Societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. According to the 2011 census, Roma were the second largest ethnic minority with a population of 105,000. Experts estimated that the Romani population was actually between 350,000 and 500,000, with an atlas compiled by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in 2012 placing the number at 402,000. Observers attributed the discrepancy to self-identification by many Roma as Hungarians or Slovaks. As much as 53 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities. The UNDP atlas identified 231 segregated rural settlements located, on average, less than one mile from neighboring municipalities.
According to the 2011 census, there were approximately 458,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the country.
As of August, an investigation remained pending and no police officers were held accountable in connection with the 2015 events in the Romani community in the village of Vrbnica. According to reports, a group of 15 officers entered the Romani community, allegedly to locate and arrest individuals evading arrest warrants, and severely beat, mistreated, and harassed a number of Romani residents. Local witnesses, including the Vrbnica mayor, reported the raid resulted in physical injuries to at least 19 Romani residents who did not resist or obstruct police. According to the reports, women and juveniles were among those injured. The regional police director claimed the raid lasted half an hour and no one was arrested or injured. A 2015 ombudswoman report on the raid found that police violated the rights of the community’s residents.
Authorities failed to bring charges against any of the officers involved in a 2013 police raid on a Romani settlement in the town of Moldava nad Bodvou, despite NGO and ombudswoman reports that had compiled extensive evidence of abuses as well as interviews with more than 50 witnesses. The raid, which involved approximately 60 police officers, resulted in multiple injuries and property damage, according to residents, who also complained that police carried out property searches without warrants. In February the Presov Regional Prosecution dismissed a complaint against the Inspection Service’s November 2015 decision to drop the investigation of four charges against the police officers. In March the Inspection Service halted the investigation of police officers involved in the raid on the remaining two charges. NGOs criticized the Inspection Service for lack of the independence necessary to investigate police misconduct. In August 2015 the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern that no charges had been brought against the officers to date.
In June the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to investigate effectively all cases of police violence against Romani children, including police raids in Romani communities.
NGOs reported racially motivated attacks on minorities throughout the year, but authorities’ investigation of such incidents varied by jurisdiction.
In the March parliamentary elections, the LSNS party entered parliament for the first time with 14 seats. One of LSNS’s MPs, Milan Mazurek, was personally involved in a 2015 attack against a Saudi family during an antirefugee demonstration. LSNS candidate Andrej Medvecky, who was elected to parliament but gave up his MP mandate, faced prosecution for a 2014 physical attack against a citizen of the Dominican Republic while shouting racial slurs. The LSNS continued to organize marches against “gypsy criminality” in municipalities with marginalized Romani communities. In April the LSNS launched patrols on train lines that allegedly experienced crime at the hands of Roma. The patrols refrained from violence, but patrol members--wearing standardized LSNS outfits--intimidated Romani passengers. In October parliament adopted an amendment that states that only police or people appointed by rail operators will be allowed to conduct public order activities on trains and railway stations as of February 2017. As of December the patrols continued.
Far-right, nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups held events designed to intimidate minority groups. In addition to commemorating historical events and figures associated with the World War II-era fascist state, the LSNS, Vzdor Kysuce (Defiance of the Kysuce Region), and other far-right groups organized anti-Roma, antirefugee, and anti-Islam gatherings.
Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
While the law prohibits defamation of nationalities in public discourse, authorities generally enforced it only when other offenses, such as assault or destruction of property, were also committed. There were instances of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma.
In the run up to the March parliamentary elections, the LSNS ran billboards with the slogan “We’ll fix the thieves in ties and the parasites in settlements,” the latter a reference to Roma in marginalized communities. Members of the Vzdor Kysuce group that ran on the LSNS candidate list for the elections ran a campaign ad promising to send “antisocials,” a reference to marginalized Roma, to work camps. The official LSNS election manifesto contained a promise to protect the people from “increasing gypsy terror.” The LSNS continued to refer to the Romani minority using the derogatory term “cigan” (gypsy) and often used the term “gypsy extremism.”
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in education, health care, housing, and loan practices. Roma faced discrimination in accessing a wide variety of commercial services, including restaurants, hair salons, and public transportation. NGOs asserted that the cases of discrimination reported to legal help lines represented only a fraction of discrimination cases. In many cases Romani individuals from socially marginalized communities did not report the discrimination they experienced. Discrimination in employment against Roma continued (see section 7.d.).
In July the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that many Romani children and women continued to be segregated in hospital facilities, such as pediatric, gynecological, and obstetrics departments in Eastern Slovakia, particularly at the state-run hospital in Presov.
In June the Kosice Regional Court upheld an earlier verdict against a bar owner who in 2009 refused to serve a Romani couple because of their ethnicity. The bar owner told the couple, who were accompanied by non-Romani acquaintances, that if he served them, other Roma would start coming to his bar. The court ordered the bar to pay 600 euros ($660) in damages and legal costs, which the Romani couple had previously appealed as too low to serve as deterrent against discrimination by other business owners.
