Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. According to media organizations, criminal libel provisions restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of media. In one instance criminal court proceedings were pending against a journalist who was sentenced for libel after he published a 2015 article concerning alleged corruption by former speaker of parliament Jaroslav Paska involving his health-care business.
In June 2019 a Bratislava district court issued a preliminary measure ordering former presidential candidate Martin Dano to withdraw his online videos targeting investigative journalist and anticorruption NGO director Zuzana Petkova. The court ruled Dano’s videos incited hatred and defamed Petkova and other investigative journalists. Petkova informed media outlets that Dano had not complied with the court decision. Appeal proceedings were pending. In December 2019 an investigator pressed charges against Dano and his YouTube partner, Rudolf Vasky, for hooliganism after they allegedly incited violence against several political, judicial, and media personalities. In January a Bratislava district court issued a similar ruling against Dano and ordered him to remove his online videos targeting a journalist. Criminal proceedings were pending.
The majority of media are privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long-term threat to press freedom. NGOs reported most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, are controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.
Violence and Harassment: In 2018 investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were murdered in their home. Kuciak regularly reported on allegations of high-level corruption and documented tax-fraud schemes. In 2019 authorities arrested and indicted four suspects in the case, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was charged with ordering the murder. In January the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Zoltan Andrusko and in April sentenced Miroslav Marcek to prison sentences of 20 and 23 years, respectively, for their involvement in the murders. In September the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted both Marian Kocner and indicted collaborator Alena Zsuzsova of ordering the murder, citing a lack of evidence. The prosecutor appealed the acquittals to the Supreme Court. The court sentenced Tomas Szabo to 25 years in prison as an accessory to the murder.
Nationwide public protests in 2018 following the killings prompted the resignation of then interior minister Robert Kalinak, then prime minister Robert Fico, and then police president Tibor Gaspar. Since the resignations, Fico on multiple occasions accused media outlets and NGOs of using the killings to foment a “coup.”
The investigation into the Kuciak murder led to allegations that Kocner and his collaborators conducted surveillance of selected investigative journalists, allegedly with the assistance of law enforcement. According to media reports, the investigation revealed that police representatives illegally accessed government databases to collect information on journalists and their family members. Information collected through surveillance and from state databases was allegedly used to intimidate individual journalists. In June a court took into custody the former chief of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Pavol Vorobjov, who was accused of unlawfully accessing police databases. Investigations into the surveillance and intimidation cases involving unlawfully collected personal data of 140 individuals, including 28 journalists, were pending (see section 4, Corruption).
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as criminal offenses. Media organizations criticized a criminal libel provision in the criminal code as restricting freedom of expression.
Financial elites targeted the press in several civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money in penalties or legal costs. The International Press Institute Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk and the administrative burden of constantly contesting lawsuits could lead to media self-censorship.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Police, however, monitored websites containing hate speech and attempted to arrest or fine the authors.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In March the government introduced sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including closing borders for all but exempted foreign nationals, imposing a mandatory 14-day isolation period for all citizens arriving from abroad in government-run quarantine centers, and sealing off entire marginalized Romani settlements under quarantine for COVID-19. Human rights activists and the ombudsperson questioned whether the extraordinary measures and restrictions introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19, particularly the 14-day quarantine of arrivals from abroad in state-run facilities, were proportionate, had a valid legal basis, or violated the constitution. As of September the Constitutional Court continued to review the legality of the government measures after several citizens lodged official complaints, citing violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing some protection to refugees. Some organizations criticized the Migration Office for applying a restrictive asylum policy and granting asylum only in a very limited number of cases. During the year, for example, the government had received 249 asylum applications and granted asylum to 10 individuals. The government granted asylum to nine individuals in 2019.
NGOs reported asylum seekers had only limited access to qualified, independent legal advice. The contract for legal assistance to asylum seekers did not cover asylum seekers in detention, so these persons could access free legal assistance only in the second, appellate-level hearing on their asylum application process. Migration Office staff allegedly endeavored to provide legal advice to some asylum applicants, even though they were also interviewing the asylum seekers and adjudicating their asylum applications.
