Ms. L. R. et al v Slovakia
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Name of Case
Ms. L. R. et al v Slovakia
Discrimination on the Grounds of Ethnicity, Equality and Nondiscrimination, Housing Rights, Roma and Travelers Rights, international law, Retrogressive measure, International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, international level, availability
UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Communication No.31/2003, CERD/C/66/D/31/2003; 10 March 2005
On 20 March 2002, the councillors of the Dobšiná municipality adopted Resolution No. 251-20/III-2002-MsZ, whereby they approved what the petitioners describe as a plan to construct low-cost housing for the Roma inhabitants of the town. About 1,800 Roma live in the town in what are described as "appalling" conditions, with most dwellings comprising thatched huts or houses made of cardboard and without drinking water, toilets or drainage or sewage systems. The councillors instructed the local mayor to prepare a project aimed at securing finance from a Government fund set up expressly to alleviate Roma housing problems in the State party.
The case concerned a resolution adopted by a local council to cancel a previous resolution in which the council had approved a plan to construct low cost social housing for Roma inhabitants living in very poor conditions. The Council had been under pressure from right‑wing anti‑Roma groups.
Allegation that the State had failed to safeguard their right to adequate housing, thereby violating Article 5(e)(iii) of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The Roma were represented by lawyers from the European Roma Rights Centre, Budapest, Hungary, and the League of Human Rights Advocates, Bratislava, Slovak Republic. The application to the Committee was made on 5 August 2003.
The Roma also argued that if a State party decides to confer a particular benefit (that it may not necessarily have had an obligation to confer), that benefit cannot be conferred in a discriminatory way. So even if the petitioners had no initial right to housing (which they contested), once the housing was agreed by resolution, it could not subsequently be cancelled, on discriminatory grounds.
The Committee decided that the petitioners had established a distinction, exclusion or restriction based on ethnicity. [Such a distinction, exclusion or restriction is usually the first step in proving discrimination has taken place.]
The Committee ruled that, taken together, the council resolutions in question – which consisted of an important practical and policy step towards realisation of the right to adequate housing, followed by its revocation and replacement with a weaker measure – amounted to an impairment of the recognition, or exercise on an equal basis, of the human right to housing. This right is protected by Article 5(e) (iii) of ICERD and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Committee also found that the State was in breach of its obligation to guarantee the right of everyone to equality before the law in the enjoyment of the right to housing, under Article 5(e) (iii) of ICERD. The Committee ruled that Slovakia should, amongst other things, take measures to ensure that the petitioners be restored to the position that they were in upon adoption of the initial resolution by the municipal council.
The State party was also found to be in breach of its obligation under Article 2, paragraph 1(a), of the Convention to engage in no act of racial discrimination and to ensure that all public authorities act in conformity with this obligation.
The council cancelled both resolutions. However, despite the Slovakian government agreeing with the Opinion of the Committee to place the applicants in the same position as they had been before the second resolution, the Municipality so far has no plan to build low cost housing and claims that they not are not obliged to approve or design a plan for such housing.
This case highlights the major role that local authorities have to play in remedying the situation of vulnerable groups such as Roma.
Any resolution or policy at national, regional or local level of government that acts as a step backwards in the provision of education might also be seen as an impairment of Article 5(e)(v) ICERD (right to education)
It indicates that once a commitment to assist a minority group has been made, it cannot be reneged upon. However, the case also suggests that even if such a commitment hasn’t yet been made, but a particular group distinctive according to the criteria listed in Article 5 of the Convention, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, has not been treated equally in the provision of education, there would also be a breach of ICERD under Article 5e)v).
However, regarding enforcement, it demonstrates that action on the part of central government may be insufficient to ensure state compliance with the Committee's findings where the municipal authority refused to take the necessary steps. As such, a law that is not discriminatory might become indirectly discriminatory if prejudices at local level result in a distinction, exclusion or restriction based on for example, ethnicity.