News archive from 2013-2015

Declaration of human rights UN today

On December 10, 1948, the UN Declaration of Human Rights was passed. This day became the international day of human rights. Despite the visible progress, it is still safe to say that basic human rights challenges in today’s world are the same as 70 years ago, which is when the UN Charter and Declaration were passed.

The Charter and the Declaration were founded on the basis of two main principles: political and territorial sovereignty of states on the one hand and universal human rights on the other.

However, how does one ensure the universality of human rights, if they are not to be only declarative and if at the same time the principle of state sovereignty is not to be violated? The tension resulting from the current validity of both principles can also be seen in the political and humanitarian crisis caused by the situation in Syria and the Middle East.

The UN and other regional organizations (on our continent i.e. the Council of Europe, or OBSE) created many mechanisms and tools to make the main principles work. The UN Security Council can authorize armed intervention in a given state, but only in the case of genocide – a serious and mass violation of human rights, while the consent of all five permanent members of the Security Council is required.

Otherwise, the enforcement of human rights at the international level is carried out by “soft” means: the adoption of approximately two dozen human rights conventions and their monitoring, the activities of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Europe also through the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights focusing on the area of civil and political rights and fundamental freedoms.

All the above-mentioned ways of enforcing the universal nature of human rights are lengthy and complicated. Ultimately, the main guarantee of protection and support of human rights is the state. And it is precisely from this that the second key challenge that has accompanied us for seventy years follows. Although the state is the main guarantor of human rights, it is also their main potential violator. Finally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created immediately as a reaction to the atrocities of the state – the Nazi state and, implicitly, Stalin’s Soviet regime. Finally, the delegations of the Soviet Union and then communist Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia did not even vote for the Declaration.

In order for the state to effectively guarantee the security and rights of its citizens, it must be strong enough. However, in the absence of sufficient guarantees, it can abuse its strength and power. We need to keep this lesson in mind in present days, when the majority of our parliament commemorated the international day of human rights by adopting measures to strengthen the state, without more serious debate and used protection against the (yet imaginary) terrorist threat as the main reason.

The third challenge and unfulfilled principle of the Declaration is the demand for systematic education on human rights and democratic citizenship. If we want to assert our rights and if we are to respect the rights of others, we must know them. If the state is to be the main guarantor of human rights, representatives of state offices, constitutional bodies and political parties must adopt human rights principles. In February, after three years of complicated negotiations, the Slovak government adopted a human rights strategy, on the basis of which specific action plans were to be adopted by the end of the year. It is quite disappointing that apparently the only action plan that will not be adopted is the Action Plan for education and training for human rights and democratic citizenship.

The fourth persisting challenge is the very understanding of the universality of human rights. What does it mean that “everyone is the bearer of all rights and freedoms”? Human rights are individual, each person is a unique being, a value in itself. If the rights of even a single person are seriously violated, we cannot be satisfied. The principle of universality excludes simplistic generalizations. When evaluating the level of the state of human rights in Slovakia, we must start from the fact that we are a member state of the European Union.

The former vice-chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the National Council of the Slovak Republic often declared that there were no problems with respect for human rights in Slovakia. True, if someone has so much money that he can keep it wrapped in foil somewhere, he usually does not care if the human rights of others are respected. The full do not trust the hungry, and this applies not only in the relationship between the rich and the poor, but in relationships between any majority and any minority. The ability to empathize with the situation and position of another, the ability to empathize is a virtue that has been systematically suppressed in our regions for a long time. Therefore, the approach of a democratic legal state to the protection and promotion of human rights must change.

Slovakia-Hungary Treaty – good or bad decision?

Signing of the Treaty on Good neighboring relations and friendly cooperation between the Slovak Republic and the Hungarian Republic by then Prime Ministers Vladimír Mečiar and Gyul Horn twenty years ago, on March 19, 1995 in Paris, was a good step. All domestic actors agreed on this in their assessments, including those who harshly criticized the treaty at the time. In the end, the lack of enthusiasm portrayed towards the content of the treaty was a sign that the Slovak parliament ratified the treaty only a year after its signing, on March 26, 1996, after long-lasting polemics not only between the government of Vladimír Mečiar and the former opposition, but also within the government coalition – between the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party.

