Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and sexual violence, which carry a penalty of five to 25 years in prison. The law does not specifically define spousal rape, but the criminal code covers spousal rape and spousal sexual violence under the crime of rape and sexual violence. NGOs and rape victims criticized police for sometimes failing to enforce the law effectively and for often failing to communicate appropriately with rape victims. Rape and domestic violence victims had access to shelters and counseling offered by NGOs and government-funded programs. NGO service providers complained that authorities provided only a small portion of necessary funding, forcing many centers to close or fundraise additional resources from private and international donors.
Domestic violence against women is punishable by three to eight years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence was widespread, and activists claimed official statistics failed to capture the magnitude of the issue. NGOs also asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively. Experts complained there were no written procedures for referring battered women to counselling centers or shelters and no services for batterers. The lack of affordable public housing or rent-controlled housing often forced victims to return to abusive households.
In June the minister of interior announced the launch of a nationwide campaign against domestic violence. As part of the campaign, the ministry planned to train officers on responding to domestic disturbance calls, supply interview rooms at police stations with equipment necessary to implement a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach, provide social housing for victims, and streamline cooperation between law enforcement, prosecution, and the courts in cases of domestic violence. The campaign also involved a webpage with information and practical tips for victims and television advertisements featuring well known personalities.
In July police closed a year-long investigation into a case of domestic violence in which a man threw his minor daughter against a table for being too loud while unloading the dishwasher and attacked his wife who tried to protect the child, beating her head against a wall. The police concluded that the man had committed a misdemeanor and charged him a 200-euro ($220) fine. The victim claimed she had reported her husband for domestic violence repeatedly in the past, but police always dropped investigations or let the aggressor off with a warning.
In May the regional prosecutor’s office in Banska Bystrica relaunched criminal proceedings against a 22-year-old man who attacked his girlfriend and her three friends in March 2018, breaking her nose and causing other injuries. The man originally was ordered to pay a fine. After intense media coverage and reports by the victim that the assailant continued to stalk and intimidate her, the regional prosecutor’s office announced it would reexamine the case to appeal the sentence. Media outlets and civil society asserted that the original lead prosecutor and police officers who answered the victim’s distress call had failed to protect the interests of the victim and should face disciplinary proceedings for negligence.
Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as unlawful discrimination, subject to civil penalties. Victims usually avoided legal action due to fear of reprisal, lengthy court proceedings, and lack of accessible legal services. A coordination center for gender-based and domestic violence under the Labor, Social Affairs and Family Ministry implements and coordinates countrywide policy to prevent and eliminate violence against women (including sexual harassment) and coordinates education and training efforts for the public and professionals. The government operates a 24/7 hotline for women subjected to violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization, although human rights organizations maintained that medical personnel often asked Romani women to sign consent forms for these procedures without fully explaining their meaning or providing them in the women’s language. The government had also done little to investigate reported cases of involuntary sterilizations of Romani women in the past or provide restitution to the victims.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status for women as for men. Discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in the labor market, where women were less likely to be offered employment than men with equal qualifications and faced a 20 percent gender pay gap.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship by birth to at least one citizen parent, regardless of where the child is born. Each domestic birth is recorded at the local vital statistics office, including for children born to asylum seekers, stateless persons, and detained migrants.
Child Abuse: Domestic abuse carries basic penalties of three to eight years’ imprisonment. Child abuse remained a problem according to child advocates. A 2017 government study (the latest available) indicated that 70 percent of 13- to 15-year-olds had experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence or parental neglect.
The government continued implementing and annually updating the National Action Plan for Children for 2013-22, funded through the government budget. Government bodies provided financial support to crisis centers for abused children and to NGOs that worked on child abuse. The Labor and Social Affairs Office had dedicated departments for overseeing childcare and operated a national coordination body for dealing with violence against children, which collected data, provided information on domestic violence and abuse of minors, helped refer victims to service providers, and ran a national helpline.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, based upon request of one of the marrying couple, a competent court may allow marriage of a person as young as 16, if both parents consent. Law enforcement authorities reported a growing number of cases of Slovak children of Romani descent being subjected to forced marriage, often by their legal guardians who sought financial benefit. Women from marginalized Romani communities were transported to the United Kingdom by force or deception to marry foreign citizens attempting to avoid deportation by marrying an EU citizen and might consequently have been subjected to trafficking in persons.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Rape and sexual violence against a child carry basic penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for consensual sex. In addition to prohibiting trafficking in persons, the law criminalizes the prostitution of children. These abuses were not common, and there were no obstacles to enforcement of the law.
The production, distribution, or possession of child pornography is a crime with penalties ranging from two to 20 years’ imprisonment.