There was no independent monitoring by local NGOs of access to asylum procedures on the country’s borders and only limited monitoring of access to asylum by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants from a safe country of origin or transit. The law requires authorities to ensure the well-being of individual asylum seekers is not threatened if deported to a non-EU “safe country.” Some observers criticized the Bureau of Border and Alien Police for lacking the information necessary to determine whether a country would be safe for persons facing deportation there.
Freedom of Movement: NGOs reported that the Bureau of Border and Alien Police unnecessarily detained migrants on badly founded or arbitrary detention orders, including asylum seekers who police believed made false asylum claims, and that police failed adequately to use alternatives to detention, such as supervised release or financial bonds. NGOs reported it was routine practice to issue detention orders and place asylum seekers with children in the immigration detention center in Secovce, where they often faced degrading treatment.
Access to Basic Services: NGOs reported schools generally did not make use of available government support for language and integration assistance for foreign students.
The human rights organization Marginal stated that integration of approved asylum seekers in the country was hampered by the absence of a comprehensive government-funded and -operated integration program. These services had to be provided by NGOs and funded through a patchwork of domestic and international sources.
Human rights organizations reported that asylum seekers placed in immigration detention did not have adequate access to quality health care, contributing to the spread of contagious diseases in detention facilities.
Durable Solutions: The Migration Office accommodated refugees processed at the UNHCR emergency transit center in Humenne for permanent resettlement to a third country. The refugees were moved to Slovakia from other countries due to security and humanitarian concerns. The center was able to accommodate up to 250 refugees at a time but operated at near zero occupancy throughout the year.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary “subsidiary protection” to individuals who might not qualify as refugees but could not return to their home countries and during the year granted it to 21 persons. Subsidiary protection is initially granted for one year, with possible extensions. NGOs asserted this approach created uncertainty regarding the individual’s status in the country and significantly hindered their employment and overall integration prospects. There were reports persons granted subsidiary protection had only limited access to health care. The Ministry of Interior issued health coverage documentation directly to persons with subsidiary protection without clear explanation of benefits.
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 problem. 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.
The General Prosecution Service reported that the incidence of domestic violence increased rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions on free movement, with the number of recorded cases in the four-month period between April and June increasing by 47 percent compared with the same period in 2019. The number of calls to a national helpline for domestic violence victims increased fourfold in April compared with previous years. NGOs providing victim care services confirmed the deteriorating trend and reported difficulties in assisting victims because of a government-issued ban on admitting new clients into accommodation facilities during the early stages of the pandemic, insufficient testing capabilities, and a shortage of personal protective equipment.
In April, President Caputova, responding to reports of the unprecedented increase in domestic and gender-based violence cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, requested the police president to increase attention paid to the problem; rigorously enforce existing rules, including the authority of police officers responding to domestic disturbance calls to expel the abusive party from the household for up to 10 days; and improve police cooperation with NGOs providing victim-care services. In July police began testing a new smartphone application that would allow victims secretly to place distress calls to them.
In one example, in August a man attacked his partner with a knife just days after being sentenced to house arrest for causing a traffic accident while under the influence of alcohol. Following the attack, the man forcibly removed an electronic ankle monitor and fled the scene of the crime. Police held him in custody pending charges for aggravated assault and obstructing a court decision that carry a five- to 10-year prison sentence. Prosecution of the case continued as of September. Experts questioned whether the man’s psychological state had been considered by the court that originally sentenced him to house arrest.
Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as unlawful discrimination, which is 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 policies to prevent and eliminate violence against women, including sexual harassment, and coordinates education and training efforts for the public and professionals. The government operated a 24/7 hotline for women subjected to violence.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and most individuals had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. NGOs reported that Romani women from marginalized communities in Eastern Slovakia at times faced reproductive health-care discrimination and a general lack of information on reproductive health. Authorities also required persons seeking a legally recognized sex change to undergo permanent sterilization, effectively ending their ability to reproduce.