During that time, the government was able to pass several controversial laws which have been influencing relations between the Slovak majority and Hungarian minority in Slovakia till this day. The first law was the language law of which a part was deemed unconstitutional by the constitutional court in 1997. The second law was about territorial division which created made up regions in south Slovakia, and wrongly defined and designated borders of the regions in the south as well as in other parts of Slovakia.

Perhaps this was an attempt to have an additional guarantee that none of the clauses of the treaty could be interpreted as a reason for the promotion of ethnic autonomy. It was mainly a reference to the Recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe no. 1201, which did not exclude the creation of minority self-governing bodies in regions where members of national minorities form the majority. On the other hand, in the period between the signing of the treaty and its ratification, the Slovak Republic acceded to the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities. Despite its minor shortcomings, the Convention is the most comprehensive international document to date enshrining the human rights of persons belonging to national minorities.

Precisely because of the reference to Recommendation no. 1201, Vladimír Mečiar’s parliamentary opposition was criticized the most, and because of it he also faced criticism within the government coalition. The solution was found in the fact that a verbal note sent by the government to the Hungarian partner before the signing of the contract was part of the proposal on the basis of which the parliament expressed its approval of the contract. The note reads: “The Government of the Slovak Republic emphasizes that it has never accepted or enshrined in the treaty any formulations that would be based on the recognition of the principle of collective rights for minorities and that would allow the creation of autonomous structures on an ethnic basis. (…) Together with other relevant provisions of the document, this treaty consistently respects the recognized European standards, which are based exclusively on the individual rights of persons belonging to national minorities. Therefore, any other interpretation is out of the question.” The former coalition of Hungarian minority parties in the Slovak Republic did not support the treaty, because they did not consider it sufficiently balanced.

Despite all the jumping through hoops and reservations, I personally always belonged to the supporters of the Slovak-Hungarian treaty. Not only because I prefer diplomatic solutions to force, but also because I think that interstate contracts are not concluded for a year or two and their benefits are manifested in a longer time horizon. From this point of view, it is indisputable that the treaty contributed to the “normalization” of relations between the two countries. In many areas – especially in the area of ​​economic relations, security and energy policy – it has significantly contributed to the revival and development of relations and mutual benefit.

The Slovak side, including independent analysts and public figures consider the fact that Hungary has committed itself to respecting the inviolability of common state borders and the territorial integrity of the Slovak Republic and to refrain from using force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of the neighboring country as one of the greatest benefits of the treaty. Of course, the Slovak Republic has also reciprocally committed itself to the same. However, according to some domestic interpretations, only the Hungarian government had to be “forced” to do so, because it was said to have been reluctant to do so for a long time.

There is some truth in the fact that people in Slovakia may have felt fear when the first democratically elected Hungarian prime minister Antall claimed he feels (in spirit) as the chairman for a country of 15 million Hungarians in June of 1990. Even more fear could have been raised when Hungary backed out of the agreement to build a series of water dams known as Gabčíkovo – Nagymaros. And finally, the strong statement of some Hungarian politicians made after Slovakia unilaterally diverted the Danube River near Čuňovo so that it could start constructions of the Gabčíkovo dam was just adding oil to fire.

However, I think that the importance of the clause on the inviolability of borders is overestimated on the Slovak side. Prime Minister Antall was aware that the guarantees of the inviolability of the borders were already clearly enshrined in the Paris Peace Treaty between Hungary and the victorious powers from 1947, in the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1975 and, finally, in the UN Charter. Gyula Horn must have been aware of the same. After the joint entry of Slovakia and Hungary into the European Union and NATO, this part of the treaty was basically already completely out of date, as historian Dušan Kováč stated in his comments on the anniversary.

Paradoxically, the least progress has been made in the area to which the treaty devotes the most space – in ​​the status and rights of national minorities. I do not mean only the realization of specific rights connected with the preservation and development of national identity, whether of Hungarians in Slovakia or Slovaks in Hungary, but also, for example, the development of border regions. The South Slovak region, especially the section between Šahá and Kráľovský Chlmec, remained in many respects the most backward territory of the Slovak Republic, without great hopes for radical improvement, but this also applies to the opposite side of the common border.