Institutionalized Children: Reports published by the ombudsperson during the year and in 2013 found that juvenile offenders at educational rehabilitation centers regularly endured hunger and were subjected to degrading treatment, including compulsory gynecological examinations of girls after their trips outside the facility. The reports also found substandard levels of education at the centers.
In February the prosecution service exonerated representatives of the private juvenile rehabilitation facility Cisty Den from accusations of battery and assault of a minor, but the facility continued to be investigated for alleged fraud and a former employee faced charges of sexual abuse and causing bodily harm to a minor. The facility lost its official Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family accreditation in 2017 after a series of allegations of severe malpractice and misconduct. Experts criticized the labor minister for failing to protect the children housed in Cisty Den after suspicions regarding the facility first surfaced more than a year before the center’s accreditation was revoked.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In March the parliament overrode a presidential veto to adopt a legislative amendment to the code of noncontentious civil procedure that would allow the “taking party” in parental abduction cases to file indefinite appeals against the return of children to the country of their habitual residence for a final custody determination in Hague Convention cases. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Jewish community leaders estimated, and the 2011 census data indicated, the size of the Jewish community was 2,000 persons.
Organized neo-Nazi groups with an estimated 500 active members and several thousand sympathizers occasionally spread anti-Semitic messages. Latent anti-Semitic attitudes characterizing Jewish people as greedy or secretly influencing world affairs were widespread, even beyond neo-Nazi groups and their sympathizers. Polls revealed increased support for the neo-Nazi LSNS, polling at 11 percent or higher.
In July the Supreme Court upheld the July 2018 Specialized Criminal Court acquittal of LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik of extremism charges in a case concerning a 2017 Facebook post in which he criticized President Kiska for giving state awards to persons of Jewish origin. The Supreme Court accepted the argument there was insufficient evidence to prove Mizik wrote the statement.
In May police arrested Mizik’s defense attorney, Frantisek Polak and six other individuals on extremism charges after uncovering a vast collection of Nazi paraphernalia during a search of their homes. The case remained pending. In December 2018 an investigator of the National Crime Agency pressed charges against an LSNS regional chairman, Anton Grno, for shouting the greeting of the World War II-era Slovak fascist state’s paramilitary force during a Supreme Court hearing. The investigator charged Grno with the crime of “supporting a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms.” Media reported that Grno’s social media profiles contained several openly racist and anti-Semitic posts. The case remained pending as the prosecution service analyzed whether to seek an indictment.
While direct denial of the Holocaust was relatively rare, expressions of approval for the World War II-era Slovak fascist state, which deported tens of thousands of Jews, Roma, and others to death camps, occurred frequently. Throughout the year, far-right groups organized small events to commemorate dates associated with the Slovak fascist state and its president, Jozef Tiso. On March 14 and April 19, the LSNS organized commemorations of the creation of the fascist Slovak state in 1939 and Tiso’s execution in 1947. On April 18, one of the city boroughs of Bratislava played the unofficial national anthem of the fascist Slovak state, “Rez a rubaj do krve” (cut and strike with an axe until blood flows), through a public announcement system. In 2016 the same borough played “Hej, Slovaci” (Hey, Slovaks), another nationalist song associated with the fascist regime, on the anniversary of Tiso’s execution. Both events were organized by a local councilor, Radoslav Oleksak.
On September 9, government officials commemorated the Day of the Victims of the Holocaust and of Racial Violence at the Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava. The coalition government undertook initiatives to promote Holocaust education in schools and funded school field trips to Auschwitz and the Slovak Holocaust Museum in Sered. Government leaders, including President Caputova, Prime Minister Pellegrini, and Speaker of Parliament Danko, denounced the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the far right.
In February the government organized an international conference on anti-Semitism as part of its 12-month Chairmanship-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which included a series of expert panels on the security of Jewish communities, Holocaust remembrance initiatives, media and social media, and cooperation with civil society.
Representatives of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia noted that efforts to combat anti-Semitic comments and hate speech on the internet and social media were undermined by the repeated statements of former prime minister Robert Fico (Smer-SD), in which he accused philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, of instigating a coup against his government. Security analysts noted that social media content posted by parliamentary European Affairs Committee chairman Lubos Blaha (Smer-SD), including a posting in which he alluded that the campaign of presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova was secretly funded by Jews, condoned anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet and contributed to the spread of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In June, Blaha released a video on his Facebook page attacking a foreign diplomat serving in the country, using language that security analysts described as an “anti-Semitic dog whistle.” The video provoked hundreds of anti-Semitic comments and posts, some of them openly calling for violence. The administrators of Blaha’s Facebook page did little to remove inappropriate content or report abusers.
