Assessment of follow-up: European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) v. Czech Republic, decision on the merits of 17 May 2016, Resolution ResChS(2017)2 Complaint No. 104/2014 decision on the merits of 17 May 2016
Violation of Articles 16 and 11
Decision of the Committee on the merits of the complaint
TheCommittee found violations of Article 16 of the 1961 Charter on the ground of insufficient access to housing of Roma, poor housing conditions and territorial segregation and forced evictions.
In particular, it found that legislation permits the eviction of individuals and families without requiring the provision of alternative accommodation. Furthermore, not all legislation permitting evictions ensures the necessary safeguards required by Article 16 of the 1961 Charter, such as the prior consultation of affected parties, or the obligation to propose alternative accommodation.
The Committee also found a violation of Article 11 of the 1961 Charter on the grounds of exclusion in the field of health and of inadequate access to health care services.
Information provided by the Government
On the right to housing – Article 16
Concept of Housing
In 2016, the Government of the Czech Republic approved the Concept of Housing in the Czech Republic until 2020 which pays particular attention to people in vulnerable periods of life, such as during child care, care for other dependent persons, or the elderly. The main principles of the Czech Republic’s housing policy are: economic adequacy, i.e. respect for elementary economic principles, sustainability of public and private finance, state responsibility for creating conditions that enable individuals to fulfil the right to housing. In the revised Housing Policy Concept, the basic strategic objectives were partially assessed and on this basis the current validity of the strategic objectives was assessed and new priorities and tasks for the second half of the validity period of the Housing Policy Concept. The analysis confirms that the achieved standard of both physical and financial availability of housing in the Czech Republic and the qualitative characteristics roughly correspond to the position of economic performance that the Czech Republic occupies within the EU 28. At present, housing is available for a significant majority of the population, where more than 94% of the Czech Republic’s population is able to secure housing without the help of the state on a regular housing market, either in the segment of own property, co-operative or rental housing. Therefore, the goal of state housing policy is to maintain the present trend. The strategic objectives of the Strategy are availability, stability, and quality.
Protection against eviction
Both the ownership, lease or sublease form of housing or accommodation are legally regulated so that owners and occupants of the apartment can protect themselves from inappropriate interference with their rights, especially against illegal evictions. Renting of the flat is comprehensively defined in the Civil Code. The new Civil Code, effective as of 1 January 2014, abolished the legislation that required providing housing compensation and generally allowing apartment clearance only after providing housing compensation. The reason for the cancellation was the disproportional constraint of the lessor’s ability to actually terminate the lease if there are legitimate reasons to do so.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, in cooperation with Ministry of Justice, in order to carry out the above task from the Homelessness Policy Concept, considers further measures for prevention of housing loss.
As regards forced evictions and their legal safeguards under building regulatory framework, especially the Building Act, the Ministry of Justice is currently conducting a thorough analysis of the legislation and the practice in the light of the conclusions of the Committee (§§ 80–87 of the decision).
Measures to reduce spatial segregation
Instruments limiting segregation in housing are contained in the basic document for urban planning, which is the Urban Development Policy of the Czech Republic, adopted by the Government of the Czech Republic. The Urban Development Policy of the Czech Republic establishes general tasks for the following urban planning activities and for setting the conditions for the envisaged development plans with in order to increase their benefits and to minimize their negative impacts.
In 2017, the Ministry of Regional Development issued a methodical guideline “Guidelines for implementation of the national priorities set out in the Urban Development Policy”. It contains explanations and description of the way of fulfilment of Article 15 Policies of the Territorial Development of the Czech Republic in the Urban Planning Activities of Regions and Municipalities.
In the Government Legislative Work Plan for the years 2019 – 2021 adopted in February 2018, the Ministry of Regional Development in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was tasked to prepare a draft law on social housing. The proposal thus in many ways extends the current right of families to social, legal and economic protection in the Czech Republic in the area of housing. If approved, the effective date of the act is expected to be 1 January 2021.
The programmes of investment support for social housing have been implemented by the Government of the Czech Republic since 2003. Information on how many Roma households use the housing that has been created with investment support is not registered by the Ministry of Regional Development, because renting is a private-law relationship. Lease contracts for starting apartments are signed chiefly by the municipality and the owners of the starting apartments, as the beneficiaries of the subsidies. The activities of the Ministry of Regional Development and the State Housing Development Fund Since 1998, the subsidies from the budget of the Ministry of Regional Development, or the State Housing Development Fund, have helped to create over 22,500 apartments intended for social housing of selected groups of socially vulnerable or endangered citizens.
The Brno City Hall is cooperating on the Rapid Re-Housing Brno project NGOs. In 2016, the City of Brno also approved the Strategy for Ending Family Housing Emergency within its Social Inclusion Strategy. Since 2016, the results of various traditional and experimental approaches have been tested in Brno within the project “Housing First”. In total, 119 projects were supported, from which 646 social apartments should be provided. The target group of social housing are people in housing need, defined by the European typology ETHOS (European typology of homelessness and exclusion from housing in the Czech Republic). One of the eligibility criteria for supporting social housing projects is the non-segregation of target groups at risk of social exclusion.
However, the authorities indicate that despite several steps towards the implementation of the Committee’s decision, the Czech Republic is aware that some room for further progress in improving the current legal framework remains, in particular in terms of legal safeguards available in respect of forced evictions. The Czech Republic takes the obligation arising from Article 16 of the Charter with utmost gravity and is prepared to reassess the need for adopting additional measures to remedy the situation described in the Committee’s decision.