While contraception was widely available, NGOs reported that a lack of reimbursement from the national health system (unless used for health-related reasons) constituted a significant barrier to access, especially for young and vulnerable populations.
In 2020 the Public Defender of Rights expressed concerns about some practices imposed on women in childbirth, including medically unjustified separations of mothers and new-born babies or refusal of a birth companion’s presence, notably due to measures implemented by health-care providers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Media and NGOs also reported some cases in which health-care providers refused reproductive health services to patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The country does not have a national sexual and reproductive health program to provide dedicated access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Victims approached their general practitioners, emergency rooms, or, less frequently, their gynecologists. Survivors generally had access to legal abortion and emergency over-the-counter contraception. The government runs a 24/7 national multilanguage helpline for women experiencing violence, and the Coordinating Methodical Centre for Prevention of Violence against Women offered emergency help to victims of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities, 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 also did little to investigate cases of involuntary sterilizations of Romani women reported in the past or provide restitution to the victims.
In April the regional court in Kosice upheld a lower court ruling that awarded compensation to an illegally sterilized Romani woman. The woman was sterilized without informed consent in 1999 in Krompachy Hospital in eastern Slovakia during the birth of her second child by Caesarean section. She was not informed about the sterilization procedure by the hospital staff and did not give informed consent to this intervention. She became aware that she had been sterilized only after the procedure. The ensuing court case continued for more than 15 years.
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 (also see section 7.d.).
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.
The new government, coalition MPs, and civil society experts criticized the ombudsperson for child rights for her inactivity and failure to protect the best interests of children; there were also allegations that she employed family members without necessary professional qualifications at her institution.
Child, 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 March the prosecution service opened three new criminal investigations and prosecutions related to the scandal-ridden private juvenile rehabilitation facility Cisty den (Clean Day), which lost its official accreditation in 2017 after a series of allegations of severe malpractice and misconduct. In 2018 and 2019, courts convicted a former therapist and cook employed at the facility and sentenced them to a three-year suspended sentence and a five-year prison sentence, respectively, for sexual abuse of underage clients at the facility. In 2019 the prosecution service exonerated the former manager of the facility from accusations of battery and assault of a minor but continued investigating him for alleged fraud. New investigations opened during the year focused on suspicions of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and unlawful use of personal data after leaked text messages between jailed businessman Marian Kocner and Cisty den managers showed the latter sharing sensitive client information with Kocner, who allegedly intervened on behalf of Cisty den through his network of corrupt police officials, prosecutors, and judges.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
Jewish community leaders estimated, and the 2011 census data indicated, there were 2,000 persons in the Jewish community.
Organized neo-Nazi groups with an estimated 500 active members and several thousand sympathizers occasionally spread anti-Semitic messages. Latent anti-Semitic stereotypes characterizing Jews as greedy or secretly influencing world affairs were widespread, even beyond neo-Nazi groups and their sympathizers. The neo-Nazi LSNS received 7.97 percent of the vote in the February parliamentary elections, securing 17 of 150 seats in parliament. Among the elected representatives for LSNS were several individuals prosecuted or convicted of hate crimes, including party chair Marian Kotleba, who was convicted for giving a charitable donation with Nazi symbolism; Andrej Medvecky, convicted of attacking a foreigner because of race; Stanislav Mizik, acquitted for lack of evidence of posting an anti-Semitic message on his Facebook profile criticizing the president for giving state awards to citizens of Jewish origin; and Milan Mazurek, convicted for anti-Romani statements made in a public radio broadcast.
In August the National Criminal Agency announced it would bring extremism-related charges against nine individuals suspected of disseminating extremist materials and collecting Nazi paraphernalia. Three members of the extremist musical group Kratky Proces (Short Process) were taken into custody during related police raids on charges of producing an extremist musical album. The detained singer of the band, who also repeatedly ran for the LSNS, faced three to eight years in prison.
