Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

The Czech and Slovak Federal Reptiblic (CSFR) is ruled by a
democratically elected government formed after parliamentary
elections in J\ine 1990. It replaced the Government of National
Understanding which was installed in December 1989 after
popular opposition led to the fall of the totalitarian
Communist regime that had ruled Czechoslovakia since 1948.
Under the prevailing federal structure—which is emphasized in
the country's official title—free elections resulting in
democratic governments were also held for parliaments in the
CSFR's two constituent republics.
Under Communist rule, both regular uniformed police and an
internal security apparatus known as State Security were used
as instruments to control the population. The democratically
elected Government undertook steps in 1990 that dismantled
repressive security organs and brought both uniformed police
and the security apparatus under its control. The Government
in 1991 continued with its program to reform police and
security units, including a reorganization of the Federal
Ministry of Interior that placed the federal police under the
direct control of a civilian director. A July 1 law, codifying
the activities of the new domestic intelligence and security
service, the Federal Security and Information Service, grants
explicit oversight authority to the Federal Assembly. The
Slovak republic and Czech republic each have their own police
forces, under directors responsible to the republic interior
ministers, who are civilians. In accordance with the 1990
Czechoslovak-U.S.S.R. agreement, all Soviet troops stationed in
the CSFR were withdrawn by June 30, 1991.
The year 1991 was a year of economic transition in which the
Government began the massive privatization of an economy that
had been heavily dominated by state-owned industrial
enterprises and by state farms and state-run cooperatives. The
Federal Government in 1991 continued to implement an economic
reform program, including price liberalization, the institution
of internal exchange convertibility, and the elimination of
most governmental subsidies, designed to transform the formerly
centrally controlled economy into a market economy. In
addition, privatization programs were launched to transfer
ownership of state-owned economic establishments and
enterprises to private persons and firms. Privatization of
small firms proceeded smoothly in 1991; privatization of larger
companies was delayed until early 1992. The restitution of
property seized by the former Communist government from private
persons has also begun.
Following up on the progress made in restoring human rights
during 1990, the Federal Government took additional steps in
1991 to guarantee the full spectrum of human rights for its
citizens. Highlights included the passage of a comprehensive
constitutional law on basic rights and freedoms and creation of
a Constitutional Court with jurisdiction to hear human rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
No political or extrajudicial killings were known to have
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of abductions, disappearances, secret
arrests, or clandestine detentions.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There was no evidence of such practices.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Czechoslovak law requires arrest warrants issued by the courts,
except in cases such as hot pursuit. Persons may be held
without being charged for 24 hours. The arrestee has the right
to consult with counsel during this period. A person charged
with a crime has the right to appear before a judge for
arraignment. If charges are formalized at the arraignment, the
judge then determines whether the person charged should be kept
in custody or released pending trial. The law permits a person
committed to pretrial detention to be held for a period not to
exceed l year. Any person so held appears before a judge
monthly for a determination of the necessity for continued
detention. He or she may consult with legal counsel and
receive regular visits from family members. Procedural
safeguards related to arrest and detention are observed in
practice. There is no exile either in law or in practice.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The court system consists of district courts, regional courts.
Supreme Courts of the republics, and the Supreme Court of the
CFSR. The law on judges and the judiciary of July 19
transformed the judiciary from its former role as an arm of the
Communist government and party to an independent and impartial
judiciary. Most judges who served during the Communist regime,
including virtually all who were involved in political trials,
have left the profession or been removed.
Persons charged with criminal offenses are entitled to fair and
open public trials. They have the right to be informed of the
charges against them and of their legal rights, to retain and
consult with counsel of their own choosing or court-appointed
counsel, and to present a defense. They enjoy a presumption of
innocence and have the right to refuse to testify against
themselves. Defendants may appeal any judgment against them.
These rights are honored in practice.
In early 1991, the Federal Assembly created a special
commission to screen federal government officials for past
collaboration with the secret police during the period of
Communist rule. It is estimated that hundreds of officials
resigned as a consec[uence of the screenings, including members
of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries and the Federal
The screening process was criticized as not providing those
identified as collaborators with an adequate opportunity to
review and rebut the evidence against them and not setting up
an adequate administrative or judicial mechanism whereby
disputed cases could be heard. The law's defenders argued that
the removal of collaborators from high governmental positions
was a political necessity and that archival records identifying
persons as collaborators were reliable.
A new screening law, passed in the fall of 1991, widened the
scope of the screening process by barring many former Communist
party officials, members of the People's Militia, and secret
police collaborators from holding a wide range of elective,
nominative, and appointive government offices for a period of 5
years. The law recjuired an applicant for such positions to
obtain a certificate from the Federal Interior Ministry showing
he was not ineligible to serve as a consec[uence of his past
association with the specified organizations. The law provided
a formal administrative mechanism whereby disputed cases could
be reviewed; a pardon could be issued in certain cases.
