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 raise 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.
According to a study commissioned by IKEA in cooperation with the NGO Fenestra published in November, 77 percent of Slovak respondents believed that violence in partnerships was widespread and required more attention, and more than half knew someone who experienced violence in an intimate partner relationship. At the same time, almost 25 percent believed the problem was exaggerated, 48 percent agreed that victims were at least partially responsible for the violence in their partnerships, and 42 percent stated that many women only accused their partners of violence out of revenge.
In April the government allocated three million euros ($3.5 million) to support domestic violence shelters and fund counseling services as a temporary measure to cover a funding gap due to delays in the availability of European Economic Area grants – the major source of funding for shelter homes in the country. An amendment to the law on victims of criminal acts entered into force in July, introducing measures aimed at strengthening rights and protection of victims of criminal acts, including provision of legal assistance to victims seeking restraining orders and extending restraint distances from 33 to 164 feet. Police also became responsible for notifying victims of the termination of restraining orders before informing the offenders. To prevent further victimization, the amendment also expanded the list of victims eligible for compensation, who were to be paid by the state during criminal proceedings. The law also established a network of intervention centers, to become operational as of November, to ensure better coordination between centers providing legal and counseling support to domestic violence survivors and law enforcement bodies, including creating referral procedures for police and providing long-term funding for centers to ensure their sustainability and availability.
In April the General Prosecution Service reported that the incidence of domestic violence increased rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions on movement, with the number of recorded cases in 2020 increasing by 30 percent compared with 2019. Domestic violence prosecutions increased 20 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. The severity of domestic violence incidents increased, and the number of women killed by their partners increased by 71 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, the highest overall number since 2010.
The number of calls to a national helpline for women experiencing domestic violence increased by 49 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. NGOs providing victim care services confirmed the deteriorating trend, and the Institute for Labor and Family Research noted that victims had difficulty accessing assistance in January, when there were no exceptions for threats to life and health included in the strict COVID-19 curfew mandate. According to the institute, however, antipandemic measures during the year did not significantly impact the functioning and availability of shelter homes and emergency housing for women. Despite concerns from civil society organizations, in November the government reintroduced pandemic-related restrictions to the freedom of movement that again did not provide adequate exemptions allowing victims of domestic violence to leave their households despite an active curfew.
In July 2020 police began testing a new smartphone application that would allow victims to secretly place distress calls to them. As of December the application was still not fully operational.
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 it also coordinates education and training efforts for the public and professionals. The government operated a 24/7 hotline for women subjected to violence.
Civil society organizations criticized police for poor handling of cases of sexual harassment. In June a group of men allegedly sexually harassed two women in Bratislava, making lewd comments and chasing them, with one man allegedly touching one of the women. The victims reported the incident to police but complained that the police officers were unprofessional, allegedly downplaying the incident by asking speculative questions that doubted and humiliated the victims.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities involving Romani or other women, 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.
Authorities continued requiring persons seeking a legally recognized sex change to undergo permanent sterilization, effectively ending their ability to reproduce.
Human rights organizations criticized the quality and practices used in childbirth care services, and NGOs reported that Romani women, especially from marginalized communities in the eastern region of the country, at times faced reproductive health-care discrimination, segregation, verbal and physical violence, and a general lack of information on reproductive health. According to a 2018 government report, infant mortality in the Romani population was almost three times higher than the national rate, while a 2014 study by the Slovak Academy of Sciences (the most recent available) reported there was a high rate of adolescent pregnancies among women from Romani communities, with approximately 25 percent of them bearing a first child by the age of 18. In comparison the Ministry of Health reported that women under 18 made up 4.2 percent of all first pregnancies in 2019.
