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World : Europe : Slovakia
 
Slovakia

From the 11th until the early 20th century, present-day Slovakia was under Hungarian rule, either directly or as a part of the Habsburg Empire. Intellectuals seeking to revive the Slovak language and culture began the Slovak national revival in the 19th century. The formation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 following World War I satisfied the common aspirations of Czechs and Slovaks for independence from the Habsburg Empire.

Although Czechoslovakia was the only east-central European country to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it was plagued with minority problems, the most important of which concerned the country's large German population. In 1938, the Allies concluded the Munich agreement that forced Czechoslovakia to cede the predominantly German region known as Sudetenland to Germany. Then, in March 1939 Germany invaded what remained of Bohemia and Moravia and established a German protectorate. Slovakia had already declared its independence on March 14, 1939, and had become a Nazi German puppet state led by Jozef Tiso.

On August 29, 1944, 60,000 Slovak troops organized by the underground rose up against the Nazis and the Tiso regime in what became known as the Slovak National Uprising. Although ultimately unsuccessful, this act of resistance became an important historical landmark for the Slovaks. At the close of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and much of Bohemia.

Reunited after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks held elections in 1946. In Slovakia, the Democratic Party won the elections, but the Czechoslovak Communist Party won 38% of the total vote in Czechoslovakia and eventually seized power in February 1948. The next four decades were characterized by strict communist rule, interrupted only briefly in 1968 when Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak, became party leader. Dubcek proposed political, social, and economic reforms in his effort to make "socialism with a human face" a reality. Concern among other Warsaw Pact governments that Dubcek had gone too far led to the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, by Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, and Polish troops. Dubcek was removed as party leader and replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak, in April 1969.

The 1970s and 1980s became known as the period of "normalization," in which the apologists for the 1968 Soviet invasion prevented, as best they could, any opposition to their conservative regime. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. Because the center of the reform movement had been in Prague, normalization was less harshly felt in Slovakia. In fact, the Slovak Republic saw comparatively high economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s relative to the Czech Republic.

The 1970s were also characterized by the development of a dissident movement, especially in the Czech Republic. On January l, 1977, more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to meet its human rights obligations.

On November 17, 1989, a series of public protests known as the "Velvet Revolution" began and led to the downfall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. A transition government was formed in December 1989, and the first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1948 took place in June 1990. In 1992, negotiations on the new federal constitution deadlocked over the issue of Slovak autonomy. In the latter half of 1992, agreement was reached to peacefully divide Czechoslovakia. On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic were simultaneously and peacefully founded. Both states attained immediate recognition from the United States and their European neighbors.

In the days following the "Velvet Revolution," Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel who was elected President of Czechoslovakia in December 1989. Its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence, was based on the same ideals.

In the June 1990 elections, Civic Forum and Public Against Violence won landslide victories. Civic Forum and Public Against Violence found, however, that although they had successfully completed their primary objective--the overthrow of the communist regime--they were less effective as governing parties. In the 1992 elections, both Civic Forum and Public Against Violence were replaced by a spectrum of new parties.

In elections held in June 1992, Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party won in the Czech lands on a platform of economic reform, and Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) emerged as the leading party in Slovakia, basing its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy. Meciar and Klaus negotiated the agreement to divide Czechoslovakia, and Meciar's party--the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)--ruled Slovakia for most of its first 5 years as an independent state, except for a 9-month period in 1994 after a vote of no-confidence, during which Slovakia was ruled by a reformist government under Prime Minister Jozef Moravcik. Meciar's semi-authoritarian government seriously breached democratic norms and the rule of law until being ousted in the parliamentary elections of 1998 by a coalition led by Mikulas Dzurinda.

The first Dzurinda government made numerous political and economic reforms that enabled Slovakia to enter the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), close virtually all chapters in Euroopean Union (EU) negotiations, and make itself a strong candidate for NATO accession. However, the popularity of the governing parties declined sharply, and several new parties that earned relatively high levels of support in public opinion polls appeared on the political scene. Meciar remained the leader in opposition of the HZDS, which continued to receive the support of 20% or more of the population during the first Dzurinda government.