In January, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the prime minister and culture minister opened a new exhibition at the Sered Holocaust Museum, which was supported by a one-million-euro ($1.1 million) government subsidy.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, other transportation, or the provision of other public services. According to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the antidiscrimination law is not fully in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as it does not qualify the denial of reasonable accommodation as discrimination on the basis of disability.
Psychiatric institutions and hospitals, which fall under the purview of the Ministry of Health, used cage beds to restrain patients. The law prohibits both physical and nonphysical restraints in social care homes managed by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family.
Broadcasters complied with laws requiring television stations to provide audio descriptions for viewers who are blind or have impaired vision only to a limited extent. While the law defines mandatory standards for access to buildings, NGOs noted they were not fully implemented, although access to privately owned buildings improved more rapidly than access to public buildings.
The government’s Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality operated a committee on persons with disabilities. The council served as a governmental advisory body and included representation from NGOs working on disability problems. The country’s national human rights strategy included a chapter on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. A 2013 study by the UN Development Program (UNDP), the most recent available, found that as much as 53 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities. The UNDP identified 231 segregated rural settlements located, on average, less than one mile from neighboring municipalities.
There were reports of harassment of members of ethnic minorities during the year. In June a 39-year-old man verbally abused a group of three Kenyan nationals in Bratislava. The police arrested the man on charges of defaming one’s race or nationality. The case remained pending.
In May the Bratislava district court sentenced a man to six years in a minimum-security prison for brutally attacking and killing a Filipino man in Bratislava in May 2018. Despite media statements by witnesses who reported the attacker was likely motivated by the victim’s skin color and perceived sexual orientation, the court applied a sentence below the legal threshold for aggravated assault and manslaughter, citing the attacker’s decreased level of consciousness caused by excessive use of alcohol in combination with prescription medicine. The Office of the Prosecutor General appealed the verdict and pursued a stricter sentence. The case remained pending.
Six victims of a controversial 2013 police raid in the marginalized Romani community in Moldava nad Bodvou stood trial on perjury charges for reporting and testifying about police brutality and abuse of power during the raid. The court repeatedly failed to observe procedural requirements, delivering paperwork past legal deadlines or failing to deliver it altogether, refusing to provide interpretation and translation of documents, including the indictment, to defendants who did not speak or understand Slovak, and refusing to allow evidence submitted by the defense. As of November, Kosice district court judges, handling five out of the six cases, adjourned proceedings until the ECHR delivered its verdict as to whether the rights of the Romani citizens had been violated by the 2013 raid. Proceedings with the remaining defendant was pending.
The LSNS continued to organize marches and gatherings against “asocial Gypsies.” In March, LSNS representatives and supporters marched in the town of Dobsina, officially in commemoration of a local non-Romani inhabitant who was beaten to death by a Romani person released from prison three days prior to the incident. There were no reports of violence during or after the march.
Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
In January, Interior Minister Denisa Sakova (Smer-SD) announced the opening of a special police operations center tasked with monitoring the situation in the eastern Slovak town of Krompachy through a network of more than 50 closed-circuit television cameras installed predominantly in parts of the town inhabited by Roma. The minister claimed the project was necessitated by what she called “unadaptable Roma” living in the town. NGOs criticized the interior minister, releasing an open letter claiming that Sakova’s labelling of Romani persons as “unadaptable” criminalized the entire ethnic group.
There were instances of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma. In January speaker of parliament and chair of the coalition SNS party, Andrej Danko, used derogatory language against his fellow MP and deputy speaker Lucia Duris Nicholsonova calling her a “little gypsy.” Representatives of LSNS, including party chairman Marian Kotleba, publicly and routinely referred to the Roma as “gypsies,” “parasites,” or “antisocial individuals.” In September the Supreme Court upheld MP Milan Mazurek’s (LSNS) 2018 conviction for anti-Romani hate speech and fined him 10,000 euros ($11,000). As a result of the conviction Mazurek automatically lost his parliamentary seat. Former prime minister and chair of the Smer-SD party, Robert Fico, released a Facebook video in reaction to Mazurek’s conviction, saying that Mazurek was sentenced for saying what the majority of the Slovak population thinks about the Roma.
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, health care, housing, loan practices, restaurants, hair salons, religious services, and public transportation.
In June media outlets reported that Roma in the eastern village of Sarisske Jastrabie had to attend religious services in a warehouse at a local farm. Media outlets reported that when a local Greek-Catholic priest tried to invite Roma to worship in his church, his car was vandalized, and parishioners lodged a complaint with the archbishop asking for the priest to be replaced. Parishioners argued they were afraid of contracting diseases from Roma. A spokesperson for the diocese claimed the situation in the parish was “calm” and the Romani citizens were content with the separate arrangement.