This second screening law also drew criticism on the grounds
that it violated Czechoslovak and international legal and human
rights standards, including prohibition of discrimination in
employment. Several Czech and Slovak trade unions filed
complaints before the International Labor Organization (ILO)
charging that the law violates ILO conventions prohibiting
discrimination in employment on the basis of political belief.
The law's defenders, in turn, argued the necessity of excluding
those closely associated with the Communist past from important
government positions during the transition period.
All laws detailing political offenses have been repealed.
There are no political prisoners.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Federal Government does not practice extralegal electronic
surveillance, home searches, the tapping of telephones, and the
interception of mail. Police may conduct searches of homes
only with a warrant issued by a court.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and press is provided for by law and
respected in practice. Persons are free to speak out on
political and other issues and to criticize the Government and
public figures without fear of harassment and persecution.
Hundreds of different newspapers, magazines, and journals are
now published in the CSFR. Most newspapers are organs of
political parties, but many independent newspapers not
connected with political organizations have also been
established. Newspapers, magazines, and journals are free to
publish what they wish without censorship or fear of government
All domestic television broadcasting facilities are government
owned. A federal channel broadcasts throughout the country,
while Slovak and Czech channels focus their programming on
their respective republics. A third government-sponsored
channel, known as OK-3 , broadcasts programs from Western
sources. The directors of each television channel, who are
appointed by the Federal Government, have editorial control
over programming. Government channels during 1991 featured a
wide range of opinions, including opinions opposing government
The Government also supports radio broadcasting facilities
whose program content, like that of television, is determined
by the management of each station. Although most radio
Stations are government sponsored, a nximber of privately owned
and controlled stations now exist. Radio Free Europe, the
British Broadcasting Corporation, and Europa 2 also broadcast
on local frequencies.
Legislation grants universities the authority to decide their
internal affairs, including pedagogic and academic orientation
and internal structure. Academic freedom is guaranteed by law
and is respected in practice.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The right of persons to assemble peacefully is protected by
law. Permits for some public demonstrations are required by
law but are routinely granted. In addition, police have not
interfered with spontaneous peaceful demonstrations for which
organizers lacked a permit.
The right of persons to associate freely is also protected by
law, as is the right of persons to form political parties and
movements. Certain organizations, such as political parties,
are required to register, but registration is essentially a
      c. Freedom of Religion
Czechoslovakia enjoys religious freedom. There is no official
religion, and no religion is banned or discouraged by law.
The Federal Government has returned to religious orders the
property confiscated from them by the former Communist
government. During 1991 government and church officials also
discussed the extent to which other church property confiscated
by the Communist regime should be returned to church ownership,
but no final decision concerning disposition of the property
was made.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on domestic or foreign travel,
emigration, and repatriation. Passports are freely available
to all wishing to travel abroad. Czechoslovak citizens who
emigrated during the period of Communist rule are now free to
return to visit or live in Czechoslovakia and may regain their
Czechoslovak citizenship if they desire.
The Government abides by internationally accepted standards in
processing requests for refugee status and political asylum. A
person granted refugee status is given permission to reside in
Czechoslovakia for a 5-year period. Thereafter, the person may
be granted Czechoslovak citizenship or have his refugee status
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Citizens have the right and ability to change their government
peacefully. All citizens 18 years of age and older may vote in
national and local elections. Voting is by secret ballot.
Opposition groups, including political parties, function openly
and freely participate in the electoral process. The Federal
Assembly amended the criminal code' in December to make the
spread of fascism and communism punishable with prison terms of
1 to 5 years. The chairman of the Czechoslovak Supreme Court
maintains that the law does not affect members of the Communist
Party of Bohemia and Moravia unless they violate human rights.
President Havel condemned the amendment and warned against
efforts to ban the Communist party. The next parliamentary
elections are expected to be held in June 1992.
Czechoslovakia has two major nationalities—Czechs and
Slovaks. Differences between their political representatives
were often evident during 1991. The debate generally centered
on the appropriate division of powers between the federal and
republic governments and on the appropriate level of
sovereignty for each. Much of this debate took place over the
content of new republic and federal constitutions, but the
issue also surfaced in discussions of nearly all other issues.
The year 1991 ended without new constitutions and with the
political debate over the future of Slovak-Czech relations
There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on women's
participation in politics and government.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Local human rights groups which became active during Communist
rule, such as Charter 77, the Committee for the Defense of the
Unjustly Persecuted, and the Czechoslovak Helsinki Committee,
continue to monitor the human rights situation in the country.
Other groups concerned with human rights, such as the
organization Human in Slovakia, have been formed since the
revolution and now also work for human rights in the CSFR.
