NEWS - Archive June 2012

Headlines 29 June, 2012

Helsinki Committee: Human rights worsened in CzechRep in 2011

29/6/2012- The state of human rights in the Czech Republic worsened last year, the government-sponsored cuts impacted on seniors, incomplete families, the unemployed as well as the disabled, the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) says in a report released Friday. The report also says the integration of Romany children in common schools stopped, hatred of Romanies grew, the number of attacks on sexual minorities rose and prisons remained overcrowded. The awakening of civic society was the sole positive phenomenon last year, CHV representatives said. "Unfortunately, I can tell no good new. The situation in the field of human rights is worsening," said Anna Sabatova, from the CHV. She said this is due not only to the crisis and austerity measures, but also politicians' disinterest and their populist steps. She said President Vaclav Klaus is belittling the human rights issue.

Sabatova said elderly people constitute almost a half of those who have found themselves on the poverty level. More than 152,000 households, which is 15,000 more than in 2010, lived below subsistence level, the report says. It points to that the situation in Romanies' employment and housing is not improving and security is worsening. The report mentions the growth in tension and extremists' protests against Romanies in the Sluknov vicinity, north Bohemia, which were also joined by "normal citizens." The situation of the penal system is not good either. Last year there were 219 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 225 last April. Sabatova said about one third of prisoners have sentences of up to one year, but alternative punishments are not used. The report positively assesses the first Prague Pride gay march.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Amnesty International says new criminal code on hate crime inadequate (Hungary)

29/6/2012- Amnesty International (AI) acknowledges provisions on hate crime in Hungary’s new criminal code but it remains concerned about the adequacy of protection against such crimes, the organisation said on Thursday. It is noteworthy that the new criminal code, entering into force on July 1 next year, makes changes to provisions on protecting people against hate-motivated assaults due to their real or perceived identity, AI said in a statement. “Whereas the old legislation explicitly prohibited assaults on the ground of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion the new law extends the grounds to sexual orientation, gender identity and disability,” reflecting NGO recommendations, the statement said. AI expressed concern, however, that the Hungarian authorities had not used the opportunity of reform to include a general provision ensuring that a discriminatory motive be taken as a factor in an investigation or prosecution of other crimes, including murder. It also criticised that death threats based on national or ethnic affiliation would remain outside the category of hate crime. AI noted a “systemic problem” in implementing provisions, largely due to a lack of procedures and guidelines for police and prosecution services on the investigation of such crimes. AI’s research also highlighted the lack of specialised units and expertise when it came to probing hate crimes within the Hungarian police, the statement said. Amnesty urged introduction of a monitoring system and database on hate crimes in line with international law and human-rights norms.
© Politics Hungary

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Rehousing Romania's Roma signals swing to extremes

29/6/2012- Building a wall that closes in a Roma neighborhood and rehousing families in a dilapidated communist-era office block have earned Catalin Chereches accusations of racism. But the actions have also helped the mayor of the northern Romanian town of Baia Mare to become the country's most popular local politician and shown how central Europe's lackluster economies and widespread poverty can trigger radical solutions. Chereches, 33, an urbane Vienna-educated economist, says he is trying to improve the lot of Baia Mare's impoverished Roma. Rights groups counter that he is enclosing the population in ghettos and making the situation worse. He says living conditions have improved by moving families away from a slum where naked children play in the dust with stray dogs and cats. But it still keeps Roma separate from other people and lacks space and bathrooms. "It's clear, conditions there are not similar to the Hilton or Marriott. But this doesn't mean this is not a step forward towards their civilization and emancipation," Chereches told Reuters in his tidy and modest office.

Roma is a term for various groups who have migrated across Europe for centuries and are now the biggest ethnic minority in the European Union, most of them from countries like Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. There are an estimated 10 million across Europe and one in five lives in Romania. The vast majority live on the margins of society in abject poverty, which makes them easy targets in troubled times, and pro-democracy groups say post-communist governments in the region have not done enough to improve their plight. "Moving people belonging to a single ethnic group together is called ethnic separation," said Robert Vaszi, director of Roma rights group Asociatia Sanse Egale. "This is breaching human rights."

