who belong to national or ethnic minorities are to be regulated by law under the Charter. This implies the existence of a uniform regulation for the state’s entire territory and all persons belonging to minorities. One of the fundamental principles of the Czech Republic’s political and legal system is, under Article 8 of the Constitution, the principle of self-government of territorial administrative units.

The Czech Republic is broken down to municipalities, which constitute the fundamental self-governing territorial units, and regions, which constitute higher-level self-governing territorial units. The key principles of territorial self-government and the State’s relation to self-governing units are regulated in Articles 99 to 105 of the Czech Constitution. Under those provisions, self-governing units (municipalities and regions) are territorial communities of citizens endowed with the right of self-government and are independently administered by their respective [elected] assemblies. Municipalities are public corporations which may own property and are run in accordance with their own budgets. The State may intervene with the activity of self-governing territorial units – municipalities and regions – solely in case protection of law requires it, and solely in ways stipulated by law. The status, terms of reference, and powers of municipalities and their bodies, and of regions and their bodies are regulated in detail in the law on municipalities and other laws, as well as in the laws on regional self-government now being adopted. An important aspect in terms of securing and promoting minorities’ rights is the fact that tasks in the areas of education and culture (with the exception of the discharge of state administration) fall within the independent jurisdiction of municipalities. This implies in practice that the municipality is the founder of a school, and this obligation also applies to schools in which a minority language is the language of instruction. Municipalities also provide subsidies from public budgets to minority organisations for the preservation and development of minority culture, etc. Higher-level self-governing territorial units [regions] were only established by Constitutional Act No. 347/1997 of 3 December 1997, which will come into effect on 1 January 2000.

4. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (in its Article 25, Clause 1) suggests that ”Citizens who constitute national or ethnic minorities are guaranteed .... the right to develop with other persons belonging to the minority their own culture, ... and the right to associate in ethnic associations”, which corresponds to Article 7 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. A legal interpretation of this Article talks about the collective exercise of this right, i.e. persons belonging to a minority may through their association collectively develop their own cultural traditions, impart and receive information in their mother tongue, etc. The right to participate in addressing matters concerning national minorities also represents the collective exercise of rights (see also comments on Article 3, the Government Council for Nationalities).

5. In 1993 and 1994, the elected Assembly of the Neštěmice borough of the City of Ústí nad Labem, or rather the Council of this Assembly, refurbished two of four blocks of flats in Matiční Street, which had earlier served as dormitories, to serve as small rented flats. Between 1994 and 1998, these flats were provided to about 35 families, most of them Roma. Today, 30 Roma families live in the flats, about 130 persons in total, and also four non-Roma families and individuals, for example ex-convicts.

a) Non-Roma inhabitants of Matiční Street in Ústí nad Labem, who have been complaining about refuse piling around two blocks mostly inhabited by Roma tenants and about the noisiness of Roma children, have been proposing since 1997 that the two blocks be separated from the street by a four-metre-high fence. The town hall of Ústí nad Labem – Neštěmice endorsed this plan. However, in the spring of 1998 the Roma founded a civil association, The Roma Rainbow, and in co-operation with the town hall cleaned the whole grounds in April 1998. Since then, the grounds have been kept clean and tidy. Opponents to the fence said already then that a fence between the housing compound and Matiční Street would not prevent children from playing under the windows of the family houses, and that its erection would therefore not resolve in reality any of the problems for which it had been proposed in the first place. The proposal for erecting a fence elicited considerable negative response also outside the Czech Republic, as well as amongst the representatives of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic and some of the Czech media. In spite of that, the Council and the Assembly of the Ústí nad Labem borough of Neštěmice resolved on building a ”ceramics fence” 1.8 m high, without any passage (together with the building of a playground and pavements).

b) On 11 March 1999, at the 54th meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Government Commissioner explained the position which the Czech Government had, upon his proposal, adopted on 11 January 1999. On the contemplated fence project the Government stated that it regarded the local Assembly’s plan as grave and alarming. The project might be understood, stated the Government, as potential interference with human rights, above all human dignity and equality of people before law regardless of social status or ethnic origin or property. The Government assigned its Commissioner to discuss the need for consistent adherence to human rights with the local self-government and to inform the Government about the results of such discussions prior to the start of construction. However, the Government at the same time expressed its will to use all the ways and means available to it to prevent the construction of the fence should the Neštěmice local assembly not cancel its plan.