In the September 2002 parliamentary election, a last minute surge in support for Prime Minister Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) gave him a mandate for a second term. He formed a government with three other center-right parties: the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Christian Democrats (KDH) and Alliance of New Citizens (ANO). Despite a narrow (three seat) majority in the parliament, the government has considerable cohesion and stability because of the parties' similar political philosophies. The government strongly supports NATO and EU integration and will continue the democratic and free market-oriented reforms begun by the first Dzurinda government. The main priorities of the new coalition are gaining NATO and EU invitations, fighting corruption, attracting foreign investment, and reforming social services such as the health care system. Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, which received about 27% of the vote in 1998 (almost 900,000 votes) received only 19.5% (about 560,000 votes) in 2002 and again went into opposition, unable to find coalition partners. The HZDS will be joined in opposition by Smer, the party of young populist politician Robert Fico, and by the communists, who obtained about 6% of the popular vote.

The Slovak Republic became an independent state in 1993, following the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR). The Constitution provides for a multiparty, multiethnic parliamentary democracy, including separation of powers. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda took office after parliamentary elections in the fall of 1998. President Rudolf Schuster was elected during the first direct presidential elections held in May 1999. Both elections were declared free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Government chose to carry over the entire body of CSFR domestic legislation and international treaty obligations, which still were being renewed or updated. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, some experts allege that the Ministry of Justice's logistical and personnel authority allows it to exert some influence on the judicial system.

 

SOCIO-ECONOMIC SYSTEM

The country's population was approximately 5,396,000. The country continued to make progress in the transition to a market-based economy, with more than 83 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) generated by the private sector. The economy is largely industrial, with only 5 percent of the GDP generated by agricultural production. Major exports are iron and steel products, vehicles and automobile parts, audio and video equipment, machinery and transport equipment, petroleum products, and organic chemicals. GDP growth reached 3.1 percent during the first three quarters of the year. The economy's growth is fueled by foreign demand as exports increased by 12.7 percent in the first 11 months of the year. Inflation grew by 8 percent, lower than expected, due to a combination of increases in regulated prices, growing competition on the retail market, and lower than expected domestic demand. Slow growth is largely the result of the failure of the previous Government to implement structural reforms, such as financial sector privatization and industrial restructuring. The per capita GDP was $3,554 during the year 2001, and provided most of the population with a decent standard of living. The unemployment rate varies between 18 and 19 percent, reaching almost 30 percent in some areas. A disproportionate number of unemployed are Roma, who face exceptional difficulties in finding and holding jobs, partly as a result of discrimination. According to the law, in July 2000, social benefits of those unemployed over 2 years were cut in half. National savings have been transferred to municipalities to pay for community service jobs. More than 64,000 jobs have been created since July 2000, of which over half have gone to the Roma minority.

 

CRIMINAL CODES

The Slovak legal order distinguishes between two delinquency categories: delicts and penal actions. Delicts are defined as illegal actions of persons who are of a lesser danger to society. Delicts are defined in various standards such as the Delict law (Act No. 372/1990 of Code), Customs Law (Act No. 618/1992 of Code), Forest law (Act No. 100/1977 of Code), and the Foreign Bills Law (Act No. 528/1990 of code). Administrative delicts are not in the jurisdiction of the courts.

Penal actions are defined as actions which are dangerous for the society and are in the jurisdiction of the courts. The Penal Code contains a category of very serious crimes such as terrorism, military treason, murder, and genocide. The minimum prison sentence for these crimes is 8 years and severe conditions are put upon persons convicted of these crimes when they are released. If such a person commits the same crime again, he can be considered by the court to be a dangerous criminal.

In accordance with the Penal Code, a person is considered criminally responsible at 15 years of age. Criminal responsibility applies only if the person was sane at the time of committing the offense.

The Penal Code does not use the term "drug" but the term "habit-forming substances" which includes alcohol, stupefying substances, psychotropic drugs and other substances which severely impair the human psyche, the social behavior, or the distinguishing and self-controlling abilities of humans. Crimes designated as drug delicts include unlawful production and possession of stupefying and psychotropic substances and poisons. (Penal Code, Sect.187,188). It is criminal for persons to produce, import, export these substances or bring them to another person without permission. More severe penalties are imposed on persons who have committed these crimes as a member of an organized group, when monetary gain is higher than 100.000 SK, if serious injury or death is involved, and if the offense is committed with persons younger than 18 years old with gains more than 500.000SK.