As central Europe's economies flag in their attempts to catch up with western Europe, there are signs voters may be turning away from mainstream politics towards more radical groups, or moving to support those individuals, like Chereches, who take action against the perceived problems of their society. The mayor built a wall in one Roma neighborhood which he says was to keep children safe from a main road, and started to relocate 1,600 Roma from improvised buildings in Baia Mare's "five pockets of poverty" - including the Craica slum - in June to the offices of a former copper factory, Cuprom. The concrete wall, up to 1.8 meters high, is built on one side of a Roma neighborhood of crumbling apartment blocks but because it links with other buildings and walls, it encloses the area with few access points. Built on an embankment, it appears much taller.

Those who have moved to the Cuprom offices, near the area with the wall, signed papers to agree, but others still in their old homes fear eviction. Chereches won 86 percent of the vote in June's local election, just days after the rehousing started. "He's done a great job by putting up the wall," said Michael Szinn, a 74-year-old pensioner in the main Freedom Square. "Gypsy kids were on the streets before and threw stones at cars. Moving others to Cuprom is an even better thing for our city."

New Scapegoats
Outbursts of anti-Roma sentiment are common across central Europe and hundreds of thousands have flooded western European cities since these countries joined the EU. According to police, many beg and are often involved in crime and trafficking rings. A European Commission study showed one in four EU citizens would be uncomfortable with a Roma neighbor against six percent if the neighbor was from a different ethnic group. Human Rights Watch says forced evictions are common across the EU. "Policymakers in Europe prefer to yield to, and in some cases exacerbate, public concerns at the expense of an unpopular minority rather than saying loud and clear that Europe's values demand rights for all," HRW said in its 2012 world report. Support for Hungary's far-right Jobbik has risen to 11 percent, and in a sign that economic hardship is feeding radical nationalism, about 1,000 Hungarians attended the unveiling of a statue of World War Two head of state Miklos Horthy.
© Reuters

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Twitter declares war on racism

29/6/2012- The Twitter micro blog service is taking measures to fight racism and trolling on the platform. Abusive comments will be hidden. The company’s Chief executive Dick Costolo told the Financial Times that the scale of hate speech, abusive and insulting messages is intimidating. Twitter will fight trollers and hate instigators by hiding their messages if their accounts have no followers, user information or user picture. Measures are being introduced after the British police initiated an investigation into racist messages against English football team players, who lost to the Italians on Sunday in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, the BBC reports. Despite the difficulties with abusive and racist speech Twitter executives believe it is crucial for the service to maintain freedom of speech. Thus they will still allow pseudonyms.

"The reason we want to allow pseudonyms is there are lots of places in the world where it's the only way you'd be able to speak freely," Dick Costolo is quoted as saying. "The flip side of that is it also emboldens these trolls… How do you make sure you are both emboldening people to speak politically but making it OK to be on the platform and not endure all this hate speech? It's very frustrating." Abuse in Twitter has provoked complaints from many celebrities, sportsmen among them. Hate speech in Twitter has already brought some to justice. In March a court in England convicted student Liam Stacey for his racist Twitter post about footballer Fabrice Muamba.
© RT

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Romania Gays March Against Discrimination

Romania's LGBT community is holding a series of public events in Bucharest in order to promote acceptance of this marginalised community. 