According to some comments (for example, according to Professor Kováč’s statement on Radio Slovensko “K veci” on March 19), nothing fundamental has changed even in the field of minority education. In Hungary, even before, Slovak schools were actually Hungarian schools, only teaching the Slovak language and culture as a subject, this status was preserved. In Slovakia, there were schools with Hungarian as the language of instruction even before that, and nothing has changed about that either. Of course, the treaty leads to a reciprocal comparison of the status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and the Slovak minority in Slovakia, but such a comparison is not entirely correct.

If we ask the question of why approximately 20,000 officially registered Slovaks and Slovaks in Hungary have only a few schools in which only the Slovak language is taught in Slovak, then the analogous question in relation to the Slovak state should be as follows: Why don’t 40,000 officially registered Ruthenians and Ukrainians in Slovakia, have full-fledged schools with Ruthenian or Ukrainian language of instruction, why are there only a few schools where only Ukrainian language is taught as a subject? If we pose the problem in such a way that the Hungarian minority of half a million has at its disposal a network of schools with Hungarian as the teaching language, then at the same time we must ask whether the curricula in these schools sufficiently respect the cultural specificities of the Hungarian national community and whether the Hungarian minority has real and effective opportunities and tools to influence the educational policies of the state in areas that concern them.

Of course, we can answer all these questions by recriminating history. It can help us understand many contexts, processes and facts, but it will not help us in finding advantageous and fair solutions for people living today and for future generations. So, if neither party has so far denounced the Slovak-Hungarian treaty, because both consider it to be still relevant, important and mutually beneficial, then let’s try to get even more out of it than we have in the past.

Article by the HVS chairman Kálmán Petőcz for Denník N March 20, 2015

Response to the situation in Ukraine

We express complete solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their effort to promote democracy, freedom, decent living and the right to free choice of their future. We bow to the memory of the victims of repression and unrest.

We realize that Ukraine was one of the most tried regions in Europe in the 20th century. The country suffered due to the genocidal policies of the two totalitarian regimes, the Bolshevik and Nazi regime. It was also not always lucky in its own leadership. 

We defend the rights of the people of Ukraine to resist the abuse of power, tyranny and oppression in a situation where everything else has failed and when the democratic order is being removed and human rights are being seriously violated.

We appeal to the current and future state and bodies of power of Ukraine to strictly adhere to the principles of democracy, protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in their activities and to effectively prevent the spread of extremist expressions and movements.

We appeal to the representatives of the Russian Federation not to abuse the situation in Ukraine, not to interfere in the internal affairs of the country and to fully respect its sovereignty.

We advocate for increased involvement of European and regional bodies and institutions in solving the crisis, especially the European Union, but also the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the Visegrad Four and BSEC (Organization for Economic Cooperation in the Black Sea Region). We are in favor of diplomatic solutions, but not those that limit or question the free will of Ukrainians. For solutions that are in line with the UN Charter and the OSCE Helsinki Principles, especially with regard to the protection of European security, the support of Ukraine’s integrity and sovereignty, and full respect for all the human rights of its people.

The Supreme Court really legitimized the humiliation of the Roma population

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Slovakia expresses deep concern over the decision of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic (Resolution No. 4 Tdo 49/2012), confirming the decision of the Regional Court in Banská Bystrica. In the opinion of these courts, the distribution of leaflets with the text “with your trust I can certainly (among other things) eliminate the unfair favoring of not only gypsy parasites” does not fulfill the factual essence of the crime of defamation of nation, race and belief.

In our opinion, the reasoning of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic (hereinafter: the court) is an example of abstracting from context, easily ascertainable objective facts and the essence of the matter. The court extensively devoted itself to a sometimes bizarre linguistic and grammatical analysis of the words Gypsy, gypsy and gypsy, the result of which is the defense of the inexcusable. The court did not analyze the entire incriminated statement, the interconnection of its parts (“Gypsy parasites”), nor its objective effects in the form of defamation of an ethnic group. The court’s grammatical analysis somehow missed the fact that the entire public activity of the chairman of the People’s Party Naše Slovensko Marián Kotleba and the organizations he founded and of which he is a member are objectively known facts, sufficiently documenting his true intentions.