In May a Romani girl was told she would not be allowed to sit with the rest of the children during her first communion in a Roman Catholic Church in Trnava, allegedly at the request of the children’s parents. The church argued the mother of the child had signed her up late and refused to contribute to the preparations of the ceremony, allegations which the woman denied. Following broad media coverage and an intervention by the Trnava regional governor Jozef Viskupic, the girl was allowed to sit with her peers. Police opened investigations into whether the church had committed a crime of racial discrimination. The case remained pending.
In August the Constitutional Court compensated four Romani individuals for unnecessary delays and procedural mistakes made by general courts in a discrimination suit they filed in 2005. The claimants filed a lawsuit after they were refused service by the staff of a local bar in a village near Vranov nad Toplou in the eastern part of the country.
Local authorities continued to use regulatory obstacles, such as withholding of construction permits, to discourage the legal establishment of Romani settlements. Media reported cases where non-Romani persons tried to prevent Romani customers from buying or renting property in “their” neighborhood. In July unknown perpetrators vandalized a private home in Polomka (central Slovakia) with graffiti “we don’t want them here,” and punctured the tires of a vehicle belonging to an owner who agreed to show his real estate to an interested Romani family.
Members of the Romani minority continued to experience obstacles and discrimination in the access to quality healthcare. A government report released by the Ministry of Finance in January estimated life expectancy within the marginalized Romani population at 69.6 years, nearly seven years below the general population, and infant mortality at three times the country average. NGOs reported Romani women faced multiple forms of discrimination in reproductive health care, including segregation in maternity departments, verbal harassment, and maltreatment by medical personnel. The hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by race. NGOs continued to express concerns over the way medical personnel obtained informed consent from Romani patients.
Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational discrimination and segregation and were disproportionately enrolled in “special” schools or placed in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools. A government review released by the Ministry of Finance’s analytical unit in January confirmed earlier reporting from the ombudsperson that Romani children received an inferior education compared with their non-Romani peers. The report found a disproportionately high share of Romani children in “special” schools for children with mental disabilities (42 percent of all children enrolled) and schools with special classes for Romani children (63 percent). According to the review, only 32 percent of all Romani children had received preschool education, compared with 75 percent for the general population, and a third of all Romani children dropped out of the education system before completing elementary school.
There were reports of racial discrimination and inappropriate language being used against members of the Romani minority at all levels of the education system. In April a Bratislava kindergarten teacher accidentally sent a text message to a parent of one of the enrolled children referring to the woman as a “gypsy.” The mayor of the municipality operating the kindergarten publicly apologized to the mother and called the communication “unacceptable.” The school council disciplined the teacher with a warning.
The Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance.
The law bans the spreading of profascist propaganda and hatred in public, including on social media.
LGBTI organizations reported the law requires that persons seeking legal gender recognition provide confirmation from a medical practitioner that a person has undergone a “gender change” to obtain new identity documents. The law, however, does not define “gender change.” In practice authorities required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents.
The law does not allow educational establishments to reissue educational certificates with a new first name and surname to transgender individuals after they have transitioned. The law does allow institutions to issue such individuals new birth certificates reflecting the name with which they identify.
NGOs reported violence and online harassment of LGBTI persons. In July and August, during annual LGBTI Rainbow Pride parades in Bratislava and Kosice, small groups of LSNS supporters heckled parade marchers.
In July, SNS deputy chair Jaroslav Paska issued a press release criticizing Slovak former European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic and calling on him to stop “supporting ethically unacceptable manipulations of the homosexual community with newborns.” Paska’s statement was a reaction to a published story about an employee of Sefcovic’s office, who had contracted a surrogate mother to bear twin children for him and his husband. In May, Culture Minister Lubica Lassakova (Smer-SD) refused to approve eight government grants to LGBTI eights organizations that had been recommended for approval by an expert panel. In February, Marian Kotleba (LSNS) put up dozens of billboards across the country stating, “Family is a man and a woman: Stop LGBT!” as part of his presidential campaign. A local human rights NGO filled a criminal complaint arguing the billboards incited violence against LGBTI individuals. In August there were dozens of SNS billboards across the country stating, “Stop Rainbow Demands on the Family.”
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, state social services, health care, and access to goods and services and identifies sexual orientation as a hate crime motivation that warrants stiffer sentences. NGOs reported the government did not always actively enforce these laws.
NGOs reported online hate speech towards refugees.
Government officials at all levels and leaders from across the political spectrum, including the opposition, engaged in rhetoric portraying refugees and Muslims as a threat to society. In December 2018 several coalition and opposition politicians made antimigrant and anti-Muslim statements in parliament during a debate about the UN Global Compact on Migration.