It is also a crime for a person to keep another individual under the influence of stupefying and psychotropic substances, or to unlawfully produce and procure such substances. A more severe penalty is attached to persons who have gained more than 100.000SK for this crime, or who commit this crime with a person younger than 18 years of age. The prison penalties for such crimes range from 1 to 15 years. Toxicomania spreading is another drug crime category (Sect.188a). It is a crime for a person to seduce other person(s) to use habit-forming substances other than alcohol, or to promote the spread of such usage. There is a maximum 1 year prison sentence attached to this crime. A maximum of 3 years in prison is imposed for persons who commit this crime with persons younger than 18 years of age.

 

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

The crime rate in Slovakia is low compared to other industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Slovakia. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Slovakia will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 2.37 per 100,000 population for Slovakia, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.3 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 2.84 for Slovakia, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 34.4 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was 22.82 for Slovakia, 2.71 for Japan, and 165.2 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 204.60 for Slovakia, 15.40 for Japan, and 360.5 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was 504.30 for Slovakia, 187.93 for Japan, and 862.0 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 626.70 for Slovakia, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2728.1 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 142.40 for Slovakia, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 459.0 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 1506 for Slovakia, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4615.5 for USA. (Note: data were not reported to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, but were derived from the Uniform Crime Report for 1998)

 

TRENDS IN CRIME

Between 1995 and 2000, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 2.38 to 2.37 per 100,000 population, a decrease of 0.4%. The rate for rape decreased from 3.87 to 2.84, a decrease of 26.6%. The rate of robbery decreased from 24.4 to 22.82, a decrease of 6.5%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 177.7 to 204.6, an increase of 15.1%. The rate for burglary decreased from 729.8 to 504.3, a decrease of 30.9%. The rate of larceny decreased from 757.8 to 626.7, a decrease of 17.3%. The rate of motor vehicle theft decreased from 143.4 to 142.4, a decrease of 0.7%. The rate of total index offenses decreased from 1839.3 to 1506.09, a decrease of 18.1%.

 

LEGAL SYSTEM

The legal system of the Slovak Republic follows a Continental-European classical legal system. That is, it operates as a closed legal system strictly based on the codes and statutes which reflect the intent of the legislators. The Constitution and the law are the foundations of the Slovakian legal system.

In 1918, the Slovakian legal system was developed as part of the Czechoslovakian legal system of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and operated under that system until the division of the republic and the development of the independent Slovak Republic on January 1, 1993. The Slovak Republic legal system was created by the Constitution of the Slovak Republic which was accepted in September 1, 1992 and by acts and legal regulations connected to the Constitution and accepted by the Slovak National Council. It was also influenced by the acts and legal regulations valid from the time of the Federation.

In 1948 and after, the Slovakian legal system was created on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, by which the national and collective interests were preferred over individual rights and freedoms. The revolutionary alterations that occurred in 1989 indicated a gradual change toward the principles represented in the standard legal systems of democratic states.

Several pieces of legislation have significantly affected the criminal justice system: the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, Criminal Law (Act No. 140/1961 of code in amendment), Criminal Order (Act No. 141/1961 of code in amendment), Law of Prison Penalty (Act No. 59/1965 of Code in amendment), Law of Trial Rehabilitations (Act No. 119/1990 of code), Law of Law-Courts and Judges (Act No. 335/1991 of code), Law of Prison Penalty Action (Act No. 156/1993 of code), and the Law of Prosecution (Act No. 60/1965 of code).

POLICE

The police force of the Slovak Republic is essentially an armed safety corps responsible for maintaining internal order and safety. Its activities are controlled by the Slovak National Council and government; subordinate to the Minister of Interior. The organization and managing of the Police Corps is delineated in the Law of Police Corps of the Slovak Republic Code (No. 171/1- 993). The activities of the Police Corps are controlled by the Constitution and other binding regulations.