In October the Specialized Criminal Court convicted LSNS chairman Marian Kotleba of supporting and promoting groups aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms for a March 2017 ceremony where Kotleba handed over three checks to families with children with disabilities, each worth 1,488 euros ($1,790). Experts provided by the prosecution testified that the amount was a well known neo-Nazi cypher, representing the white supremacist “14-word” slogan and a numerical representation of “Heil Hitler.” Witnesses also testified that organizers played the unofficial anthem of the wartime Slovak State, an ally of Nazi Germany, at the handover ceremony of the charitable donation and pointed out the event was held on March 14, the anniversary of the founding of the Slovak State. The ceremony concluded with a concert by neo-Nazi singer Reborn, who himself faced prosecution on extremism charges. The court sentenced Kotleba to four years and four months in prison. The case remained pending at year’s end following the defense’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
In May former LSNS candidate Marian Magat, labelled by media as a far-right extremist, published a blog questioning the existence of the Holocaust on the disinformation outlet Kulturblog. Magat summarized known conspiracy theories claiming that people did not die in concentration camps due to systemic extermination by the Nazis, but rather due to bombing by allied forces, typhoid outbreaks, or the interruption of supplies of food and medicine caused by the bombardment. Magat also presented claims that gas chambers at concentration camps were used for delousing. The National Criminal Agency opened an investigation on suspicion of denying the crimes of totalitarian regimes, a crime that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. The case remained pending.
In January the Specialized Criminal Court convicted LSNS regional chairman Anton Grno of supporting a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms for shouting the greeting of the World War II-era Slovak fascist state’s paramilitary force during a 2018 Supreme Court hearing. Grno was fined 5,000 euros ($6,000) and sentenced to six months in prison should he fail to pay the fine. Media reported that Grno’s social media profiles contained several openly racist and anti-Semitic posts.
While direct denial of the Holocaust was relatively rare, expressions of approval of 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, the Slovenske Hnutie Obrody or SHO (Slovak Renewal Movement), a far-right political party, which ran in the February parliamentary elections but did not win any seats, organized a commemoration of the 1939 creation of the fascist Slovak state, laying wreaths at a statue of Jozef Tiso in the village of Cajakovce. On April 18, the LSNS commemorated the anniversary of the execution of Tiso through a post on its website, stating that April 18 marks the “sad day of the judicial murder of the first Slovak president, Jozef Tiso.”
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 Matovic, and Speaker of Parliament Kollar, denounced the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the far right.
In January, President Caputova attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Israel where she stated, “Fascism is still alive in our society, that’s why I think it’s very necessary that we…do our utmost to prevent it from getting back to power.” She also highlighted that racial hatred always starts with words and cautioned against increasing hatred over the internet and discrimination against some parts of the population.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
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. The antidiscrimination law does not qualify the denial of reasonable accommodation as discrimination on the basis of disability.
NGOs reported that persons with disabilities continued to experience a number of challenges, particularly in access to education, employment, and government as well as private services.
According to the government’s Commissioner for Disabled Persons, while a few children with disabilities were able to participate in mainstream education, most were educated separately in so-called “special” schools that further contributed to their social isolation and stigmatization. Among the main reasons for the separate schooling of children with disabilities were physical barriers at state schools, lack of qualified support staff, and reluctance from teachers and parents of children without disabilities.
NGOs and municipalities continued to report problems, including excessive administrative burden and red tape, in applying the law on opening and operating “social enterprises” that could serve to employ persons with disabilities.
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. Civil society organizations and the disability rights commissioner noted that navigating most cities with a visual impairment or on a wheelchair remained difficult due to the many obstacles and barriers on sidewalks and in public transport.
