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TITLE: SLOVAK REPUBLIC HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE SLOVAK REPUBLIC The Slovak Republic became an independent state on January 1, 1993, following the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR). The Slovak Constitution, which went into effect on October 1, 1992, provides for a multiparty, multiethnic parliamentary democracy. Slovakia chose to carry over the entire body of CSFR domestic legislation and international treaty obligations, which gradually are being renewed or updated. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which won a plurality in the June 1992 elections, formed a coalition with the Slovak National Party (SNS), giving them a majority in Parliament. When the SNS left the coalition in March, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and the HZDS continued in office, governing as a minority party until November when the coalition was renewed. Prior to its dissolution, the CSFR had dismantled the repressive security apparatus of pre-1989 Czechoslovakia. The Slovak Information Service is responsible for all security and intelligence activities in Slovakia. A parliamentary commission headed by the president of Slovakia's National Council (parliament) oversees the service. During 1993 there were no reports indicating human rights abuses by the Slovak Information Service or the military security apparatus of the Slovak Government. There was one report of two possible extrajudicial killings by a policeman (see Section 1.a.). Economic reform, initiated in 1990 in the former CSFR, continued in Slovakia in 1993 at a slower pace. With the disruption of established commercial relationships caused by the dissolution of the CSFR and the collapse of former Warsaw Pact markets, Slovakia's gross domestic product fell, unemployment rose, and many enterprises became insolvent. Although small-scale privatization was nearly completed, the process of privatizing larger enterprises slowed amidst cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and political struggles. Nevertheless, Slovakia succeeded in keeping inflation manageable, rebuilding its foreign currency reserves, attracting new Western investors, and limiting its budget deficit. Freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and religion are widely respected. Still, some human rights problems remain. Societal discrimination against Romanies remained a serious problem, as evidenced by a local ordinance discriminating against the Romany population, which the Constitutional Court declared illegal. Human rights monitors as well as some journalists expressed anxiety over the Government's apparent use of financial and bureaucratic actions to attempt to exercise control over journalists' activities. Human rights monitors and some minority representatives criticized restrictions on schooling in the mother tongue, the posting of bilingual roadsigns, and the registration of names. The Government condemned the few instances of "skinhead" attacks against Jews and desecration of synagogues and cemeteries, acting promptly to investigate and to redress wrongdoing. Laws and regulations guarantee equal rights to women and minorities but are not always respected in practice. Some groups (notably, Romanies) remained disadvantaged due to a variety of social, educational, and economic causes which the Government had only begun to address. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of political killings. On October 26, a policeman reportedly instructed a 34-year-old male inhabitant of a Romany settlement at Klenovec to accompany him to the police station for questioning about a crime. Instead, the policeman allegedly took the man to a meadow where he killed him with a gunshot to the back of his head. The policeman returned to Klenovec and allegedly repeated the scenario with a second victim. A third intended victim managed to escape. The policeman was detained and charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. b. Disappearance There were no reports of abductions, disappearances, secret arrests, or clandestine detentions. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment There were no reports of any such practices. Prison conditions reportedly meet minimum standards. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution provides for protection against unlawful or unreasonable detention. A person accused or suspected of a crime must be given a hearing within 24 hours and either set free or remanded to the court. During this time, the detainee must be offered access to an attorney. If remanded to the court, the accused is entitled to a hearing within 24 hours, at which the judge will either set the accused free or issue a substantive written order placing the accused in custody. Investigative detention can last up to 2 months, with further pretrial detention permitted. The total length of pretrial detention may not exceed 1 year, unless extended in exceptional circumstances by the Supreme Court when the detainee's pretrial release could pose a serious danger to society. The law provides for a court-paid attorney, if needed, and family visits. No violations of these rules were reported during 1993. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial Under the Constitution, the courts are independent, impartial, and separate from the other branches of government. Judges, appointed for life, are bound only by law and international treaties. To help reinforce judicial independence, the Minister of Justice in 1993 obtained parliamentary approval to raise judges' salaries to those of parliamentarians. Parliament appoints judges of the highest court, while the Minister of Justice appoints others on the recommendations of their peers. Judges may not be transferred or dismissed without their consent, and only Parliament may recall them. During 1993 there were no reports of judges being recalled. The highest judicial body in Slovakia, the 10-judge Constitutional Court based in Kosice, reviews the constitutionality of laws and the decisions of lower level courts, as well as the decisions of national and local government bodies. The Court may also address cases in which the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens are involved, provided no other court has addressed them. Controversy surrounded the naming of the first members to the Constitutional Court in January. Article 102 of the Constitution provides that the President's powers include the naming of "higher state functionaries." Parliament voted to postpone the naming of the court members until they elected a new President. Parliament's constitutional committee, however, decided that justices of the Court did not fit into the category of "higher state functionaries," even though the Chief Justice and his deputy did, and the Prime Minister was allowed to name the members of the Court. This led some human rights monitors to question whether the Prime Minister used a constitutional loophole in order to name judges sympathetic to his own views. The President later designated which of the members would be Chief Justice and the deputy. In addition to the Constitutional Court, Slovakia's multitiered court system consists of a republic-level Supreme Court; regional courts in Bratislava, Banska Bystrica, and Kosice; and 38 local courts responsible for individual districts. The Ministry of Justice complained repeatedly of a shortage of judges which has led to a case backlog, resulting in long waiting periods for trials and between hearings. In response to the overload, the courts have begun to specialize, dividing into commercial, civil, or criminal branches. Persons charged with criminal offenses are entitled to fair and open public trials. They have the right to be informed of the charges against them and of their legal rights and to retain and consult with counsel sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, one is provided at government expense. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses. They enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to refuse to testify against themselves. They may appeal any judgment against them. The lustration law of the former CSFR, barring from high public office persons who previously collaborated with the Communist-era secret police, is technically still in effect in Slovakia, though not enforced. Opponents of the law called it discriminatory and a violation of due process, since decisions may be based on unverifiable secret police records, and no mechanism for appeal is available. The law's supporters cited the need to ban from public office those responsible for abuses of power and repression during the years of Communist rule. In January 1994, the Government voted to seek a judgment from the Constitutional Court on whether the lustration law was constitutional and consistent with international human rights treaties. There were no reports of political prisoners in 1993. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Criminal Code requires police to obtain a search warrant in order to enter a home. Search warrants may be issued by a chief judge or, during investigation, by a judge upon the recommendation of the prosecutor. House search is permitted only if there is a well-founded suspicion that important evidence or persons accused of criminal activity are present inside or if there is some other important reason. A search warrant must be presented before the house search is conducted or, if some serious circumstance prevented this, within 24 hours after the search. There were no reports of illegal surveillance of persons or communications. A government investigation into mail tampering determined that there were incidents of individual post office employees searching for money or valuables. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution prohibits censorship and provides for freedom of information and the right of expression. During 1993 numerous newspapers, magazines, and journals spanning the entire spectrum of political views were published freely. Throughout 1993 media criticism of the Government was widespread, and there were no reports of overt restrictions, although the Government's financial and bureaucratic maneuvers, as well as threats of lawsuits against critical journalists and periodicals, seemed designed to inhibit such criticism. Some journalists noted that government officials criticized their work and questioned their loyalty, accusing them of besmirching the image of Slovakia. Some periodicals that carried articles criticizing the Prime Minister and the Government apparently suffered financial retribution. The Ministry of Culture announced early in the year that it would remove subsidies from a number of cultural periodicals on the grounds that their readership was marginal. But the only periodicals to lose their subsidies were ones such as Kulturny Zivot, Slovenske Pohlady 93, and Fragment K, which were either critical of the Government or provided a forum for writers whose views were at odds with official views. Danubiaprint, the newsprint manufacturer, continues to be a government monopoly after its privatization process was halted in 1992. Other journalists complained that the government-sponsored Slovak Republic Press Agency subsidized the newspaper Republika, which generally adopted positions sympathetic to government policy, while other publications were allowed to fail when their subsidies were eliminated. The January 1993 firing of the editor of the government-owned newspaper Smena for alleged poor management was perceived as a punishment for the paper's critical stance. The syndicate of Slovak journalists condemned the dismissal, and, of approximately 60 editors and journalists who worked for Smena, 49 quit following the editor's firing. The fired editor and a group of former Smena staff members went on to found a new and even more critical daily, Sme, which conducted its activities unhampered. On December 23, a Slovak company subordinate to the Transport and Communications Ministry abruptly canceled, effective January 31, 1994, its 5-year contract to broadcast Radio Free Europe (RFE) medium-wave transmissions on three transmitters in Slovakia. Though the Transport Minister asserted this decision was merely technical, the move followed months of criticism of RFE in government-supported media for alleged lack of its objectivity and antigovernment slant. At year's end, it was unclear whether the Slovak Government would nullify the