c) The Neštěmice assembly did not cancel its plan to build a fence without passages and the Government, upon a proposal of Pavel Rychetský, Deputy Prime Minister and Government Legislative Council Chairman, seconded by Jan Kavan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, therefore resolved on 26 May 1999 to instruct in accordance with the law (provisions of Section 62 of Act No. 362/1990 on municipalities) the Chairman of the Ústí nad Labem District Authority to have the matter discussed by the Ústí nad Labem Assembly and, should this measure fail as well, to suspend the discharge of the decision on construction as contrary to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Clause 1: ”Everybody is entitled to protection of his or her human dignity, personal integrity, good reputation, and his or her name”), and to submit the relevant resolution to the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament for review and decision. The Ústí nad Labem Assembly did not decide on banning the construction of the fence, and the Chairman of the District Authority therefore suspended the construction in his decision of 29 June 1999 and referred the matter to the Chamber of Deputies.

d) Under the law on municipalities, the Chamber of Deputies is in charge of deciding all matters in respect of which Chairman of a District Authority has suspended the discharge of the local self-government’s decision, unless this matter consists of rescinding a legal regulation (about which the Constitutional Court would decide). This legal norm in force, under which the Chamber of Deputies adjudicates a dispute between a governmental authority and an elected local assembly, became the subject of frequent public criticism. The Ministry of the Interior prepares a new Bill on municipalities whereby this power would be vested in a court of law.

e) Before the above Chairman suspended the discharge of the Neštěmice town hall’s decision, the Neštěmice town hall had completed the construction of benches and children’s sand playground between both blocks of flats in Matiční Street, as well as the construction of other facilities for children (a basket for basketball, crawling structures for children), and also completed pavements intended for inhabitants of both blocks as a new path in the opposite direction from Matiční Street. The town hall announced at the end of August 1999 and again at the end of September 1999 that it would start building the fence, and in fact started building it on 5 October 1999. Roma from wide and far gathered on the site and dismantled the fence. At the same time the town hall made a concession in that is started planning three passages in the planned fence (instead of one, eccentrically located passage). The town hall argued that its suspended decision was in fact unnecessary; that it might have built the fence even without that decision; and that it was impermissible to breach the Construction Act when the town hall had, in accordance with that Act, notified the Planning Authority of the fence project [”small-scale project” in the Act’s terminology] and the Planning Authority thereupon endorsed this notification in its communication of November 1998. On 30 August 1999, the District Authority Chairman revoked the above communication by his remedial action; as from that moment there existed no legal grounds for constructing the project, according to governmental authorities. On 5 October 1999, the District Authority requested the Municipality of Ústí nad Labem to stop the construction as an unauthorised project.

f) In its Resolution No. 1054 of 5 October 1999, the Government also expressed its concern over the start of fence construction, and fully supported the District Authority Chairman’s remedial action in this respect. The Chamber of Deputies discussed the case of the Matiční Street fence at its first sitting after parliamentary holidays. On the first day of this sitting, on 12 October 1999, it included the Matiční Case into its agenda among the items to be debated in early November. On 13 October the contractors hired by the [Neštěmice] town hall built the fence with the assistance of Metropolitan Police, which reports directly to the Mayor of the City of Ústí nad Labem. There were no physical conflicts.

g) On 13 October 1999 the Chamber of Deputies decided by a vote of 100 in favour, 58 against, with 14 abstentions and 28 absent MPs, that the decision taken by the Neštěmice Assembly on 15 September 1998 on fence construction was cancelled.

h) The Chamber of Deputies endorsed the overall resolution by 101 votes. At the same time is requested the Government to authorise a new governmental representative to negotiate with the Neštěmice Assembly. At its meeting on 18 October 1999, the Government in its Resolution No. 1111 took due note of the Chamber’s resolution and assigned the Deputy Prime Minister and Government Legislative Council Chairman to discuss the Government’s further steps with representatives of the Roma community and to inform about those steps the Ambassadors of the countries who had approached the Czech Government in this matter. In that same Resolution is also assigned Pavel Zářecký, Deputy Minister of the Interior, to open talks with the Ústí nad Labem District Authority Chairman as well as with the Neštěmice Assembly on the removal of the Matiční Street fence and/or some other satisfactory solution to the situation.

i) Based on the talks between the Ústí nad Labem Assembly and Government Commissioner Pavel Zářecky, the Ústí nad Labem Assembly decided on 23 November 1999 to remove the fence. The Government released CZK 10 million as a special-purpose non-investment subsidy from the national budget to help resolve the problems in the Neštěmice borough. From this sum, the Ústí nad Labem Assembly allocated CZK 3.6 million for the purchase of the three family houses whose inhabitants wanted to leave Matiční Street. The fence dismantling itself will cost CZK 56,000. The city will use the balance of the subsidy for purchasing and demolishing one unoccupied block of flats in a bad state of repair in Matiční, and for social programmes. On 24 November 1999, the fence was removed for good.