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. The disability rights commissioner presented an annual report to parliament summarizing progress in implementing the human rights strategy and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; containing recommendations for legislative and policy changes, based on the commissioner’s own monitoring and complaints lodged by citizens; and providing recommendations for legislative and policy changes, based on the commissioner’s own monitoring and complaints lodged by citizens.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
Segregation and societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. A 2019 study by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Interior, the most recent available, found that as much as 49 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities, a slight decrease compared with the previous iteration of the study in 2013, which estimated that 53 percent of Roma resided in settlements. According to the same study, only 19 percent of the Romani minority lived integrated among the majority population. The UNDP identified 180 segregated rural settlements located outside municipalities and 418 communities on the outskirts of municipalities. The UNDP study found that 61 percent of inhabitants in the 100 largest concentrations of Romani citizens had access to drinking water, compared with 48 percent in 2013.
There were reports of harassment of members of ethnic minorities during the year and reports of violence and excessive use of force by members of the police against Romani citizens.
In April police officers allegedly beat a group of five Romani children trying to leave a marginalized Romani settlement that was placed under quarantine due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the community. According to the Union of Roma in Slovakia, the officers first threatened the children with a gun and then beat them using batons, causing bruises and other injuries. The ombudsperson, the government plenipotentiary for Romani communities, and the Slovak National Center for Human Rights condemned the incident and called for a thorough investigation. The Ministry of Interior’s inspection service launched an investigation into possible abuse of power by a public official.
Ahead of the February parliamentary elections, the LSNS party organized meetings and gatherings in areas with higher concentrations of Romani citizens, rallying voters from the majority against “asocial Gypsies” and “parasites” and promising to “restore order.” There were reports of small clashes between LSNS supporters and antifascist protesters at some of the LSNS rallies, but police mostly prevented an escalation of violence.
Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
There were instances of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma. In April former prime minister and chair of the opposition Smer Party Robert Fico criticized Prime Minister Matovic for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting that Matovic was “the prime minister of gypsies” and claiming the COVID tests were made available for Roma but not senior citizens or homes for the elderly.
In August, President Caputova, Prime Minister Matovic, Interior Minister Roman Mikulec, Human Rights Ombudswoman Maria Patakyova, and other government officials attended a Romani Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Banska Bystrica. Media highlighted that this was the first time the Romani Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked by such high-level government attendance.
In February the Slovak Academy of Sciences released a representative survey of majority attitudes toward Romani citizens. When examining stereotypes about Roma, the survey found that most respondents (80 percent) tended to agree with a statement that Roma in the country received undeserved benefits from the social system, and almost two-thirds of respondents tended to identify with openly negative stereotypes of Roma. Only half of the respondents tended to agree with the statements that highlighted the value of Romani culture. The survey also found that respondents identified most with a so-called hostile political discourse, where politicians referred negatively to Romani citizens, particularly regarding work habits and crime rates in Romani communities.
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, health care, housing, loan practices, restaurants, hair salons, religious services, and public transportation.
In April the government began blanket testing for the presence of COVID-19 in chosen marginalized Romani settlements with a higher recorded number of persons returning from abroad. The government used the military to assist in the testing, arguing the process was necessary to protect public health and safety. Human rights NGOs reported the targeted testing contributed to further stigmatization and anti-Romani prejudice and that there were reports of increased hate speech against Roma on social media. The targeted testing contributed to further stigmatization and anti-Romani prejudice and there were reports of increased hate speech against Roma on social media.
Based on the result of COVID-19 testing in marginalized Romani communities, the government’s chief medical officer ordered mandatory full-area quarantines in five settlements, with armed police and military guards stationed at the entrances to the settlements. Quarantines lasted up to one month in some of the settlements. NGO Amnesty International spoke to residents of the quarantined settlements, who confirmed that no one informed them about the duration and conditions of the quarantine. Authorities reportedly did not isolate persons who tested positive for COVID-19 from other persons in the community. In addition human rights watchdogs reported that authorities did not ensure a sufficient supply of food and medical supplies to the sealed-off settlements, forcing impoverished inhabitants to procure grossly overpriced supplies from vendors offering delivery services. Amnesty International considered the conduct of the government a violation of human rights.