decision. Slovakia has one government-sponsored television station broadcasting on two channels; steps were under way for partial privatization. One of Slovakia's 17 radio stations is government-sponsored; the remainder are privately owned and controlled. Government-appointed boards, made up of nine members elected by Parliament to 6-year terms, administer Slovak radio and Slovak television. During 1993 five of the nine members of the television board resigned. In October Parliament dismissed two more Slovak Television Council members and appointed seven new members, five from the HZDS and two from the SNS. Objecting to the political imbalance this created, another board member immediately resigned, citing exhaustion. At that time a competitive process was already under way for selection by a board of a permanent director, who would then require parliamentary approval. Some journalists expressed concern that government proposals to combine the two boards under one overarching board and to replace their personnel might result in an unacceptable degree of government control. When radio journalist Lubomir Lintner was fired from his post in October 1993, he attributed the move to pressure by members of the Government. During 1993 a regular feature of Slovak television was the Sunday night program "Ten Minutes with the Prime Minister," originally envisioned as an interview but criticized by journalists for its monolog format. In October an opposition political leader demanded equal air time to ensure a balanced picture for the viewing public. In the fall, "Ten Minutes" was replaced by "Press Club," a roundtable discussion and interview show that includes government and opposition political figures, as well as journalists from a broad spectrum of media. During 1993 many journalists were apprehensive of calls by government officials for "ethical self-regulation," fearing that in practice this could lead to a form of censorship. In response, government officials pointed to Council of Europe resolution 1003 of July 1, 1993, on the ethics of journalism, which includes a section entitled "Ethics and Self-regulation in Journalism," suggesting the establishment of self-regulatory bodies to issue precepts, judge the truthfulness of the media, and generally serve as a "barometer of credibility" for citizens. There is no civil service law protecting jobs after a change in government. The Government replaced a substantial number of state, district, and local officials, as well as leaders in the health and education sectors, with HZDS-sanctioned candidates. When the staff of one hospital in Rimavska Sobota protested the replacement of their director, six department heads were replaced as well. In October the director of the National Oncology Institute was fired after he pointed out the problems in the health care system on Slovak television. Academic freedom is guaranteed by law. Current legislation grants universities the authority to decide their internal affairs, including pedagogic and academic orientation and internal structure. Concern over academic freedom was raised after the Minister of Education replaced the heads of all district school boards with his own candidates, although the law stipulates that local boards are supposed to nominate their heads. During 1993 conflicts between the Government and the independent University of Trnava appeared to subside. Private funding sources have kept the embattled University alive, and there have been no reports of government attempts to hamper its activities in 1993. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The right of persons to assemble peacefully is protected under the law. Permits for some public demonstrations are required, but there were no reports of refusals, nor of police interference with public demonstrations. The right of persons to associate freely and to form political parties and movements is also protected under the law and was respected in practice during 1993. Some organizations, including political parties, are required to register, but there were no reports that this requirement presented an obstacle to free association. c. Freedom of Religion Freedom of religious belief and faith are guaranteed by the Constitution and by law. Citizens who associate on the basis of a particular religious persuasion may freely proclaim and practice their beliefs. Under existing law, only registered churches and religious organizations are explicitly granted the right to conduct institutional activities, such as public worship services and meetings, educational and cultural activities, publications, and health and social services. The State provides financial subsidies only to registered churches and religious organizations. According to the Ministry of Culture, which has responsibility for implementing the laws pertaining to religion, 15 churches are registered. New churches and religious organizations that seek registration must have 20,000 adult members with permanent residence in Slovakia. (The numerical membership requirement does not apply to churches or religious organizations which were active, based either on the law or on the approval of the State, prior to September 1, 1991, when the current law entered into force.) Slovak officials indicated that they were aware of deficiencies in existing regulations and have initiated a review. On September 29, Parliament passed the "Law on the Reconciliation of Certain Property Injustices Perpetrated Against Churches and Religious Organizations," providing for the restitution of church property confiscated after 1945, and of Jewish community property confiscated after 1938. Its provisions were negotiated between the law's drafters and representatives of the religious communities involved. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation There are no restrictions on the freedom of movement of Slovak citizens. Former Czechoslovak citizens who emigrated during the period of Communist rule are free to return for visits and are able to gain Slovak citizenship if they wish. Passports are readily available for all wishing to travel abroad. Refugees and asylum seekers are treated according to international norms. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens have the constitutional right to change their government through the periodic free election of their representatives. Citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote, and voting is by secret ballot. On January 19, the Slovak Parliament passed a law setting the conditions for determining, acquiring, and losing citizenship in the Slovak Republic. Any person who had been a citizen of the Slovak Republic under the Czechoslovak Federation (by birth or naturalization) automatically became a citizen of the Slovak Republic after the split. Persons permanently residing in Slovakia, whose place of birth was in the Czech Republic but who wished to choose Slovak citizenship, had until the end of 1993 to execute a written declaration to that effect at any local administrative office. The Slovak Republic is a functioning multiparty, multiethnic democracy. Its Constitution reserves certain powers to the President as Chief of State (elected by the Parliament), but executive power rests with the Government. Legislative power is vested in the National Council of the Slovak Republic (NCSR, the Parliament), and an independent court system exercises judiciary responsibilities. The Constitution calls for elections every 4 years. The last parliamentary elections were held in June 1992, prior to independence. Election to Parliament is based on proportional representation within each of the four electoral regions, with a 5-percent threshold for a party's entry into Parliament (7 percent for a coalition). This could result in a parliamentary candidate receiving a plurality of votes but not being seated because his or her party did not achieve the requisite threshold. As of October, all ministers of the Government were members of either the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the largest political entity, or the Slovak National Party (SNS). The HZDS ruled in coalition with the SNS until the latter left the coalition in March. The HZDS then governed without commanding a majority in Parliament until the coalition resumed office in November. New elections are scheduled for 1996, but in the latter half of 1993 several parties urged early elections to resolve the parliamentary stalemate caused by the HZDS's lack of a working majority. There are no official restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics. Female politicians enjoyed the same rights and status as their male counterparts. They were represented in all political parties and served as deputies in Parliament, and in government ministries. There are 26 women in the National Council, 17 percent of the total number of deputies. Members of all the minorities in the Slovak Republic participated in the political process, and several were represented in Parliament, but few reached the highest levels. The largest minority in Slovakia, ethnic Hungarians, participated fully in the political process, both in mainstream political parties and in Hungarian-oriented parties, and is represented in Parliament. Ethnic Hungarians expressed concern, however, that rumored government plans to redistrict Slovakia could dilute their vote by incorporating their communities into overwhelmingly ethnic Slovak districts. In December ethnic Hungarians in southern Slovakia called for a mass meeting to proclaim a self-governing ethnic Hungarian province. Most government and political leaders called the meeting legal but warned that attempts to establish a self-governing province would be unconstitutional. Public reaction was emotional. The meeting took place on January 8, 1994, in Komarno. The participants stopped short of calling for a self-governing province but issued a statement on the status of minorities. The government redistricting plan submitted to Parliament in early January 1994 was characterized by representatives of the Council of Europe as meeting European norms. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Representatives of local and international nongovernmental human rights organizations worked freely in Slovakia, without government interference. Although the Government refrained from actually penalizing human rights critics, its representatives publicly criticized Hungarian politicians who complained about government policies toward the ethnic Hungarian minority. The Government's view was that these were not genuine human rights complaints but politically motivated demands for advantages over and above international human rights norms. The ethnic Hungarian activists considered their demands legitimate and the Government's policies inadequate. The Government welcomed the February visit to Slovakia of the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE); his subsequent visit to prepare a report on the Roma; and followup visits by CSCE experts on minorities. The Government also encouraged the March visits of CSCE and Council of Europe rapporteur missions. The Ministry of Justice convened a meeting in Bratislava of 50 directors of human rights centers in other countries to obtain their advice for setting up a similar center in Bratislava, which has been funded and approved for opening in January 1994. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Slovak law prohibits discrimination and guarantees the equality of all citizens. Health care, education, retirement benefits, and other social services were provided regardless of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. Women Women in Slovakia are equal under the law. They enjoy the same property, inheritance, and other legal rights as men, and receive pay equal to that of male colleagues for the same job. The largest women's organization in Slovakia is the Democratic Union of Women of Slovakia, a nonpolitical organization based on the principles of humanism and democracy. It monitors observance of the rights of women and their families in light of internationally accepted documents and the Slovak Constitution, especially as they affect the social and family spheres. Other women's organizations, also nonpolitical, include the Council of Women, the Slovak Women's Center, and the Federation of Women for World Peace. Despite the lack of any overt discrimination, the small proportion of women at the higher echelons of professional and government employment during 1993 suggested that cultural barriers to their advancement might exist. No public debate or explicit government policy statements on the subject of violence toward women (spousal abuse) or child abuse were evident in 1993. Spousal abuse, child abuse, and other violence against women are reported along with other criminal offenses. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such cases often go unreported or are reported too late for effective followup. Once reported, they are subject to the general investigative procedures under the Criminal Code. Children There does not appear to be a comprehensive body of law specifically addressing the rights of children. Children's rights and welfare are addressed in part by the Labor Code and in part by the system of child welfare payments to families with children. The working age is 18, except for apprenticeships, which may begin at age 14. There is no evidence of a pattern of abuse or denial of rights to children. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities The Slovak Constitution provides minorities the right to develop their own culture, receive information and education in their own language, and participate in decisionmaking in matters affecting them. During 1993 the Government continued to provide funding for cultural, educational, broadcasting, and publishing activities for the major ethnic minorities. The President sponsored a regular roundtable for minority representatives, including Czechs, Poles, Bulgars, Croats, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Romanies. (Jewish leaders declined to be designated officially as an ethnic minority but participated in the roundtables.) At the roundtable, minority representatives raised issues such as legalization of dual citizenship; cultural, educational, and regional self-government; registration of names; bilingual place names; territorial division according to ethnicity; financial support for cultural development; guaranteed representation in Parliament for nationalities; racial discrimination; and support for development of religious and cultural programs. The roundtable chairman asked responsible government ministers to reply in writing to the issues and concerns that were raised. While the roundtable has not yet resulted in institutional changes, it appears to have had some success in engaging the Government and minorities in a dialog aimed at constructive solutions to problems. Slovakia's Hungarian minority, which is the most numerous, is concentrated primarily in southern Slovakia, with a population estimated at 570,000. During 1993 ethnic Hungarians participated successfully at all levels in the political, economic, and social life of the country. Under Slovakia's 1990 language law, in localities with over 20-percent minority populations, citizens may conduct their government business in Hungarian (some Hungarian activists advocated lowering the threshold to 10 percent). Ethnic Hungarians criticized a rumored government plan for redistricting, slated to take effect in 1994, because they feared it would result in districts with an ethnic Hungarian population of less than 20 percent, thus eliminating the optional use of Hungarian in any government activity (see also Section 3). The Government provides elementary and secondary education in Hungarian. Alternatively, ethnic Hungarian children are free to attend Slovak-language schools. In 1993 the Government proposed to provide a "mixed" educational option, under which ethnic Hungarian students could choose to study the humanities in their mother tongue and technical subjects in Slovak in order, it said, to offer ethnic Hungarian students a chance to achieve a level of proficiency in technical fields that would enable them to compete more effectively for technical jobs later in life. Some Hungarian representatives, however, criticized the proposal as aimed at eroding the Hungarian- language educational base. They asserted that, as of September 1993, existing university-level pedagogical training in Hungarian for future teachers at Hungarian schools was eliminated for levels above grade four, as well as for teachers of specialized subjects. Statistics on ethnic Hungarian enrollment and course attendance provided by the Nitra Higher Pedagogical School, which trains future teachers, demonstrated this was not the case. In connection with its acceptance into the Council of Europe, Slovakia made a commitment to alter its legislation on two issues of concern to its Hungarian minority, namely, given names and road signs. Parliament in September passed a law permitting Hungarians to register names of their own choosing for their newborn children but retaining a requirement that feminine names conform to Slovak grammatical forms. Some Hungarian representatives objected to this provision. The Government subsequently stated its intention to enforce the rule in public, Slovak-language discourse (i.e., media), but to allow the use of Hungarian grammatical forms in registration documents. The Government also made a commitment to revoke the law banning bilingual road signs. While the old law was still in effect, however, officials continued to enforce it, despite the objections of ethnic Hungarian municipalities. An unresolved issue debated during the fall was whether the Hungarian-language road signs would be Hungarian transcriptions of the current Slovak names or the historical Hungarian- language names. Romanies constitute Slovakia's second largest ethnic minority. Many in this group do not officially declare their ethnicity because of the social prejudice against them, and the official census figure of 81,000 is therefore considered low; estimates range as high as 500,000. Romanies are an economically disadvantaged group. Though the nation's higher pedagogical school has a division to train teachers destined for schools with a high Romany population, during 1993 education was not available in the Romany language. Romany representatives said that many Romany children were placed in remedial classes due to their language problems and that this fact would cast a stigma on their ability to find jobs later in life. In 1992-93 Parliament initiated a 2-year pilot project for Romany preschoolers in the town of Kosice to prepare them for successful entry into the Slovak school