The Police Corps is organized to be independent of the military, with no connections at either the management or organizational levels. In times of necessity, the Government of the Slovak Republic may join the soldiers with the Police Corps when the Police Corps is not able to secure the state frontier, or to guarantee internal public order (Police-Corps Act of the Slovak Republic, Sect. 70,1.).

The Police Corps consists of criminal police, public order police, traffic police, object protection police, foreign service police, frontier police and special-task police. Special tasks of the Police Corps consist of protection of special persons and finance police. There are separate district, regional and Slovak investigation offices. The head of the Police Corps is the Police Corps President.

The qualifications of Police Corps members are determined by Law No. 410/1991 of the Code. To become a member of the Police Corps of the Slovak Republic, a person must be a citizen, at least 18 years old, and have passed the school-leaving examination at a secondary school or have graduated from a University or Technical college. The person must also be physically and mentally healthy, have no criminal record, and must have finished his military duty (if applicable). A probationary period of up to 12 months is established at the time of appointment.

The education and training of officers is performed in secondary special schools of the Police Corps, Police Academy of the Slovak Republic, the Institute for Further Education of Police and Training centers of cavalry police and drivers of police cars.

Police Corps Law delineates the use of force by police. The type of force to be used is largely dependent on the police officer's interpretation of the situation. Types of force that can be used include truncheons, defense bars, tear gas, electric paralyzer devices, and guns.

The police can apprehend a person in accordance with Police Corps Law, which states that a person who threatens life, health or property, or who was caught in the act, may be placed in custody for a maximum 24 hours. In accordance with Sect. 76 of the Penal code, the investigator can apprehend a suspect who has been caught committing a crime, without an indictment or approval from the prosecutor. In urgent cases the suspect can be apprehended and placed into custody, where justified, without indictment. In order to conduct this type of apprehension, prosecutor approval is necessary. The suspect can be held for a maximum of 24 hours, after which the case must either be submitted for trial or the suspect must be set free. No cautioning in this stage of apprehension is allowed. The purpose in apprehending a suspect is to assess whether sufficient conditions are met for placing the person in prison.

Most complaints about police behavior concern the activities of the basic corps, and involve searches, unproductive investigations along with improper public identification of suspects, and activities of traffic police. Only 21.23% of the total complaints against police behavior were declared valid. Complaints are handled by the following authorized persons: Commander, District Commander, Inspection Officer of a District Commandership and Inspection Department of Ministry of Interior, and the Formation Director and Minister of Interior.

Today, the national police, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, are the primary law enforcement agency. In addition to domestic law enforcement, they also have responsibility for border security. The Slovak Information Service (SIS), an independent organization reporting directly to the Prime Minister, is responsible for all civilian security and intelligence activities. A parliamentary commission composed of legislators from ruling and opposition parties oversees the SIS. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, and the performance of the security forces, particularly the police, improved during the year 2001. However, police and SIS forces committed some human rights abuses.

There were no reports of political killings by the Government or its agents; however, there allegedly was at least one death in police custody due to abuse. On July 7, the Mayor of Magnezitovce and his son, who is a police officer, allegedly beat a 51-year-old Rom, Karol Sendrei, and his two sons. The police took the Roma to the police station where they allegedly chained them to a radiator and further beat them. Karol Sendrei reportedly died as a result of the abuse while in police custody. The mayor was suspended temporarily from his post; however, after the charges were dropped against the mayor in November, he was reinstated in his position. The mayor's son was dismissed immediately from the police force and the two officers who took the men into custody were suspended indefinitely for using excessive force. In October Slovak investigators charged seven police officers with the crime of torture and cruelty as well as manslaughter for their role in the killing of Sendrei; the trial was pending at year's end 2001.

In July in response to the death of Karol Sendrei while in police custody, Interior Minister Ivan Simko established new measures to prevent police brutality, including mandatory psychological tests when hiring law enforcement officials, more stringent job requirements, and improved curriculum at preparatory academies, including better training on the appropriate use of coercion. Simko also ordered increased monitoring of police procedures.