Re: Part II

Article 3

The Government Council for Nationalities is an advisory, initiative-taking and co-ordination body of the Czech Government for matters of policy to nationalities. In accordance with the Council’s Statutes, approved in Government Resolution No. 259/1994 (amended in Government Resolution No. 580/1998 to the effect that the Council need not be chaired by a Cabinet member), the Government appoints the Council Chairman. The Council Chairman then appoints Council members, i.e. representatives of minorities upon proposal of minority organisations, and representatives of Ministries (at the level of Deputy Interior, Culture, Education, Labour, Finance, and Foreign Ministers) upon proposal of the relevant Ministers. A representative of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament (appointed upon proposal of the Chamber’s Speaker) and a representative of the Office of the President of the Republic (appointed upon the Chancellor’s proposal) are also Council members.

Since 1994, i.e. since the time of adopting the Council’s Statutes currently in force, representatives of the following minorities have been on the Council: Roma (three), Slovak (three), Polish (two), German (two), Hungarian (one), and Ukrainian (one).

Article 4

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms secures equality of people before law. Fundamental human rights and freedoms are guaranteed to everybody irrespective of sex, race, colour of skin, language, faith, religion, political or other conviction, ethnic or social origin, membership in a national or ethnic minority, property, birth, or other status. The Charter also lays down that the national or ethnic identity of any individual shall not be used to his or her detriment. For prohibition of discrimination and the principle of equality see the original comment on Article 4.

From the gender perspective, no differences before law are made between men and women among persons belonging to national minorities. Equality before law is regulated by Czech legislation, specifically the provisions on the right of assembly (Act No. 84/1990 as later amended, Section 10); the petition right (Act No. 85/1990, Section 1); the right of association (Act No. 83/1990 as later amended, Section 4); the right to employment (Act No. 450/1992); etc. A specific area is the question of equal treatment of men and women at work and the strengthening of employees’ protection against discrimination because of sex. The Constitutional principle of citizens’ equality irrespective of sex and through the introduction of an explicit prohibition of discrimination because of sex is newly contained in an amendment to Act No. 167/1999, which alters Act No. 1/1999 on Employment, Section 1 of which lays down: (I) ”A citizen may not be denied the right to employment for reasons of race, colour of skin, sex, sexual orientation, language, faith, religion .... nationality, ethnic or social origin ...” (this Act came into effect on 1 October 1999). A proposed amendment to the Labour Code (Act No. 65/1965 as later amended) stipulates, in particular, the legal conditions of applying and enforcing equal treatment of men and women, specifically by laying down the principle of equal treatment of men and women in respect of employment, i.e. access to employment, professional training, promotion, and working conditions; prohibition of discrimination in employment because of sex; prohibition of sexual harassment; etc.

Article 5

Government Resolution No. 279 of 7 April 1999 adopted a concept of the Government’s policy to persons belonging to the Roma community, supporting their integration in the society. The concept is structured into twelve inter-linked points.

a) The concept is currently being elaborated on in more detail by a group of experts, and individual Ministries already implement some parts of it. A precondition for implementing this concept is also an anti-racism campaign approved by the Government in its Resolution No. 34 of 1 January 1999, which will be launched in 2000.

b) Wherever the word ‘Gypsy’ appears in the English version of Government Resolution No. 279, it is due to translation from Czech into English; the original Czech text only contains the word ‘Roma’ where applicable.

c) The Roma are unambiguously regarded as a national minority, which is internally divided into ethnic subgroups. Wherever the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms mentions ethnic minorities, such a smaller subgroup may also be implied. Belonging to a national or an ethnic group does not have any special legal consequences, belonging to either is equal from the law’s perspective. The law does not differentiate between these two terms.

d) ‘Support of the process of democratisation of the Roma representation’ means support of the emergence of Roma’s democratic institutions, intensive co-operation, and dealing with Roma activists as Roma representation, i.e. those who denote themselves as such.

e) In respect of the Office for Ethnic Equality, it is too early to talk about its terms of reference, staffing or financing. The Government has approved the concept, part of which is also the establishment of this Office. The proponents of the concept intend that the Office be independent (and be subject solely to the Parliament), accessible to citizens (structured regionally), and that it employ mainly citizens of different ethnic origins. The Government has not yet assigned the task of drafting and submitting a Bill on this Office. (As a state administration authority, this Office shall have to be established by an Act passed by the Parliament rather than a mere governmental decision).