In July, on the advice of the ombudsperson and after repeated calls by civil society and international organizations, parliament’s Human Rights and National Minorities Committee passed a resolution requesting a systemic resolution of the issue of involuntary sterilizations of predominantly Romani women, expressing support for adoption of a restitution scheme and calling for and calling for a government apology. Two victims of involuntary sterilization gave testimony to committee members during the session. Subsequently, on November 24, the government issued a formal apology to female victims of involuntary sterilizations and condemned the violations of their human rights. The government acknowledged that the “unacceptable” practice, targeting primarily Roma women from marginalized communities, occurred not only under the communist regime, but as late as early 2000s, when the women were often pressured into providing their consent without adequate understanding of the sterilization’s consequences or sufficient time to consider the decision. The government also established an expert working group to set up a system to identify and compensate the women.
In 2020 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 the eastern region during the birth of her second child by Caesarean section. She was not informed about the sterilization procedure by hospital staff and did not give informed consent to the intervention. She became aware that she had been sterilized only after the procedure. The ensuing court case continued for more than 15 years.
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.
During the year NGOs expressed concerns regarding some practices imposed on women in childbirth, including medically unjustified separations of mothers and newborn babies, refusal to allow a companion to be present at birth, and reduced quality of health care to and undignified treatment of mothers who tested positive for COVID-19 due to measures to respond to the pandemic. In May the ombudsperson released a survey on childbirth care, covering a period from 2016 to 2020 and based on a sample of almost 3,200 women. It showed problems with lack of informed consent in 55 percent of cases and inadequate privacy in 26 percent of cases. In November the Health Ministry issued unified standards for obstetrical care that the ombudsperson lauded for also including rules concerning birth companions, informed consent, right to privacy, or performance of episiotomy.
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 emergency over-the-counter contraception. The government ran a 24/7 national multilanguage helpline for women experiencing violence, and the Coordinating Methodical Center for Prevention of Violence against Women offered emergency help to victims of sexual violence.
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 21 percent gender pay gap.
In April the government approved a new gender equality strategy for 2021 to 2027 along with an accompanying action plan, which focuses on addressing key issues affecting women’s rights in the areas of dignity and bodily integrity, family and work life, education, employment, and political and economic participation.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms to everyone regardless of sex, race, color, language, belief or religion, political affiliation, or other conviction, national or social origin, nationality or ethnic origin, property, descent, or any other status, and it allows no person to be discriminated against or favored on any of these grounds. An antidiscrimination law forbids unequal treatment on the grounds of one’s race or belonging to a national or ethnic group, which is subject to civil penalties. The criminal code defines “extremist” crimes such as founding, supporting, and expressing sympathy toward movements aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms; producing or disseminating “extremist” materials; defamation of a nation, race, and belief; or incitement to national, racial, or ethnic hatred. Crimes committed with a special motive, which includes hatred against a group or individuals for their actual or alleged race, nationality, or ethnic affiliation, are punished with stiffer sentences. While experts noted increased investigation and prosecution of “extremist” crimes, they recognized that public authorities often failed to identify a special aggravating motive. Civil society organizations also criticized the government for ineffective enforcement of antidiscrimination legislation, especially concerning widespread discriminatory practices against the Roma population.
Segregation and societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. A 2019 Atlas of Roma Communities study by the Ministry of Interior, the most recent available, found that as much as 49 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities. This represented a slight decrease compared with the previous iteration of the study conducted by the UN Development Program 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 study identified 180 segregated rural settlements located outside municipalities and 418 communities on the outskirts of municipalities. The 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. Experts noted that most cases of police violence were likely not reported by the Roma due to fear and lack of trust and highlighted that inadequate police investigation of such cases was a persistent problem.
In May the public broadcaster reported that police officers in Svidnik allegedly beat two Romani men who were suspected of a petty cash robbery. According to one of the victims, the police officers took him to the local police station for interrogation and proceeded to beat him in the interrogation room, first hitting his head and then beating his bare feet while he was forced to kneel on a chair completely naked. The other man stated that police hit his head and feet several times while he was leaning against a wall. The case was investigated by the Police Inspection Service and was pending as of December.