The 1999 case of a police shooting of a 21-year-old Rom during an interrogation still was under investigation by independent investigators at year's end 2001. The police officer involved was dismissed for violating the law by interrogating the Rom alone when he had access to a gun; the officer committed suicide in. Independent investigators reconstructed the event and determined that it was unlikely that the Rom in custody was able to remove the gun from the police officer's holster. In October the European Roma Rights Center filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The former Prime Minister Meciar's party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), alleged that the January 1999 killing of Jan Ducky, the former Economy Minister under the Meciar Government and head of the national gas distribution monopoly, was the result of a political vendetta. Ducky was killed in the lobby of his apartment building a week after the authorities filed charges against him for financial mismanagement and illegal property transfers while at the gas monopoly. Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner publicly speculated that Ducky might have been killed to prevent his testimony. In November 2000, the Bratislava district court ruled to halt the criminal prosecution of Ukrainian citizen Oleg Tkhoryk for the killing due to lack of incriminating evidence. In April the Bratislava regional prosecutor appealed the ruling, but the Supreme Court rejected the appeal and terminated the criminal prosecution of Tkhoryk.

Skinhead attacks against Roma and other minorities that resulted in deaths continued throughout the year.

The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, on occasion both national and city police allegedly beat suspects in custody. In March 2000, Roma from the village of Hermanovovce signed a petition protesting alleged police humiliation, torture, and sexual abuse. Police investigated the allegations and concluded there was no evidence to support the reports. In July authorities beat a Rom and his sons while in custody; the father died from his injuries.

Police reportedly used pressure and threats to discourage Roma from pressing charges of police brutality. Credible sources stated that at times the police tolerated violence against Roma by not thoroughly investigating attacks against them in a timely and thorough manner or by coercing Roma to refrain from submitting incriminating evidence.

Residents of African and Asian origin continued to complain that police failed to investigate fully skinhead attacks against them.

Many of the reports of police misconduct are committed by local police forces. Some activists credibly claimed that a contributing problem is that the local police forces are supervised by the local mayor, not the Interior Ministry.

In January 12 persons, most of whom were formerly members of the SIS, were charged with the violent abduction and torture in 1995 of the former president's son, Michal Kovac, Jr. Former SIS head Ivan Lexa was the primary person accused; however, the Constitutional Court concluded that amnesties granted to Gustav Krajci and a second official involved in the case, Jaroslav Svechota, by former Prime Minister Meciar, shielded them from prosecution. An investigation into the killing was ongoing at year's end 2001. In April 1999, Parliament lifted the immunity of former SIS head Ivan Lexa in five of the seven criminal cases in which he allegedly was implicated, including participation in the kidnaping of the President's son. In September 2000, the Bratislava district court issued an international warrant for the arrest of Lexa, who allegedly had fled the country; Lexa faces several charges, including abuse of power, fraud, and money laundering. Lexa's attorneys have charged that the Government's continued pursuit of their client is unfair on the grounds that he cannot be prosecuted because of Meciar's amnesties. However, the Government's investigation into Lexa's involvement in crimes for which he had not received amnesty continued, and his whereabouts remained unknown at year's end 2001.

The law provides for these rights; however, the authorities at times infringed upon these rights in practice. The Criminal Code requires police to obtain a judicial search warrant in order to enter a home. The court may issue such a warrant only if there is a well-founded suspicion that important evidence or persons accused of criminal activity are present inside, or if there is another important reason. Police must present the warrant before conducting the house search or within 24 hours after the search. Some Roma activists have alleged that on occasion local police detachments have entered Roma premises without a search warrant.

The police law regulates wiretapping and mail surveillance for the purposes of criminal investigation, which may be conducted on the order of a judge or prosecutor only in cases of extraordinarily serious premeditated crimes or crimes involving international treaty obligations. There were allegations in 2000 that SIS surveillance continued on both opposition and government politicians. Reports of alleged government surveillance of Roma, particularly related to the large number of Roma emigrating to Western Europe, continued. SMK Chairman Bela Bugar told TV Markiza that SMK members were being monitored and that their telephones were tapped. The founder and chairman of the political party SMER, Robert Fico, also made a similar allegation. There were reports that the Ministry of Interior actively monitored members of the Church of Scientology.