29/6/2012- Public debates and roundtables, film screenings and exhibitions are among the events to be held by the end of this week in Romania’s capital aimed at pushing for greater public acceptance of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual lifestyle. For the ninth year in a row, a Diversity March is also to be organised on Saturday in central Bucharest. “We will march because we want to be visible, we want to be heard... because we want to take back the right of self-dignity as individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” reads a press release from Accept organization, the main organizer of the event. While hundreds of gay rights activists, from Romania and abroad are expected to join the march against discrimination and to call for the legalisation of same-sex marriages, other protesters will turn out for a self-styled “Normality March”, urging society to uphold traditional family values. In recent years, Gay Pride events in Romania have passed off peacefully, despite the fact that some protesters – who included ultra-nationalists and Orthodox believers and even nuns brandishing crosses - threw eggs, stones and plastic bottles at the marchers. Homosexuality is legal in Romania but the public largely accepts the majority Orthodox Christian Church's view that it is sinful. While parliament fully decriminalised homosexuality in 2001, after partial decriminalisation in the 1990s, more than a decade later gays and lesbians are still heavily stigmatised. Many of them hide their sexual orientation, fearing that if it was discovered their safety would be endangered. The first Bucharest Gay festival took place in 2004 after an initial ban was overturned.
© Balkan Insight

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Serbia Gays Throw Mini Pride Parades

Serbia's LGBT community is marking international Pride day, on June 28, with a series of small scale Gay Pride events

28/6/2012- About 40 gay and lesbian activists threw rainbow coloured balloons into the air on Wednesday and held what they called a mini-Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade, some women holding banners that read: “I cannot kiss my girlfriend.” Boban Stankovic of Belgrade Pride said the motto of the manifestation was "Silence will not stop us", a referrence to the daily restrictions placed on gay people in homophobic Serbia. Another event entitled “A Demonstration by LGBT dolls” was held in central Belgrade on Tuesday evening. A number of cardboard dolls were placed in the central Republike Square holding banners that read: “We do not seek special rights,” “Meet me before you start hating me,” and “Proud to be there.” During the three-hour event, activists from the Gay Straight Alliance, the organizers, stood behind stands and chatted with people, handing out brochures and other materials as music played through a sound system. The lesbian community in the northern city of Novi Sad joined the Pride celebration with a street event of their own in the city entitled "Lesbians wish you a nice day" in the downtown area on Wednesday.

The first Gay Pride marches took place in on June 28 in 1970 in the US, in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, commemorating the first anniversary of the so-called Stonewall riots, when homosexuals in New York fought back against the police for the first time. When the New York police attempted a raid on the Stonewall bar, the local patrons rioted rather than submit passively to arrest. Since then, Gay Pride events have been held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the riots. After last year's planned parade in Serbia had to be called off following right-wing threats of violence, Serbian gay rights activists are hoping for better luck in 2012. They are busy preparing for this year’s Belgrade Pride Parade, which will be held as a festival of LGBT civic rights under the slogan Love, Faith, Hope from September 30 to October 7.

The Belgrade-based Labris organisation, which advocates for homosexuals, says the position of the gay population is improving slowly but surely, primarily thanks to the actions of young LGBT activists. "The rights of the LGBT population are discussed in public, at schools and faculties, and this is good for young gay people because they know they belong somewhere, which is important for their pride," said Bojana Ivkovic, of the Pride Parade organisation. But Nevena Petrusic, Serbian Commissioner for Protection of Equality, says the community is still subject to discrimination, attacks and hate speech, and that Serbia has a lot to do in order to eliminate prejudice and promote tolerance and equality. Facts bear this out. According to recent research, most Serbs feel more distance toward gay persons than they do even towards the widely disliked Albanians. Only 26 per cent of those interviewed believe that the state should protect the rights of the gay population, while 62 per cent do not share this opinion.
© Balkan Insight

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Greek Parliament votes for speaker, deputies, in potential showdown with extreme right party

29/6/2012- Greek lawmakers banded together Friday to keep an extreme right-wing party out of the position of deputy parliament speaker, leaving one of the seven posts vacant rather than filling it with a member of a group many consider to be neo-Nazi. Golden Dawn won 18 of Parliament’s 300 seats in the June 17 elections, taking nearly 7 percent of the vote and horrifying Greece’s mainstream political establishment as the country reels from an economic crisis. As an opposition party in the seven-party Parliament, Golden Dawn was entitled to field a candidate for the post of one of the seven deputy speakers. n Friday’s vote, parliament elected six deputy speakers but left the last one empty, as Golden Dawn candidate Polyvios Zisimopoulos failed to receive the minimum 75 votes required for the post. He received 41 votes in the secret ballot — meaning that the party won the support of an extra 23 deputies from outside its ranks.