The court’s reasoning is mainly based on an examination of the meaning of the conjunction “not only”, the use of which is said to confirm that Marian Kotleba “expresses the determination to eliminate (in his opinion) unfair favoring of all parasitizing citizens and does not focus exclusively on a specific ethnic group”. Paradoxically, however, the court also confirms that the accused focuses on (the whole) specific ethnic group of Roma (Gypsies) and only incidentally mentions some other unidentified parasites. The courts, in our opinion, in this case fatally failed to protect the basic human right – respect for the human dignity of every person. The justification of hate speech humiliating the Roma people actually legitimizes the opinion that the Roma are inferior, and their dignity has a lower value than the dignity of other inhabitants of the state.

However, the court’s decision also creates a precedent that can have serious consequences not only for the further development of interethnic and intercultural relations in Slovakia, but also for the healthy development of democracy as such. It means that in the future, anyone who wants to defame members of nations, ethnic groups and religions (including members of the Slovak nation) can avoid punishment if they appropriately add the word “not only” or another similar word to their statements.

The court’s reasoning contradicts the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (e.g. in the case of Le Pen v. France), the recommendations of the European Commission against racism (ECRI, General Policy Recommendation No. 13), the obligations of the Slovak Republic arising from the International Convention on elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, as well as the goals of the Council of Europe’s campaign to limit hate speech, in which Slovakia is also involved. It is just more proof of how often Slovak courts fail to protect basic human rights.

The Center for Ethnicity and Culture Research, People Against Racism, the Roma Institute and the Open Society Foundation joined the statement.

In order for Slovakia to be a country for everybody

The undersigned organizations and individuals support the initiatives of the government and state bodies, which aim to improve the human rights environment in our country, to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the Slovak Republic, and thus to fulfill all the obligations that the Slovak Republic has in this area. In full seriousness, we are advocating for the completion and adoption of the National Strategy for the Protection and Support of Human Rights in the Slovak Republic, which should contribute to the stated goal.

We have been dealing with the issue of human rights in a long-term and systematic way, while our activities often replace the insufficient activity or lack of initiative of the state. We strive to fulfill human rights principles in the Government Council of the Slovak Republic for Human Rights and in all its committees. We welcome and actively support the very intention of the strategy from the beginning. We don’t have rich corporations or influential institutions behind us. However, we have behind us people who live and want to live in the spirit of human rights values.

We condemn all statements and other activities that insult and dishonor persons who have been advocating for progress in the field of human rights protection for many years. In recent times, the attacks have also focused on some members of the government, especially Minister Miroslav Lajčák, his colleagues and other persons representing state authorities, as well as on an independent expert community participating in the process of creating the human rights strategy so far. However, the main object of hatred flooding the public and media space are people belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups. We express solidarity with everyone.

We advocate for human rights and a strategy for their support and protection. We appreciate the positive events that have occurred in this area after 1989. However, if human rights principles are not fulfilled in practice, they have no value for people. We need a strategy that clearly points out the mutual conditionality of the principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. A strategy that will clearly determine the framework for the protection of all vulnerable groups of society, including children, senior citizens, national, ethnic and religious communities, people of no religion, women, refugees, asylum seekers, persons with disabilities, LGBTI people and people living below the poverty line. A document that identifies obstacles to better fulfillment and enforceability of human rights and will become a political commitment that will determine the tools, means and ways to improve the current situation.

We express concern over the fact that several actions of the government and public authorities are in conflict with the principles on which the human rights strategy should be based. The law on material need, apparently interfering with the constitutional rights of citizens; non-respect of the legal and valid local referendum in Tešedíkov; questionable practices of the police in Moldava nad Bodvou and elsewhere; continuation of the case of Hedvig Malinová and journalist Jana Teleki; statements of constitutional officials questioning the loyalty and equality of residents belonging to minorities – these steps raise doubts about the direction of the state’s human rights policies. Unfortunately, none of the previous governments had a completely clear conscience in this area.

We want to continue actively participating in the formation of human rights policies. We have the will to lead a dialogue – not only with the government, but also with organizations and people who, apparently due to a misunderstanding or misunderstanding of the goals of the prepared human rights strategy, express negative attitudes towards it. However, such a dialogue must not deny the principles of democracy and basic human rights values, such as freedom, equality, dignity, justice and solidarity. It should be about how to bring them to life. It should therefore be based mainly and above all on professional starting points, on mutual respect, and equal partnership. Let’s approach it responsibly and seriously, so that Slovakia truly becomes a country for everyone.