In May and June, the Kosice District Court acquitted five Roma charged with making false allegations against police officers in connection with the investigation of the 2013 police raid on a Romani community in Moldava nad Bodvou. The acquittals came after the prosecutor of the Kosice Regional Prosecutor’s Service dropped charges against five of six defendants in the case, a decision observers attributed to a September 2020 verdict of the ECHR regarding a complaint submitted by two of the defendants. The ECHR identified human rights violations by the authorities and awarded the two raid victims financial compensation to be paid by the government. A Kosice District Court judge ruled on December 9 to drop prosecution of the final, sixth, Roma victim of the raid who faced false testimony and perjury charges, citing the European Human Rights Convention as well as the ECHR decision as grounds for the verdict. The prosecutor appealed the ruling, and the case was pending a decision by the Kosice Regional Court as of December.
In response to the acquittals, in June the government issued a formal apology to the victims of the police raid, expressing regret over the authorities’ actions and subsequent criminalization of the victims. Following repeated calls by civil society and the ombudsperson, in July the police president mandated reintroduction of compulsory video recordings during police raids.
In 2020 the Kosice District Court, in its third and binding ruling in the case, confirmed a lower court ruling that acquitted all of the police officers accused in a 2009 case of police abuse against a group of six Romani boys between the ages of 11 and 15. During the incident the officers allegedly brought the boys to the police station and forced them to strip, slap each other, and carry out their orders and also threatened them with a loaded weapon and police dogs. Some of the actions were recorded on a smartphone and made public. The ECHR ruled in April on a related incident that preceded the alleged beatings that state authorities did not sufficiently investigate the police violence allegations.
In 2020 a police officer 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 officer 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. The investigation was pending as of December.
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 July the former prime minister and chair of the opposition Smer party, Robert Fico, denounced the financial incentives introduced by the government to encourage vaccination against COVID-19, alleging they would benefit mostly Roma and stating, “gypsies in gypsy settlements are already rubbing their hands.”
In September Pope Francis visited the Lunik IX housing estate in Kosice, home to the largest Romani population in the country, estimated at more than 4,000, with a significant proportion of inhabitants facing poverty and poor living conditions. The visit precipitated a wave of racist commentary on social media targeting the Romani communities living at Lunik IX.
During the October 13 International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism in Malmo, Sweden, Prime Minister Heger committed the government to include Roma history in educational and training materials and to make active use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s recommendations on teaching about the Roma Holocaust.
In August Prime Minister Heger, Interior Minister Roman Mikulec, Public Defender of Rights Maria Patakyova, and other government officials attended a Romani Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Banska Bystrica. Other leaders, including President Caputova, Justice Minister Maria Kolikova, and Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok, commemorated the Roma Holocaust separately as well, with President Caputova calling on “every citizen to reduce the space for hatred so that ethnically motivated humiliation and physical and verbal attacks do not happen.” In April, on International Roma Day, President Caputova hosted a group of Roma medical and social workers, volunteers, educators, and activists in recognition of their work on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.
In 2020 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.
During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government continued the controversial practice of blanket quarantining of entire marginalized Romani settlements to stop the spread of the disease. Based on results of COVID-19 testing, regional public health offices ordered a mandatory full-area quarantine in one settlement in December 2020 and two settlements in February, with armed police and military guards stationed at the entrances to the settlements. Quarantines lasted up to several weeks, and NGOs reported that residents complained of uncertainty due to absence of clear guidance on 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. Local authorities provided food and medical supplies to the sealed-off settlements, but the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities reported lack of firewood and access to general and specialized health care while under quarantine. Human rights NGOs reported the quarantines contributed to further stigmatization and anti-Romani prejudice, and that there were reports of increased hate speech against Roma on social media. The ombudsperson continued criticizing the blanket quarantines in Romani communities. In February she requested the prosecutor general review the legality of the quarantines and consider submitting the matter to the Constitutional Court. The prosecutor general forwarded the motion to district prosecutors’ offices, which suspended it on the grounds that the quarantines were already over by that time.
