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Cablegate: Prague - U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation Meets Key

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DE RUEHPG #0126/01 0561552
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251552Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0097
RUEHSL/AMEMBASSY BRATISLAVA 2936
RUEHVI/AMEMBASSY VIENNA 1720
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 0152
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA 0047
RUEAHQA/OSAF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS PRAGUE 000126

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR H, TURNER AND SCHLAGER, EUR/NCE FOR TRATENSEK

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV OSCE PREL EZ

SUBJECT: PRAGUE - U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION DELEGATION MEETS KEY
CZECH HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

1. (U) Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Congressman Alcee
Hastings (D-FL), the Co-Chairman and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki
Commission, respectively, led a congressional delegation to Prague
from February 18-20. The delegation, which also included
Congresswoman Louise McIntosh-Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman
Michael McNulty (D-NY), focused on human rights issues in the Czech
Republic in advance of the February 21 Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) winter session in Vienna. While in
Prague, the delegation met with representatives of the Roma and
Jewish communities, held meetings with Czech government officials,
and participated in a press conference at Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty.

ROMA AND MINORITY RIGHTS
-------------------------------------------
2. (SBU) The delegation met with representatives of the Roma
community, lawyers, and social activists dedicated to monitoring
conditions of the nation's estimated 200,000-strong Roma community.
In their meeting, the activists painted a tough picture of Roma life
in the Czech Republic. They outlined the vicious cycle of anti-Roma
prejudice: substandard education, lack of jobs, high unemployment
and economic disparity. They also expressed frustration that
government officials have advised them to seek redress for wrongful
sterilization cases in the courts, when all but a handful of such
cases are barred by statutes of limitation. The Chairman and
Co-Chairman expressed their deep concern over such issues, and
stated that the solution lay in the country's leaders taking more
practical steps to improve education and job opportunities for the
Roma population. Congressman Hastings, who has been to the Czech
Republic several times before, said that while he has noticed some
improvements in the last 10 years, the pace of change is too slow
and national and local level-leadership must be prepared to champion
Roma issues more publicly.

3. (SBU) The delegation reiterated these concerns in meetings with
key Czech government officials. In a meeting with Deputy Foreign
Minister Jan Kohout, Senator Cardin stated that lack of Roma
integration and the past practice of forced sterilization of Romani
women were key concerns for the U.S. Government. He also
acknowledged that these are not just Czech issues but issues that
confront much of Europe. Kohout emphasized that the Czechs believe
economic growth provides the best opportunity for Roma integration.
He cited recent growth of seven percent in the Czech economy as a
sign that job opportunities exist, and referenced government support
for small pilot programs dealing with social integration.

4. (SBU) In a separate meeting, Czech Senate President Premysl
Sobotka highlighted the government's proactive efforts to address
minority issues through the government council for minority issues,
as well as the office of the Ombudsman; he also acknowledged that
many of these issues - particularly with respect to the Roma - are
several generations old. Sobotka emphasized that the government has
made education a top priority, as this will facilitate greater
integration of minorities. He indicated that some minorities, such
as the Vietnamese, have done exceptionally well in Czech schools,
while others, such as the Roma have not progressed in the same
manner. Part of the problem, he said, is getting Roma parents to
send their children to school.

5. (SBU) In a meeting with Ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, who
investigated and filed an official report on the forced
sterilization cases, the delegation explored the history of
sterilization practices before and after the communist regime.
Motejl explained that the program of sterilization that existed
prior to 1989 was "legal" in the sense that government commissions
existed to monitor and approve any sterilization decisions; monetary
payments were also common to win the agreement of women who, in
Motejl's estimation, were largely Roma. After 1989 a criminal
investigation was opened into the program. While some 320 cases
were identified, no criminal charges were ever brought.

6. (SBU) In 2005, Motejl became aware of cases of forced
sterilization dating from the post-1989 period and, in his capacity
as Ombudsman, he opened an official investigation. He identified
"less than one hundred" cases, nearly all of them involving Roma
women (but at least three victims identifying themselves as
non-Roma), which occurred in 30-40 Czech hospitals. (Motejl also
said he believed there were many more cases beyond those he
investigated, but that the women were too ashamed to admit they had
been sterilized.) These cases were sent to the Prosecutor's office
for criminal investigation, but none have resulted in criminal
suits; this is true in part because there is a five-year statute of
limitations for criminal cases (three years for civil cases). With
Motejl and other Czech officials, the delegation urged the

government to provide some compensation to the victims, and to
encourage steps (perhaps through professional associations) to hold
doctors and hospitals accountable for the operations. They also
thanked Motejl for his attention to the issue and his detailed
investigation.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW
----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) With respect to proposed anti-discrimination legislation,
Deputy Foreign Minister Kohout indicated that the draft legislation
(required by the EU) is currently under consideration in the Czech
Parliament and will be voted on next month. President of the Senate
Sobotka promised to provide delegation members a copy of the
legislation.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION
--- --------------------------------

8. (SBU) The delegation inquired about the status of property
restitution cases of U.S. citizens with the MFA, Czech
Parliamentarians, and representatives of the government's Human
Rights Council. The MFA acknowledged that these cases have been
difficult to resolve, particularly those cases involving individuals
that fail to meet Czech citizenship requirements. An official from
the Government Human Rights Council, Lucie Otahalova, observed that
the Czech Republic had been repeatedly criticized by the UN Human
Rights Committee for its discriminatory treatment of American
property claimants. Czech Senator Mejstrik also indicated that the
current and previous Czech governments were not of the same mind as
to how to resolve these cases, but he opined that the government is
willing to move forward on the outstanding cases. While Deputy
Foreign Minister Kohout suggested there was no political will to
re-open the issue of restitution, he suggested some form of
compensation might be possible. Erika Schlager, Counsel for
International Law at the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is preparing a
letter for the government with illustrative U.S. cases.

ANTI-SEMITISM
------------------ ----

9. (SBU) The delegation also discussed the Czech response to last
year's anti-Semitic demonstrations on the anniversary of
Kristalnacht and the possibility of an extremist group demonstration
in March. Representatives of the Jewish community said they were
generally satisfied with the public reaction to the extremist
manifestations. The delegation urged Czech leadership to protect
the freedoms of speech and assembly, but to be respectful of dates
or sites that are sensitive to the Jewish community.

MISSILE DEFENSE
--- ----------------------

10. (SBU) Both the MFA and the Czech parliamentarians stated
their support for our missile defense negotiations. Senate
President Sobotka cited the threat of terrorism as the greatest
danger that currently exists and the reason for Czech involvement in
Iraq and Afghanistan. He stated that he strongly believes in
monitoring the situation in "stormy parts of the world," and that
this requires "active defense." Sobotka noted that Czech experts
are intensively engaged in the Missile Defense negotiations and he
looks forward to a successful conclusion.

VISA WAIVER
-------------------

11. (SBU) Representative Hastings praised Czech efforts to bring
down the visa refusal rates and noted that he hopes the Czech entry
into the VWP can be brought to fruition in the near future. Kohout
noted the recent meetings that the GOCR held with DHS A/S Barth and
that the Czech Republic's visa refusal rate remains under 10
percent. He also indicated that the Czechs are in favor of signing
a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. by the end of February
and that this is an extremely important issue symbolically for the
Czechs, as it demonstrates parity between our two countries as
strategic allies.

12. (U) The delegation also had an opportunity to interact with
domestic and international media during a press conference on
February 19 at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.


DODMAN

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