Golden Dawn described Friday’s result a “constitutional violation” and said it would take its complaint to a European Court. “This is their notion of democracy and how much they respect the will of half a million Greek voters,” the party said in a statement. “In practice all the parties of the establishment united, from the liberal center-right to the far left.” Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos told The Associated Press after the vote: “They have joined forces. They agreed on everything. I’d like to honor my 23 colleagues who voted for Golden Dawn. And I’d like to state that our exclusion ... shows who the system is afraid of.” Golden Dawn has been accused of violent attacks against immigrants, and had campaigned on a platform of expelling all immigrants and planting landmines along Greece’s borders. One of its new deputies recently made headlines by striking a female Communist Party candidate three times, and throwing a glass of water over another left-wing party member during a live television political talk show.

The country’s new lawmakers were sworn in on Thursday, as a protracted political crisis that led to two general elections and a series of power-sharing negotiations drew to an end. The uncertainty had roiled international markets, as questions arose about Greece’s ability to implement reforms required for it to continue receiving funds from its international bailout loans — the only thing keeping it from defaulting on its debts. New Democracy, a conservative party led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, has formed a coalition government with longtime socialist rivals PASOK, and the smaller Democratic Left party, which came in just behind Golden Dawn with 6.26 percent of the vote and 17 seats. As the party with the most seats, New Democracy put forward its own candidate for the speaker of parliament. Longtime party member Evangelos Meimarakis, who served as defense minister from 2006-2009, was elected to the post in a morning vote with 223 votes of the 290 deputies present — a record number of votes since the restoration of democracy after the end of the 1967-74 military dictatorship.
© The Associated Press

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Greek Neo-Nazi party protests Turkish MPs

28/6/2012- Lawmakers from Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party remained seated yesterday when the country’s three Turkish deputies took their oath on the Quran in Parliament. Three-hundred deputies were sworn in during a religious ceremony led by Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of Greece’s Orthodox Church, including 18 members of the extremist far-right Golden Dawn party, a group that rejects the neo-Nazi label but whose members have frequently been accused of violent attacks against immigrants. When Syriza lawmakers Hüseyin Zeybek, Ayhan Karayusuf and PASOK lawmaker Ahmet Hacıosman took their oath on the Quran, Golden Dawn lawmakers remained seated to protest them. Greeks clash with police as Bahçeli visits Thessaloniki

In a separate incident, a group of Greek Cypriots and members of the Golden Dawn party clashed with police in Thessaloniki after trying to enter the Turkish general consulate yesterday to protest a visit by Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Turkish opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who is visiting Greece as part of his tour of Balkan countries. Bahçeli was paying a visit to the house where modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was born while the city was under Ottoman rule in 1881, when a group of around 60 Greek Cypriot students gathered in front of the Turkish general consulate to protest his visit. A scuffle broke out between the group and Greek police officers protecting the consulate after the students tried to pass the police barricade. Around 40 members of Golden Dawn joined the melee, which ended after the police dispersed the group with tear gas. Bahçeli left Thessaloniki in the afternoon for Macedonia.
© The Hurriyet Daily News

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Jewish leaders mock Hungarian far-right politician who reveals Jewish origins

