Representatives of Czech organizations working to promote human rights, people facing adversity and the Romani minority have called on Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) and members of the lower house to distance themselves from the remarks of the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), Stanislav Křeček, about Romani people. In their view, the ombudsman is denigrating the office by stirring up hatred and strengthening anti-Romani biases in society.
Representatives of 16 organizations, four volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs and one volunteer civil society member of the Czech Government Council for National Minorities have made the claims in an open letter. Křeček was chosen for the office a year ago by the Chamber of Deputies.
The ombudsman swore his oath on 19 February 2020 and then assumed the office. Last month, on the official website of the Public Defender of Rights, he said in his comments on the Government’s draft Roma Integration Strategy that some Romani people have problems finding housing not because landlords discriminate against them, but because “they devastate the housing stock and transform a part of these municipalities into excluded localities”.
Elsewhere on his blog Křeček has written, among other things, that: “The labor of black slaves in the past was a significant contribution to the creation of wealth in the USA, but under no circumstances can the same thing be said of the European Roma.” The letter-writers refer to other statements he has made about education or employment of Romani people.
ANTI-ROMANI REMARKS BY STANISLAV KŘEČEK
“I don’t want to allow Czech society to constantly be accused of discriminating against everybody everywhere and of being xenophobic. […] During the 1960s, when racists [in the USA] prevented black children from accessing the schools, they penetrated cordons of police and faced brutal violence. In our country, on the other hand, we have to persuade Romani people to send their children to school. That is an essential difference, after all.” (In the daily Deník, 24 April 2020)
“The labor of black slaves in the past was a significant contribution to the creation of wealth in the USA, but under no circumstances can the same thing be said of the European Roma.” (In the newspaper Právo/blog Aktuálně, 9 July 2020)
“If you all are alleging that nobody wants to hire you, then why don’t you employ yourselves? Why don’t you all establish firms participating, for example, in improving housing in excluded localities? If they don’t want to allocate you an apartment, why don’t you build apartment buildings and units like thousands of other non-Romani members of housing cooperatives in our country?” (In the newspaper Právo/blog Aktuálně, 9 July 2020)
“After all, for entrepreneurs who don’t want a Romani person because he’ll come to work on Monday but not on Wednesday, that’s their experience. I’m not saying they are all like that, they’re also doctors, they’re college-educated, that’s true. However, people have different experiences, after all, and we cannot reproach them for the experiences they have had during their lifetimes. Only children act without experience.” (Rádio Svobodné univerzum [“Radio Free Universe”], 11 September 2020)
“Some Romani people actually have problems finding housing, but not because they are discriminated against – it’s because a significant proportion of them devastate housing stock.” (Written comments submitted by the ombudsman, 11 January 2021)
“The ombudsman, Stanislav Křeček, is publicly commenting on matters affecting the lives of Romani men and women in a way that interferes with their human dignity, that strengthens anti-Roma biases and stirs up hatred in society,” reads the letter. Among the 16 organizations signing it are IQ Roma servis, the Museum of Romani Culture, Romodrom, ROMEA, Slovo 21, People in Need, Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) and Amnesty International.
Three volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs and one such member on the Czech Government Council for National Minorities also signed on to the letter. It points out that Czech Prime Minister Babiš, who chairs both the Council for Romani Minority Affairs and the Council for National Minorities, has yet to condemn the ombudsman’s remarks, nor has the Chamber of Deputies (where Babiš is also an MP).
The signatories are asking the members of the lower house and the Prime Minister to ensure that this “humiliating, unprofessional behavior” no longer be committed by the ombudsman. “It is high time that the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic, to which the Public Defender of Rights is accountable for how he performs his job, through the democratically-elected representatives there, draws the line on Křeček’s behavior as ombudsman and, within the framework of legal procedures, ensures that this humiliating, unprofessional behavior no longer happens in future,” the letter says.
According to the authors of the letter, the statements made by the current Public Defender of Rights contradict the tasks he has been assigned to perform by law. “Our clients are afraid to contact the office of the ombudsman, including in cases of obvious discrimination, whether in the areas of housing or employment,” says the director of the IQ Roma servis organization, Petr Máčal.
“Similarly, it is important that the Czech Prime Minister, who chairs the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs, reject the comments submitted by Křeček as ombudsman on the draft Roma Integration Strategy (2021-2030) as unsubstantiated, of poor quality and prejudicial,” the letter says. The Deputy Public Defender of Rights, Monika Šimůnková, also disagrees with the ombudsman’s opinion of the draft strategy.
One month ago, Šimůnková announced that the Public Defender of Rights had removed her from three Government councils to which she had been appointed to represent the Office of the Public Defender of Rights. Křeček responded by alleging he had done no such thing and that only he, as Public Defender of Rights, is designated by law to represent the office on those councils.
That allegation was then proven to be untrue, at least for the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs. The Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner, Helena Válková (ANO), who is a vice-chair of the council and an MP, called the ombudsman’s public critique of the draft strategy non-standard and his comments about it untrue.