system. The project yielded impressive results in its first year, but its advocates feared that budgetary constraints might preclude its continuation or expansion. Although discrimination is illegal, Romany representatives said that many employers were reluctant to hire Romanies and that unemployment among Romanies soared when the Communist-era practice of universal mandatory employment ended in 1989. In an effort to diminish discrimination by employers, the human rights organization Charter 77 in 1993 persuaded government job agencies to remove from their application forms a question asking explicitly for the applicant's ethnic background. There were documented acts of social prejudice against Roma, such as refusal to serve Romanies in shops or restaurants. In July Parliament overturned as unconstitutional a discriminatory law enforcement ordinance passed by the town of Spisske Podhradie, imposing a curfew and other restrictions on Romanies. In the wake of that and other incidents, public calls increased for a broad governmental approach to Romany problems, encompassing education, employment, health care, housing, and law enforcement. One obstacle to achieving a broad solution was that Romanies were represented by a diverse variety of organizations that often disagree amongst themselves as to the best approach. During 1993 an interagency government task force chaired by the Foreign Minister was charged with preparing a policy paper on Romanies. The Prime Minister in September voiced disappointment that dialog with Romanies had broken down, bemoaned the "catastrophic" health and sanitary conditions in which Romanies lived, and called for Romanies' reintegration into the nation's economic life. In the same speech, however, he also voiced concern over the rapid growth of a population with so many social problems and advocated restructuring child welfare subsidies to avoid encouraging the growth of large welfare-dependent families. This elicited sharp criticism at home and abroad by many who interpreted his remarks as anti-Romany and racist. During 1993 there were a small number of incidents involving skinhead violence or vandalism against Jewish and some other religious persons or property. The Government and prominent Slovak public figures forcefully condemned such acts and moved promptly to arrest the perpetrators, provide restitution, and take measures to prevent recurrence. People with Disabilities There does not appear to be a body of legislation that directly addresses the rights of the disabled. Discrimination against the disabled, however, has not been a subject of significant policy or public debate. Citizen's groups have started activities to raise the profile of the issue and to advocate a more systematic approach. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The Constitution provides for the right to form and join unions, except in the Slovak armed forces. In 1993 about 65 to 70 percent of the work force was organized. Slovak unions are independent of the Government and of political parties. There are no restrictions on the right to strike. During 1993 no full-fledged strikes occurred, although four demonstrations were organized. There were no reported instances of retribution against strikers or labor leaders, but Slovak law and regulation does not explicitly prohibit such retribution. There were no reports of human rights abuses targeted against unions or workers. Unions in Slovakia are free to form or join federations or confederations and to affiliate with and participate in international bodies. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Collective bargaining is protected by the collective bargaining law and is freely practiced throughout the country. Wages are set in free negotiations between unions and employers. Discrimination by employers against union members and organizers is prohibited by the law on citizens' associations. Complaints may be resolved either in collective negotiations or in court. If found guilty of antiunion discrimination, employers are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. A 12-hectare free trade zone exists in Kosice. It is required to comply with the Slovak Labor Code, but to date there has been no special involvement of the trade unions. A second free trade zone is planned for Bratislava. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited both by the Slovak Constitution and by the Employment Act. During 1993 there were no reports of violations. Responsibility for enforcement is assigned to the labor section of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family, as well as to district and local labor offices. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children Slovak law sets the minimum employment age at 14 years of age. These provisions are enforced by the Office of Labor Safety. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work At the start of 1993, the minimum wage provided an adequate standard of living for an individual worker and, when combined with special family allowances paid to families with children, provided an adequate standard of living for a worker and family. However, during 1993 several factors eroded standards of living across the board. In June inflation stood at 12 percent and was expected to reach 25 to 30 percent by year's end. At the same time, government belt-tightening measures reduced certain social welfare allowances. Enforcement of the minimum wage is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and the Family. Late in 1993, the Government raised the minimum wage to $74 per month. The standard workweek mandated by the Labor Code is 42.5 hours, though collective bargaining agreements have achieved reductions in some cases. The law requires annual leave of 3 weeks. There is no specifically mandated 24-hour rest period. Enforcement of health and safety standards are governed by the Labor Code and effectively enforced by the Office of Labor Safety. Workers undergo medical screening for hazardous employment under the supervision of a physician. They have the right to refuse to perform work in situations where their health and safety are endangered and may file complaints against employers in such situations.
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