Human rights experts also noted that Romani individuals often received harsher penalties for breaching antipandemic measures. In January police issued a 500 euro ($575) fine to a Rom for crossing a border between the Kosice Okolie and Kosice districts to get firewood, although media reported that the average penalty for violating the COVID-19 restrictions at that time was only 67 euros ($77). In May prosecutors in the Spisska Nova Ves District dropped charges against an 18-year-old Rom from a marginalized community in Richnava who was facing a two-year prison sentence for stealing 0.26 euros ($0.30) worth of wood in January during a COVID-19-related state of emergency. The prosecutor deemed the charges by police as illegal and unsubstantiated, citing the negligible damage, the fact that the man was underage at the time of the incident, and taking into account that the man, together with his grandfather, was helping to care for his four siblings.
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 2019, the most recent data available, estimated life expectancy in the 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 mistreatment by medical personnel. The hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by ethnicity. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding the way medical personnel obtained informed consent from Romani patients, often not fully explaining its meaning or requesting a signature under time pressure.
In April the government adopted a new National Strategy for Roma Equality, Inclusion, and Participation by 2030, which NGOs assessed positively, although they noted that the implementation of such documents in the past was often uneven.
The government’s Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, , and Other Forms of Intolerance. Since 2017 “extremist” crimes fall under the purview of the National Counterterrorism 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 with an increased number of cases and higher conviction rate for perpetrators of “extremist” crimes as well as for raising the profile of the issue in society.
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.
Education: 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 2019 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. 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 because of closure of primary and secondary schools during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, mainly because they did not have access to a computer or the internet. Experts reported similar obstacles during limitations imposed on in-class learning throughout the 2020-21 school year. 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 2020 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 that 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 filed an extraordinary appeal to the Supreme Court that was pending as of December.
In December the government adopted a Strategy for Inclusive Approach to Education 2030 that included inclusive education, desegregation, and destigmatization in education among its priority areas. While Roma and education experts noted the need for the strategy, they criticized the quality and vagueness of the document and noted lack of implementation of the majority of desegregation measures set out in the pilot action plan for 2021, which was adopted by the government in 2020.
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 most recent 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 operated a national helpline.
Coalition members of parliament 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 of lack of transparency, mismanagement, and nepotism. The ombudsperson’s six-year term formally ended in December, but parliament did not appoint her replacement due to disagreements within the ruling coalition.
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 continued reporting a number of cases of Slovak children of Romani descent being subjected to forced marriage, often by their legal guardians seeking financial benefit. In 2020 three Romani victims of forced marriages were identified, and as of December two such victims were identified. Overall in 2020, girls younger than 18 accounted for half of all identified sex trafficking victims (the youngest victim was 11) as well as half of the victims of forced marriages. Most perpetrators were parents or relatives.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Rape and sexual violence against a child carry basic penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibited sexual exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment. As of November police reported 375 cases of sexual abuse of children younger than 15, compared with 468 cases in 2020 and 518 in 2019. Experts stated that sexual exploitation of children went largely underreported and that convicted perpetrators often received lenient sentences. As of December the police identified nine underage victims of sex trafficking.
The production, distribution, or possession of child pornography is a crime with penalties ranging from two to 20 years’ imprisonment. As of November police reported 257 such cases, compared with 403 and 286 cases in 2020 and 2019, respectively, with distribution of child pornography dominating the cases.
Institutionalized Children: Reports published by the ombudsperson during the year 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 2020 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 persons at the facility. In June a court upheld the five-year sentence for a former cook. 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.
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 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, 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 party Kotlebovci – Ludova strana Nase Slovensko (Kotleba’s – People’s Party Our Slovakia, LSNS) received 8 percent of the vote in the 2020 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, who left LSNS in January.