28/6/2012- A leader of Hungary's anti-Semitic Jobbik party confessed to having Jewish origins, but Jewish leaders reacted to his statement dismissively. "I learned not long ago that I had parents of Jewish origins," Csanad Szegedi, a member of the European parliament and regional leader of Jobbik, said in an interview with the daily Barikad. Members of Jobbik have used anti-Semitic rhetoric repeatedly in the past. "Knowing who is a pure-race Hungarian is not what counts. The important thing is the way one behaves as a Hungarian," he is quoted as saying. Jozsef Horvath, former head of Maccabi Hungary and president of Budapest’s Beit Shalom synagogue, called Szegedi's remarks "interesting." "I will ask Holocaust survivors in my family if anyone inquired whether they behaved like Hungarians before they were rounded up to be sent to their deaths,” he told JTA. Horvath added that many Hungarian Holocaust survivors who stayed in Hungary hid their Jewish identity. “They wanted to put it all behind them, and being Jewish was not a good idea under communism,” he said.

Another Jobbik deputy recently made headlines after he asked a laboratory to test that he did not have Roma or Jewish genes. A spokesperson for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary said the umbrella group had no reaction to Szegedi’s interview. Dr. Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella group of France’s Jewish community, reacted with dismissive irony to the news. “We can but offer our sympathies in light of the terrible discovery,” Prasquier said. “In different circumstances, the appropriate solution would be hara-kiri [the Japanese suicidal form of disembowlment]. Having not chosen this option, the unfortunate Szegedi is forced to embark on philosophical pursuits superior to his intellectual capacity."
© JTA News

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Roma claim a crackdown on the flow of asylum seekers into the EU has effectively barred them from leaving Macedonia.
by Ljubica Grozdanovska Dimishkovska, TOL’s correspondent in Skopje  

27/6/2012- Djengis seems an unlikely candidate to seek asylum abroad. The 30-year-old Rom from Kumanovo in northern Macedonia is a working man, with a job doing manual labor, and a family man, the father of two. But when he tried to cross the border in mid-June to visit his brother in Serbia, he was turned back. “I said I was planning to stay at my brother’s house for two weeks,” Djengis recalled of the encounter at the Tabanovce crossing. “The officer said I needed 1,000 euros, that I was supposed to have this money since I’m traveling to a foreign country. Then he said there’s some notation in the [border control] records, according to which I’m not allowed to leave Macedonia.” Djengis said he was not shown physical proof of his supposed status or given a written explanation as to why he was barred from crossing. “If we [Roma] are not allowed to travel,” he said a week after the incident, “why does the state ask us to pay for passports?”

Ostensibly, Macedonian Roma, like their compatriots, are indeed free to travel, without visas or fees, not just to neighboring Balkan countries but throughout most of the European Union. In December 2009 the EU lifted a visa requirement in light of improved border-security measures such as biometric passports, under which citizens of Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro can stay in Schengen countries for up to three months as tourists, provided they do not work. By the following March, organized “asylum” tours had sprung up. Travel agencies in Macedonian towns with majority Roma or ethnic Albanian populations offered to help people resettle in the EU, primarily in Belgium, Sweden, and Germany. Asylum applications in the EU skyrocketed, according to Eurostat figures cited in a report by Skopje think tank Analytica. The Belgian and Swedish governments responded swiftly, sending all asylum seekers back to Macedonia and threatening to demand the European Commission reinstate the visa requirement.

Brussels got the message. In November 2010 the EU warned Macedonia, and Serbia as well, that it would suspend visa liberalization unless they checked the asylum wave. Macedonian authorities tracked down and closed the sham travel agencies and strengthened border controls. On a recommendation from the Interior Ministry, the criminal code was amended to make it illegal to seek asylum without solid proof of cause, such as political repression. Many of the Roma who sought asylum had cited economic reasons. According to a November 2011 statement on the Macedonian government’s website, the ministry has also enhanced border controls “by using the method of risk analysis,” essentially creating a profile of “so-called false asylum seekers.” The upshot, some Roma activists and human rights groups say, is that many Macedonian Roma have been effectively barred from leaving the country, based on this profiling by border agents.