Czechoslovakia cooperates with international and domestic
investigations of alleged violations of human rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Health care, education, retirement, and other social services
are provided without regard to race, sex, religion, language,
or social status. Women are eqxial under the law and receive
pay equal to that of male colleagues for the same job.
However, only relatively small numbers of women are found in
the higher levels of professional and government employment. A
few organizations concerned about women's issues have been
created in the CSFR since the November 1989 revolution, but
they have tended to focus their attention on issues of
particular concern to mothers rather than on issues of equality
in the workplace.
Violence against women, including wife beating, is generally
believed by local human rights observers to be uncommon in the
CSFR. Statistics on violence against women are not kept.
Observers believe that some cases of spouse abuse may go
unreported and that police on occasion are reluctant to
intervene in such cases. Prosecutorial authorities are thought
generally to accept and conscientiously prosecute charges
involving cases of violence against women brought to their
There are two sizable minorities—Hungarians and Romanies
(Gypsies). Hungarians, who are concentrated in southern
Slovakia, form the country's largest minority (approximately
600,000, according to official statistics). The State provides
some primary and secondary education in Hungarian, but no
Hungarian- language universities exist in the CSFR. Ethnic
Hungarians complain that the lack of opportunities for higher
education in Hungarian contributes to a shortage of qualified
Hungarian-language teachers. As a practical matter, virtually
all Hungarians who reside in the CSFR and who are of college
age speak Slovak and have access to higher education
opportunities within the CSFR. Some Hungarians who live in the
CSFR do choose to attend university in Hungary, although
financial barriers and stringent admissions requirements limit
their numbers.
A 1990 Slovak republic law designates Slovak as its official
language and provides that, in communities in which a
non-Slovak-speaking ethnic group constitutes 20 percent of the
population, official business may also be transacted in the
language of that group. Some Hungarian representatives have
complained that the language law has had the effect of making
it difficult or impossible to use Hungarian in official
business in some communities where Hungarians constitute less
than 20 percent of the population but nonetheless are present.
Romanies constitute the CSFR's second largest minority group.
They are officially recognized as a minority and are accorded
the rights enjoyed by other minorities. Although only
approximately 114,000 persons identified themselves as Romanies
during a 1991 census, knowledgeable observers believe that at
least another 300,000 persons could have claimed Romany
ethnicity but chose instead to identify themselves as Czechs,
Slovaks, or Hungarians on census forms. Romanies tend to
suffer disproportionately from high rates of poverty, crime,
and disease. These problems appear to stem more from
traditional conditions and a strong popular prejudice against
Romanies rather than from current governmental policies,
although anecdotal evidence suggests lower level government
officials at times tolerate and fail to take action to correct
discrimination against Romanies.
Officials in both the Federal and republic Governments during
1991 established policies intended to improve the situation of
Romanies, but the policies had little immediate effect. In
fact, the growing unemployment that accompanied economic
restructuring hit Romanies especially hard, with the
unemployment among Romanies approaching an estimated 50 percent
in some areas of the CSFR.
Romanies in the Czech Repiiblic were also the victims of
racially motivated attacks during 1991, mostly by youth gangs
known as skinheads. Government officials have acknowledged
that at least six deaths have resulted from such attacks,
although some Romany organizations have claimed that at least
seven poeple were killed. Government authorities condemned
these attacks and generally prosecuted persons responsible for
the attacks, but in some circumstances police apparently were
slow to intervene to stop the violence.
Although perhaps only a few thousand Jews reside in the Slovak
republic, there were signs of rising anti-Semitism there during
1991, generally in the form of graffiti and ethnic slurs
directed at random against members of the Jewish community.
There were several cases of anti-Semitic slander and threats
made in the context of political rivalries. CSFR government
leaders, including President Vaclav Havel, strongly condemned
anti-Semitic actions and sentiment in both republics.
At the start of 1991, some 20,000 Vietnamese were temporarily
working and residing in the CSFR. The Governments of
Czechoslovakia and Vietnam concluded an agreement that allows
Czechoslovak enterprises to terminate the employment of
Vietnamese guest workers before the formal conclusion of their
work agreements. Those terminated early are entitled to
receive 5 months' salary as compensation.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association ,
The 1990 law on freedom of association provided workers the
right to form and join unions of their own choosing without
prior authorization. These rights were given added protection
by a constitutional law, the Law of Basic Rights and Freedoms,
enacted in 1991. Over 70 percent of workers are members of
labor organizations. Most workers in the CSFR are members of
unions affiliated with the democratically oriented Czech and
Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions (CSKOS) . There is a
separate Confederation of Arts and Culture and other smaller
independent trade unions that are not affiliated with CSKOS,
including a union formed during 1991 and led principally by
officials from the former Communist trade union organization.