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.
Members of the Romani minority continued to experience obstacles and discrimination in the access to quality health care. A government report released by the Ministry of Finance in January 2019, the latest available, estimated life expectancy within the marginalized Romani population at 69.6 years, nearly seven years less than 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 2019, the latest available, 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 intellectual 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 Romani children had received preschool education, compared with 75 percent for the general population, and one-third of Romani children dropped out of the education system before completing elementary school.
School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the educational gap between children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly children from marginalized Romani settlements, and children from more affluent families, educational experts pointed out. According to a study conducted by NGO EduRoma, 70 percent of marginalized Romani children did not participate in distance learning, and 60 percent of them had no contact with their teachers whatsoever during the nearly four-month-long closure of primary and secondary schools, mainly because they did not have access to a computer or the internet. Educational professionals warned this interruption in the education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds would have lasting impacts on their future educational and career prospects.
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 the regional court in Bratislava upheld a 2016 trial court ruling dismissing an antidiscrimination lawsuit against the segregation of Romani children at an elementary school in the town of Stara Lubovna. The court determined Romani children were not segregated in education even though the school was ethnically homogenous and attended exclusively by Romani children from a nearby marginalized settlement. The human rights NGO Poradna, which initiated the lawsuit, considered the court’s judgment in breach of international human rights law and planned to file an extraordinary appeal to the Supreme Court.
The government’s 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. Since 2017 “extremist” crimes, including incitement towards racial, religious, and ethnic hatred; discrimination on the basis of a deliberate hate motive; defamation of race, nation or belief; founding, supporting and expressing sympathy towards movements aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms; and producing and disseminating “extremist” materials, fall under the purview of the National Counter-Terrorism Unit at the National Crime Agency and are prosecuted by the Specialized Prosecution Service at the Specialized Criminal Court. Experts credited these specialized law enforcement and prosecution agencies for increasing the number of cases and the conviction rate for perpetrators of “extremist” crimes as well as for raising the profile of the issue in Slovak society.
The law bans the spreading of profascist propaganda and hatred in public, including on social media.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
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. Due to COVID-19 and associated restrictions on public gatherings, annual LGBTI Rainbow Pride celebrations in Bratislava and Kosice moved online. While there were no reports of physical altercations, organizers reported online hate speech directed at their virtual programs.
Ahead of the February parliamentary elections, several political parties, notably the LSNS and the Vlast (Homeland) Party of former Supreme Court judge Stefan Harabin, campaigned on anti-LGBTI platforms, presenting sexual minorities as “sick,” “decadent,” or “perverted.” In June during a debate about the ombudsperson’s annual report in parliament, LSNS MP Milan Mazurek stated that according to him, “there are no transgender people, there are some fools who say from day to day that I am no longer a woman, I am a man, I am no longer a man, I am a woman.”
According to an EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey released in June, more than three-quarters of Slovak same-sex couples reported fears of holding hands in public. The survey also indicated only 26 percent of members of the LGBTI community openly declared their orientation and that 36 percent were afraid to visit certain sites for fear of being attacked. In total, 46 percent of members of the LGBTI community felt discrimination in at least one area and at least one in five transgender and intersex persons reported being physically assaulted in the five years prior to the survey, double the number of other LGBTI persons. The FRA survey found that only 8 percent of victims reported such an attack to the police and 6 percent alerted an equality body or other organization to discrimination.
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.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
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, and several political parties used antimigrant rhetoric in their parliamentary election campaign messaging. In January the political party Smer released a cartoon campaign video that mocked former president Andrej Kiska and his Za ludi political party and spread false statements that Kiska and his party intended to introduce legislation obliging each family in the country to take in one migrant family. In February, 12 major human rights organizations working with refugees and migrants in the country addressed an open letter to politicians urging them to refrain from spreading unfounded fear of migrants and using dehumanizing statements against migrants and refugees; the letter called for consistency and caution in the use of migration-related terms.