In Bratislava, on October 24,  2013

Signatories of the declaration in the name of the organization:

  • Ivan Hamráček – ETHOS, o.z.
  • Andrej Kuruc – NOMANTINELS
  • Roman Kollárik – FransFúzia
  • Martina B. Pavlíková – Slatinka Association
  • Marcela Barová, Matej Berenčík – ODOS (Let’s open the doors, let’s open our hearts)
  • Apolónia Sojková – Women’s Interest Association MyMamy
  • Károly Tóth – Forum institute for minority research
  • Diákhálózat – Student network
  • Slávka Mačáková – ETP Slovakia

Signatories – private citizens

  • prof.Soňa Szomolányi, UK Bratislava;
  • prof. Silvia Miháliková, UK Bratislava;
  • Dargmar Horná, Bratislava;
  • Peter Guráň, Modra;
  • Viliam Figusch, Bratislava;
  • Jana Kviečinská, Bratislava;
  • Sylvia Porubänová Bratislava;
  • Mária Kolíková, lawyer, Bratislava;
  • Lucia Faltinová, vice-chairman for the committee for human rights
  • Jozef Hašto, psychiatrist;
  • prof. Marta Botíková, UK Bratislava;
  • Marek Hojsík, Bratislava;
  • doc. Ivan Buraj, UK Bratislava;
  • Ján Šajban, Bratislava;
  • Michal Bočák, Prešov University;
  • Peter Varga, Bratislava;
  • Michal Zacharovský, psychologist, Ružomberok;
  • Denisa Šoltésová, Prešov University;
  • Lýdia Gabčová, Bratislava;
  • Elena Ondrušková, UK;
  • Dávid Bosý, Prešov;
  • Katarína Krnová, Zuzana Maďarová, Alexandra Ostertágová, ASPEKT, Bratislava;
  • Lucia Najšlová, Praha;
  • Marcel Zajac, Bratislava;
  • Miroslav Kocúr, Marianka;
  • Lucia Berdisová, Trnava University, ÚŠP SAV;
  • Kálmán Petőcz – Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Slovakia
  • Šarlota Pufflerová – Citizen, Democracy and responsibility
  • Adriana Mesochoritisová – Možnosť voľby
  • Laco Oravec – Milana Šimečka Foundation
  • Elena Gallová Kriglerová, Jarmila Lajčáková – Centre for research of ethnicity and culture
  • Grigorij Mesežnikov, Martin Bútora – Institute for Public Affairs
  • Irena Biháriová – People against racism
  • Zuzana Števulová – League for human rights
  • Martin Macko, Jana Jablonická Zezulová – The Inakosť initiative
  • Zuzana Kusá – Slovak network against poverty
  • Romana Schlesinger – Queer Leaders Forum
  • Klára Orgovánová – Roma Institute
  • Géza Tokár – Round table for Hungarian and Slovak citizens
  • Branislav Mamojka – National Council of Citizens with Disabilities
  • Saša Draková – Slovak Committee UNICEF
  • Vanda Durbáková – Consultancy for civil and human rights
  • Helena Woleková – SOCIA
  • Brigit Trimajová – POPI -SK (Institute of Process-Oriented Psychology Slovakia)
  • Liliana Bolemant – Phoenix, o.z.
  • Ingrid Kosová – Quo vadis, o.z.
  • Nora Beňáková – Človek v ohrození, o.z.
  • Hana Fabry – Women’s network HEPY
  • Jana Cviková, Jana Juráňová – Women’s Interest Association ASPEKT
  • Monika Bosá – EsFem, o.z.
  • Rasťo Kužel – MEMO 98
  • Katalin Hodossy – Tandem, o.z.
  • Alena Pániková – Open Society Foundation
  • Dušan Ondrušek – PDCS Slovensko
  • Rado Sloboda – Amnesty International Slovensko
  • Timea Stránska – Člověk v tísni – Slovensko
  • Iveta Chovancová – ODYSEAUS, o.z.
  • Katarína Glosová – Planned Parenthood Society