In 2020 the Specialized Criminal Court approved a plea bargain for Michal Buchta, former LSNS regional chairman and a former leader of the LSNS youth wing, Ludova mladez (Popular Youth). Buchta was given a three-year suspended sentence and a 600 euro ($690) fine and ordered to undergo mandatory psychological counseling for distributing extremist materials. He had previously been arrested by the National Criminal Agency in 2018 along with two other individuals, including neo-Nazi singer Jaroslav “Reborn” Pagac. Pagac was convicted by the Specialized Criminal Court in June for producing and distributing clothes and other items bearing extremist symbols and was sentenced to four years in prison.
In April the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of LSNS regional chairman Anton Grno, who in 2020 was found guilty of supporting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and fundamental freedoms. During a 2018 Supreme Court hearing, Grno shouted the greeting of the World War II-era Slovak fascist state’s paramilitary force. Grno was fined 5,000 euros ($5,750) and sentenced to six months in prison should he fail to pay the fine. Media outlets reported that Grno’s social media profiles contained several openly racist and anti-Semitic posts.
In October the Supreme Court confirmed a verdict of the Specialized Criminal Court, which in 2019 found Tibor Eliot Rostas, editor in chief of Zem a vek magazine, guilty of defamation of race and nation for his anti-Semitic article, “Wedge of Jews Among Slavs.” The court upheld the original sentence of a 4,000 euro ($4,600) penalty, which Rostas paid in December, thus avoiding a three-month prison sentence. In 2019 both Rostas and the prosecutor appealed the sentence. In the original 2017 article in Zem a vek, which local experts labeled a conspiracy magazine, Rostas wrote about centuries-long efforts of Jews to drive wedges among Slavs and destroy their traditions, culture, and values, drawing on selected anti-Semitic quotes of prominent political figures from Slovak history.
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 commemorated dates associated with the Slovak fascist state and its president, Jozef Tiso, including the LSNS youth wing, which on March 14 published a social media post commemorating creation of the fascist state in 1939. On the same date, LSNS chairman Marian Kotleba posted a Slovak flag on his social media account that experts claimed was an acknowledgement of the Slovak fascist state anniversary. In December, following an investigation into a case of a street named after the Slovak fascist state president located in a village of Varin, the National Criminal Agency pressed charges against 10 of 11 local councilors for a crime of expressing sympathies with a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms. The charged councilors, one of whom was absent then, refused to vote in favor of changing the name during an August municipal council meeting, citing plans to call a local referendum once police and the courts closed the case. After all 10 councilors objected, the special prosecutor dismissed the charges on grounds that the particular crime cannot be committed by inaction and that “lack of empathy and ignorance of historical facts” do not constitute a crime. In April the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities publicly protested a decision by the city of Ruzomberok to present an award to a historian it claimed was an advocate of the wartime Slovak state who relativized the Holocaust.
In October Prime Minister Heger participated in the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism, where the government pledged to take concrete steps in the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Roma attitudes and continue to address the legacy of the Holocaust. Specific steps included completion of a Holocaust museum, use of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definitions, and application of IHRA recommendations for enhanced teaching and learning about the Holocaust, including targeted awareness-raising efforts among youth about the Holocaust and the dangers of distorting it.
On September 9, President Caputova and government officials commemorated the Day of the Victims of the Holocaust and of Racial Violence at the Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava and the Slovak Holocaust Museum in Sered. 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. On September 8, the government adopted a resolution marking the 80th anniversary of the so-called Jewish codex, expressing regret over crimes committed by the Slovak fascist state, particularly adoption in 1941 of the “disgraceful decree” that eventually led to deportations of Jews and their subsequent mass killings in concentration camps.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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 based on disability.
NGOs reported that persons with disabilities continued to experience several problems, particularly in access to education, transport, employment, and government as well as private services.