Article 9

Radio and television broadcasting in minority languages (in public media) in 1998 and 1999:

Czech Radio:

- Polish broadcasting (news, political columns), 130 minutes/week;

- Slovak broadcasting (news, political columns, a magazine), 85 minutes/week;

- Roma broadcasting (news, political columns, music shows) 40 minutes/week;

- German broadcasting (news, literary and music shows), 30 minutes/week.

In addition to the above, Czech Radio broadcasts the Club of Understanding programme on other ethnic groups living in the Czech Republic, focusing on the Vietnamese, Ukrainians, Hungarians, etc., for 20 minutes/week.

Czech Television:

- Romale (news, political columns), 20 minutes biweekly;

- Children of the Moment (profiles of Roma personalities), 18 minutes biweekly.

These two shows alternate every week.

There is no television broadcasting for other minorities. However, Czech Television broadcasts various series on national and ethnic groups that live in the Czech Republic (for example, a 12-episode series Under One Roof in 1998 and 1999, etc.).

Article 10

New legal regulations, either already prepared or under preparation, focus on the right of using minority language in official contacts. These include above all a new law on the protection of minority rights which is to be passed by the Parliament before the end of 2000; a law on the Ombudsman (the Bill passed through the Chamber of Deputies on 4 November 1999, it is expected to enter into force in 2000); a law on schools; amendments to several laws – on municipalities, on elections to local assemblies, on elections to the Czech Parliament, on elections to regional assemblies and to the Prague Assembly, etc. (the legislative changes are scheduled for 1999 to 2001). The right to use minority and other languages is secured in criminal proceedings (preparatory and court proceedings) as well as in proceedings before other than criminal courts, including the Constitutional Court.

Article 11

The legislation in force allows to enter a name in a register, and issue registry certificates, in keeping with the linguistic standard of persons belonging to minorities (there are no problems in this respect in practical life). However, Act No. 268/1949 on Registries (as later amended) which is still in force lays down in its Section 20, Subsection 6: ”When entering feminine surnames [in registers], forms complying with the rules of Czech orthography shall be used.” Women proclaiming other than Czech national identity, in whose language feminine surnames either have a form identical with the masculine form (e.g. Germans) or have their own specific form different from Czech (Greeks, Ukrainians, etc.) feel damaged by this provision. The already prepared new law on registries, names and surnames envisaged eliminating the existing lack of possibility of registering, and issuing certificates of, feminine surnames by the linguistic standards of persons belonging to the various minorities, i.e. lack of the possibility of registering/certifying feminine surnames without the [Czech] suffixes ”-ová”, or ”-ý”/”-á”. In June 1999, the Chamber of Deputies debated the government’s motion for passing this new law on registries, names and surnames and on changes of some related laws. In Part 2 ”Surnames”, Section 69 of the Bill, the registration and use of feminine surnames was newly proposed as follows: ”Women’s surnames shall be formed in accordance with the rules of Czech grammar. If an international convention requires it, the Registry shall, upon the surname bearer’s request, make an entry in the register, next to the woman’s surname written by the rules of Czech grammar, also of her surname in the form that does not correspond to the rules of Czech grammar; of these two forms of surname the bearer may use only one form which she shall opt for when filing the application, and that selected form shall be noted in the Registry’s certificate.” Upon the bearer’s request, this provision may be retroactive.

However, the new Bill on registries, names and surnames and on changes of some related laws was not passed in the first reading, and the Chamber of Deputies may not (in line with its Rules of Procedure) debate it sooner than in one year. It is to be emphasised that the provision on surnames was not the reason for rejecting the Bill.

Article 12

See comments on Article 5

Article 18

The Czech and Slovak Federal Republic ceased to exist on 31 December 1992 under Constitutional Act No. 542/1992 passed by the Federal Assembly of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic became its successor states. As one of the successor states, the Czech Republic assumed the obligations arising from treaties signed by the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, in accordance with the principles of international law. At the level of national law, the Czech Republic assumed the obligations ensuing for the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic from international law as on the day of its extinction. In connection with the division of the Czechoslovak federation on 1 January 1993 a Treaty between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic on Good Neighbourhood, Friendly Relations and Co-operation was signed at Bratislava on 23 November 1992. Ratification instruments were exchanged in Prague on 1 July 1993. In its Article 8, the Treaty defines the status and rights of the Slovak minority in the Czech Republic and those of the Czech minority in the Slovak Republic.

Re: Questions concerning Government Resolution No. 279/1999; see comments on Article 5.