Asmet Elezovski is the president of the National Roma Centrum in Kumanovo, one of the few organizations in the country that provides detailed information about the rights and obligations of those traveling without visas. Kumanovo is located just 13.5 kilometers (8.4 miles) from the Serbian border, near the Tabanovce station, and Elezovski said he has compiled files on about 20 cases of Roma being denied a crossing because of border guards’ presumptions. Elezovski said he is no supporter of Roma going abroad to seek asylum on false grounds, but he asserts that few are doing so. He does acknowledge that some use their three months abroad “to earn some decent money, so that they can live throughout the year.” The average monthly wage in Macedonia is 330 euros ($412). The majority of Roma are living on the edge of poverty, or even below that,” Elezovski said. “Why can Roma people from other countries enjoy the liberty of free movement and the Roma from Macedonia are suddenly a threat?”

The Skopje office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights also says it has received dozens of complaints from Roma about hassles on the border. In some cases, police confiscated passports without explanation. “This is a violation of human rights, especially the right of free movement,” said Kiril Efremovski, a spokesman for the office. “I think the law on border surveillance should be revised, and there must be a campaign to raise awareness and respect basic human rights in situations like these.” Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said border controls have become more rigorous in the wake of the EU threats to restore visa restrictions, but he said guards are following procedures put in place “as a preventive measure we took as a state, so that we can prevent people who have no grounds to seek asylum in foreign countries” from doing so. He said the ministry does not keep statistics on the ethnicity of citizens stopped at the border: “We see them all as Macedonian citizens.”

The tracking the ministry does indicates that fewer people overall are being turned back, Kotevski said. Only 30 people have been halted at the border in the last two months, he said, compared with an average of more than 300 per month in 2011 and early 2012. Some domestic and international rights groups dispute that the situation has improved. One of the most vocal critics is Samka Ibraimovski, a member of parliament from the Party for the Total Emancipation of the Roma and former director of the Reception Center, which works with asylum seekers within Macedonia. He has been photocopying the passports of Macedonian Roma denied border passage and filed an appeal on their behalf last month with the Constitutional Court. Ibraimovski said that according to accounts he has heard of border encounters, the only recent change is that guards have stopped stamping “AZ” – for azil, the Macedonian word for asylum – in the passports of people who are turned back. “Previously those people had the AZ stamp and two parallel lines across the stamp,” Ibraimovski said. “Now they’ve invented a new code. There’s no stamp with AZ, just the two parallel lines.” He maintained the change was made in response to international criticism of the border protocol, to make it appear that fewer people are being rejected.

The issue also brought a delegation from the European Roma and Travelers Forum to Skopje in late May to discuss the matter with Macedonian authorities. The Strasbourg-based organization advises the Council of Europe on Roma issues. “We didn’t believe this was happening, but I became firmly convinced that [Macedonia] is engaging in a policy of discrimination when it happened to my mother at the beginning of May,” said Robert Rustem, the forum’s general secretary. “She was coming to visit me in France. She was stopped by police officers at the Skopje airport, who said she couldn’t leave the country. She was told there’s some note in the system about her passport and they must take her travel documents,” he said. “I had to confirm to the Macedonian authorities that I’m employed in France, that my mother has enough money to travel, and, most importantly, that I would complain to the Council of Europe about the situation.”

Rustem said the forum would consider applying to international courts if cases such as his mother’s continue to occur. A longer-term solution, he said, is an EU system of temporary work permits, so that Roma would not feel the need to permanently resettle or be constantly suspected of wanting to do so. Macedonia already has several such bilateral agreements with individual countries, mostly for seasonal labor such as harvesting crops. Back in Kumanovo, Djengis said he plans to stay home for a while. He managed to avoid the dreaded AZ stamp when he tried to visit his brother, by hiding his passport and showing border agents only his government-issued identification card – sufficient documentation to travel, under an agreement with Serbia. Still, he said he is afraid to try again anytime soon.
© Transitions Online

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