Local authorities forced evictions of Romani inhabitants, demolished their apartments or improvised housing, or blocked them from obtaining construction permits or purchasing land. The Kosice municipality announced plans to continue demolitions of apartment buildings in the marginalized Romani district of Lunik IX. Displaced residents were not provided with alternative housing and either moved in with relatives or sought refuge in nearby improvised settlements that generally lacked basic utilities, including running water or heat. The municipality provided alternative accommodation only to residents who were not in arrears in their payments to the municipality. The municipality also generally failed to ensure that Roma living in improvised settlements had access to adequate shelter or heating during the winter. Health workers reported that two children died in the improvised settlement near Lunik IX the previous winter due to a lack of heating.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in the eastern part of the country, where hospital management lodged them separately from non-Romani women and did not permit them to use the same bathrooms and toilets. The hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by race.
Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational segregation and were disproportionately enrolled in “special” schools or placed in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools. Special education did not provide Romani children with the knowledge or certification necessary to pursue higher education. Transfer from a special school to a regular educational track was difficult or impossible. The government did not provide data on the percentage of Romani students in special schools nor did it collect data on ethnicity. In June the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the continued discrimination of Romani children in education and called for an end to the segregation of Romani children in schools.
In September 2015 the State School Inspection Service conducted an inspection at the private special elementary school in Rokycany and found that 13 Romani children had likely been misdiagnosed by a local private psychological diagnostics center as having “light mental retardation.” A state-run diagnostic center later confirmed that the children were misdiagnosed. The School Inspection Service recommended the private special school lose its accreditation by September, but the Ministry of Education later decided to keep it in in operation at least until September 2017.
A 2015 investigation by the ombudswoman found shortcomings in the way schools obtained consent from the parents of Romani students to enroll their children in special schools. The ombudswoman found that, in extreme cases, parents received material gifts for their consent.
Following the launching of the EC infringement proceedings, parliament approved an amendment to the Education Act, proposed by the Education Ministry, to distinguish between special education needs due to disabilities and those due to socially disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the Education Ministry, children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds will no longer be categorized as disabled. The ministry admitted special schools for the disabled might have been motivated to enroll Romani children in order to access special support funds earmarked for socially disadvantaged children.
Segregated classrooms within mainstream schools were also common. Schools often justified the segregation as being in the children’s best interest and often claimed that Romani parents preferred their children attending segregated classrooms. The ombudswoman identified numerous cases where the parents of marginalized Romani children believed their children were made to attend classrooms that were poorly equipped compared with non-Romani classrooms, were deprived of the opportunity to take teaching aids home, had to stand longer in cafeteria lines, and were sometimes subjected to aggressive behavior by teachers.
NGOs implemented educational programs through community centers, operated by local councils, to reduce the number of Romani children enrolled in special schools or special classes. These programs included preschool and after-school programs to improve basic motor skills and introduce behaviors often lacking in neglected children. Social workers also worked with parents in socially excluded families to help them understand the importance of their children attending a regular school.
Members of the ethnic Hungarian community were concerned over restrictions on the use of the Hungarian language. The law provides for the imposition of fines on government institutions, civil servants, and legal entities that do not provide information required by law in Slovak. The law authorizes the Ministry of Culture to levy fines of up to 5,000 euros ($5,500) for noncompliance. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech. Members of the community complained that authorities did not always implement provisions that enabled the use of minority languages in official settings. They also objected to the refusal by the railways to allow for dual-language train station signs.
In March authorities transferred the case of ethnic Hungarian and Slovak citizen Hedviga Malinova--who was charged with perjury after reporting she was physically attacked while speaking Hungarian on her cell phone in southern Slovakia in 2006--to authorities in Hungary, where Malinova resides. Over the previous decade, Malinova’s case drew media attention and raised questions about due process in Slovakia. In January 2015 the Slovak prosecution service won a decision at the Nitra Regional Court overturning a lower court’s decision rejecting the perjury charge. Malinova’s attorney described the charge against her as an act of intimidation. NGOs and human rights groups criticized the reopening of charges against Malinova. The government apologized to Malinova in 2011.
The Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Inequality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance.
On October 27, parliament adopted an amendment to the Criminal Code introducing a stricter definition of hate speech. The new rules ban the spreading of pro-fascist propaganda and hatred in public, including on social media, and covers hate speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. Justice Minister Lucia Zitnanska, who proposed the amendment, observed that a recent drop in extremism-related prosecutions was the result of extremists moving activities to the internet, where they are harder to track. Zitnanska also noted that investigators often misclassified extremism-related crimes as misdemeanors, carrying mild punishments that fail to act as deterrents. The new amendment allows extremism-related cases to be tried by a special prosecutor at the Specialized Criminal Court rather than at the district court level, where expertise on extremism is often lacking.