According to the government’s commissioner for disabled persons, while a few children with disabilities participated 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 cited 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. In February the public defender of rights called on the government to abolish the “variant A” schooling for students with mild mental disability, which limited the level and type of secondary education these students could access. The Strategy for Inclusive Approach to Education 2030, adopted by the government in December, included “debarrierization” of education and an overhaul of education counseling services among its key priorities.
In October parliament adopted an education law reform that introduces inclusive education both as one of the principles of education and as a right of a child and student, while removing the previous rule of allowing a maximum of two children with special education needs per classroom in kindergartens. The law also aims to provide better access to counseling services for all children, including those with most serious issues requiring specialized assistance. While education experts praised the reform’s intentions, they expressed skepticism regarding its implementation due to shortage of qualified personnel at schools and lack of details on the counseling reform.
According to a March 2020 study by the Value for Money Unit of the Finance Ministry, students with disabilities constituted 11 percent of students in elementary schools, 7 percent in secondary schools, and 1 percent among university students.
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. Physical and nonphysical restraints in social care homes managed by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family were prohibited by the law, except for life-threatening situations in which their use was permitted for a limited time only.
Broadcasters rarely complied with laws requiring television stations to provide audio descriptions for viewers who are blind or have impaired vision.
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. In May 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 , as well as providing recommendations for legislative and policy changes, based on the commissioner’s own monitoring and complaints lodged by citizens.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
LGBTQI+ 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,” and experts criticized lack of official guidance. In practice authorities required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents. NGOs also reported instances of public authorities not recognizing transition undergone abroad and requesting that persons undergo the process again in Slovakia.
Except in the case of university diplomas, 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 LGBTQI+ persons. In June a popular local clothing company received a wave of online anti-LGBTQI+ hate comments for posting a social media advertisement for its rainbow collection depicting two men holding hands. In May a kindergarten in Poprad issued a public apology after facing strong online backlash from parents and the public, who argued it promoted the LGBTQI+ community when it featured a rainbow in a weekly play put on by students. Also in May, a cultural center in Bratislava reported that its rainbow flag, flying in support of the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, was torn down in broad daylight by a group of men. Organizers reported online hate speech, while an LGBTQI+ rights NGO reported an alleged violent incident took place in June in center of Bratislava only days before the Bratislava Pride month launch, during which several youths verbally assaulted a group of gay men and then proceeded to physically attack one of them, kicking him in the head, delivering multiple blows with a telescopic baton, and chasing the victim down a street. The victims later complained of inadequate reaction by police, with officers showing up late to the scene and not taking a formal report. The case was being investigated by the National Criminal Agency. During the August rainbow pride march in Kosice, a group of approximately 20 LSNS supporters gathered in protest and attempted to block the approximately 900 marchers. There were no reports of violence.
According to an EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey released in 2020, 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 LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ 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.
On November 3, the Committee for Rights of LGBTI Persons, a permanent expert body of the Government Council for Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality chaired by the minister of justice, adopted a formal resolution expressing concerns over repeated attempts by members of parliament throughout the year to pass laws that sought to ban legal gender transition and “promotion of homosexuality” in education and media.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
NGOs reported online hate speech towards refugees.
Government officials at all levels and leaders from across the political spectrum engaged in rhetoric portraying refugees and Muslims as a threat to society, and several political parties used antimigrant rhetoric. The Center for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture released a study in May that confirmed a worsening trend in public attitudes toward migrants in the country. Most respondents believed foreigners contributed to higher crime rates (65 percent) and worsened safety (62 percent). According to the study, a majority also held negative attitudes toward a “refugee from Syria” (68 percent) and a “Muslim family” (64 percent).
In September the government adopted a new policy document, Migration Strategy 2025, in which it committed to consider and analyze potential creation of a centralized immigration and naturalization office to provide a centralized approach not only to migration but also to integration of refugees. Civil society organizations, however, criticized the new document for retaining an outdated and inadequate integration policies.