On the right to health care – Article 11
The health insurance system in the Czech Republic is based on the principle of solidarity. Health care is covered from public health insurance and must be available to all insured individuals in the Czech Republic equally. Illegal refusal of medical care, termination of care, but also failure to issue a report with reason for refusal of health care is an administrative offense within the meaning of Section 117 (3) of the Health Services Act, for which a fine of up to CZK 300,000 may be imposed by the administrative authority, which is responsible for the granting of the authorization for the provision of health services and CZK 100 000 by the regional authorities. Based on the above, it was shown that no group of people in the Czech Republic can be disadvantaged in terms of more difficult access to health care, including the Roma ethnic group. Cases of refusing medical care to anyone due to their Roma ethnicity are very rare. However, if they should happen exceptionally, they are strictly sanctioned.
The Czech Republic disagrees with the decision that the Czech Republic violates the obligations contained in the European Social Charter in terms of the right to health and access to health services. Due to the fact that the above mentioned procedure is set by law for all beneficiaries of public health insurance in the Czech Republic it is not possible to classify it as discriminatory. Provision of health care is based on the principle of equality. Health care can also be used by insured persons who are not employed, are not registered with the Labour Office and have not paid health insurance as self-payers. Non-payment of public health insurance premiums does not mean denying access to health care. Even assuming that for a particular person registered there is due health insurance debt, the provided health care is paid by the health insurance company. The start and end of health insurance of persons is governed by Section 3 of Act No. 48/1997 Coll., On Public Health Insurance. The loss of employment or removal from the register of for job seekers at the Labour Office does not exclude people from health care (the claim that “such persons are left without health coverage” is incorrect and cannot be applied to any group of people in the Czech Republic nor to the group of people who are subject of the collective complaint). For these reasons, it cannot be concluded that the provision of health care to the poor and vulnerable is not sufficiently guaranteed in the Czech Republic. Health care is provided free of charge to all population groups, including those that are inactive in primary prevention and people addicted to narcotic substances, alcohol or tobacco products.
The Czech Republic does not collect data on the number of treated patients of Roma ethnicity or other nationality or ethnicity for reasons of anti-discrimination legislation and these data are not included in statistical surveys. Socio-economic determinants, environmental conditions, worse lifestyle and its consequences are the main causes of the unfavourable health condition of Roma males and females living in socially excluded localities in the Czech Republic.
Assessment of the follow-up
On the right to housing – Article 16 violation
In its report the Government indicates numerous positive developments, mainly the adoption of the Concept on Housing and the local projects delivering positive results towards guaranteeing the housing right. However, the Committee notes that the right to housing is not clearly addressed in the Czech legislation. It also notes that the Social Housing Act has not yet been adopted.
The information provided remains general on needs in the housing field, targets or achievements to date (number of beneficiaries of loans subsidies, number of housing units, constructed or renovated etc.), and little concrete evidence has been provided that sufficient action has been taken or that measurable progress have been made in the field of housing for Roma.
According to FEANTSA, there is no national/regional homeless data-collection strategy. Several cities and regions carry out surveys, but there is no uniform methodology and data is not comparable (see https://www.feantsa.org/download/cz-country-profile-2018473397835719963696.pdf ).
The Civil society monitoring report on implementation of the national Roma integration strategy in the Czech Republic, published by the European Commission in November 2018, indicates that “spatial and structural segregation in housing, along the lines of both ethnicity and social status, are intensifying and there exist no policy measures to address this fact. (…) Spatial segregation necessarily has negative impacts on mental and physical health due to time spent in socio-pathological environments featuring long-term stress over financial solvency, the need to perform manual or other dangerous labour, and inferior housing (see above) including lack of adequate bathing and toilet facilities, indoor mould and parasites, poor heating, insulation and ventilation, and lack of personal space. As a consequence, Roma men live 19 years less than non-Roma men in the Czech Republic, and Roma women live 17 years less for than non-Roma women on average”.
The continued existence of “residential hostels” located on the outskirts of many municipalities and inhabited by an estimated 100,000 persons, including a disproportionately high number of Roma, attests to the segregation of Roma in marginalised communities (see Fourth Opinion on the Czech Republic adopted on 16 November 2015 of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC/OP/IV(2015)004).
The Committee considers that there is evidence that there is still insufficient access to housing of Roma who also face poor housing conditions, territorial segregation and forced evictions.
Therefore, the Committee holds that the situation has not been brought into conformity with Article 16 of the 1961 Charter.
On the right to health – Article 11 violation
The Committee recalls its findings in its decision that as regards the situation of persons who have not registered with the Labour Authority or who have been excluded from the register of unemployed persons, such persons were left without health coverage (unless they paid the contributions themselves) given that eligibility for “non-contributory” state health coverage is linked to unemployed persons being on the Labour Authority register. The Committee found that there was no evidence that a person without resources requiring medical services would receive the necessary care.
In that connection the Committee takes note of the legal framework that guarantees that the loss of employment or removal from the register of for job seekers at the Labour Authority does not exclude people from access to health care.
However, the Committee reiterates its previous finding that there is evidence that Roma communities, in many cases, continue to live in unhealthy environments and thus the requirements of Article 11 §§ 1, 2 and 3 of the 1961 Charter in light of the Preamble are not satisfied.
More needs to be done to ensure that Roma families are not harmed by their environment and enjoy adequate access to health care and to address the specific problems faced by Roma communities stemming from their often unhealthy living conditions.
The Committee considers that the situation has not been brought into conformity with Article 11 of the 1961 Charter.