CSKOS and its affiliated unions grew out of strike committees
formed to support a November 1989 general strike against the
former Communist regime. The Communist-controlled labor
organization known as the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement
(ROH) disbanded in March 1990, and its assets were taken over
by the new democratic unions. The new unions are totally
independent of the Government and political parties.
Workers, except those in what are described as essential
services, were granted the right to strike by the law on
collective bargaining passed in 1991. A strike is illegal
unless mediation procedures prescribed by law have been
exhausted. Strikes during 1991 were rare, of short duration,
and affected only small numbers of workers. In November there
was a symbolic 1-hour work stoppage in Slovakia protesting the
failure of the Government and employers to live up to
guidelines for wage increases provided for in the 1991
tripartite general agreement in which government, unions, and
employers were represented. The following are prohibited by
law from striking: judges, prosecutors, members of the armed
forces and police, air traffic controllers, nuclear power
station workers, persons who work with fissionable material,
and oil or gas pipeline equipment workers. In addition, health
and social care workers may not strike if to do so would
endanger life or health. Members of fire fighting and rescue
linits and telecommunications employees may not strike if to do
so would endanger life, health, or property. Mediation and
arbitration of collective bargaining disputes is mandated for
workers who are not permitted to strike.
A law passed in 1991 that would bar former secret police
collaborators and certain Communist party officials from
holding designated government offices was the subject of
complaints presented to the ILO (see Section I.e.).
Unions in the CSFR are free to form or join federations and
confederations and may affiliate with and participate in
international bodies, and this freedom is fully exercised.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
A new collective bargaining law went into effect in
Czechoslovakia in 1991. The law provides a framework in which
collective bargaining may occur, allows solidarity strikes
under certain limited conditions, and prevents the use of
replacement workers for strikers. A substantial number of
collective bargaining contracts were completed within the
framework of the new law, but trade union officials noted that
the process of converting state-owned enterprises to private
firms sometimes made it difficult to identify employer
representatives with whom to bargain. Government, trade
unions, and employer representatives in 1991 negotiated a
tripartite general agreement on minimum wage, wage indexation,
and other employment standards for the CSFR as a whole.
Technically, the tripartite agreement was not a legally binding
agreement, but in practice it set the pattern for subsequent
collective negotiations at both the industry and plant levels.
The Czechoslovak labor code provides that, when competing
unions claim to represent the same group of workers, an
employer has an obligation to deal with the most representative
organization in the workplace. However, the code provides no
explicit administrative or other mechanism for making or
challenging such a determination. A charge of antiunion
discrimination may be filed with a republic ministry of labor
and social affairs, which may impose fines against those found
to have violated the antiunion discrimination prohibition.
Victims of such discrimination may also institute proceedings
in the courts. The courts may issue injunctions against
antiunion activities as well as order reinstatement of
dismissed workers and payment of back wages and other damages.
The first export processing zone was established in the
Moravian region of the CSFR in 1991. Workers in the export
processing zone have the same right to organize and bargain
collectively as other workers in the CSFR.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is expressly prohibited in the
constitutional Law on Basic Rights and Freedoms adopted in
January, and there is no evidence that such practices occur.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Generally, persons must be 16 years of age before they may
work. However, those 15 years of age who have completed
elementary school may work. Those who have completed the
course of study at "special schools" (schools for persons with
severe disabilities) may work at the age of 14. Workers
younger than 16 years of age may work no more than 33 hours per
week. The Slovak and Czech Offices of Labor Safety enforce
these provisions.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A minimum wage was introduced in Czechoslovakia in 1991 for the
first time as a result of the tripartite general agreement.
The Federal Ministry of Labor establishes mandatory minimum
wage rates for general occupational categories. The minimum
wage provides an adequate standard of living for an individual
worker and, when combined with special family allowances paid
to families with children, provides an adequate standard of
living for a worker and his family. Republic ministries of
labor are responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage law,
and enforcement efforts appear effective.
A standard workweek of 42.5 hours is mandated by law, as is a
paid rest period of at least 30 minutes during the standard
8.5-hour workday and annual leave of from 3 to 4 weeks.
Overtime generally may not exceed 150 hours per year or 8 hours
per week. Thes^ limits may be exceeded by receiving permission
from the ministry that oversees an industry. The ministry,
however, may not grant permission unless it has first consulted
with a trade union representing workers in the industry involved
about lifting the restriction on maximum overtime. Republic
labor and social affairs ministries are responsible for
The Slovak and Czech Offices of Labor Safety and the Federal
Office of Standards and Measurement are responsible for
enforcement of health and safety standards. Under the
Communist regime, less attention was paid to occupational
health and safety than in advanced industrial countries, and
officials believe that workplace safety conditions have
continued to deteriorate since the 1989 revolution. Industrial
equipment that is obsolete by Western standards complicates the
efforts of the Government to improve occupational safety and
health conditions.