 

DETENTION

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.

A person accused or suspected of a crime must be given a hearing within 24 hours and be either released or remanded by the court. During this time, the detainee has the right to an attorney. If remanded by a court, the accused is entitled to an additional hearing within 24 hours, at which time the judge either releases the accused or issues a substantive written order placing the accused in custody. Some critics argue that the initial 24-hour detainment period, during which time investigators must gather all evidence that can be submitted to the prosecutor, is not sufficient and occasionally results in the release of guilty suspects. A Ministry of Justice judicial reform committee recommended lengthening the initial detainment period to 72 hours.

In April 2000, Special Forces broke into the residence of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, and detained and transported him to Bratislava to question him concerning his alleged misuse of authority as a public official. His supporters called the action an excessive use of force and an illegal and politically motivated indictment. Police defended the action and stated that it was in accordance with the law. In October the Prosecutor General concluded that Meciar had not abused his authority and dismissed the charges against him.

Investigative detention may last 18 to 40 days, with further pretrial detention permitted. The total length of pretrial detention may not exceed 1 year, unless the Supreme Court extends it after determining that the person constitutes a serious danger to society.

Pretrial detainees constituted approximately 26.7 percent of the total prison population, and the average pretrial detention period was 7.2 months. The law allows family visits and provides for a court-paid attorney if needed. A system of bail exists. Noncitizens may be held for up to 30 days for identification purposes or for 18 to 40 days in investigative detention. Detainees have the right to see an attorney immediately and are to be notified of this right; however, one nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports that not all detainees are notified of their rights.

The law allows monthly family visits upon request and receipt by detainees of a package of up to 10 pounds every 2 weeks. Attorney visits are allowed as frequently as necessary, and consular visits are allowed upon request by the judge.

The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government does not employ it.

 

COURTS

Trials are performed by sitting judges according to principles of law. Trials are conducted by the judge only. A single judge performs the trial in cases in which the law prescribes a penalty of no longer than two years in prison. A suspect becomes a defendant after the main trial is ordered. The trial summons and indictment must be sent to the accused a minimum of five days before the trial is conducted. The accused takes part in the main trial and public trial. The accused has a right to advance his or her views to all evidence, make a final speech, request corrections to the trial record, and use the mother language. The main trial, theoretically, is a public procedure.

The accused has the right to choose a defense attorney. If the accused has no financial means by which to do this, he or she has a right to be defended free of charge. The law provides, in some cases, for the accused to have a defense attorney during pretrial procedures, for example, if the accused is a juvenile or the crime has a penalty exceeding 5 years imprisonment.

If the accused has not chosen a defender in the legally specified period of time, the court will appoint one.

The first stage of penal proceedings involves a series of pre-trial actions. The investigators and detectives of the Police Corps verify the facts of the crime which call for penal action to be taken. If justified, the penal case is submitted to the court by them. If there is no justification, the case is dropped. Prosecutors of the Prosecution of the Slovak Republic perform the legal supervision of the pre-trial actions. Some prosecutors also perform investigative functions.

Only the prosecutor is authorized to submit the suit to the court, to order property seizure, to verify the claim of an injured person, to order a dead body exhumed, to propose extradition of the accused from a foreign country. If the results of investigation or detection justify placing the accused before the court, the prosecutor submits the suit to the penal court. If the court accepts the indictment, the trial can begin. Courts determine issues of fault and punishment. The actions they take are guided by legal standards of penalties described in the law. These standards state the punishment or type of punishment to be imposed for certain crimes.

The first stage of a penal trial concerns pre-trial activity. It is a non-public obligatory stage during which various officials such as an investigator from the Slovak Republic Police Corps and a prosecutor explain all facts necessary to make a judgement of the case. They also explain facts concerning the suspect and the victim's claim and explain possible motives for the crime. The information and activities these parties pursue form the basis of the decision as to whether the suit will be declared or not. If no suit is declared, the accused must be set free.

The pre-trial process is preliminary in nature. There are two types of pre-trial processes: investigation and detection. The investigation form is performed when weighty penal actions are involved or in highly complex crimes (for example, where guaranteeing rights of the accused is difficult). The detection form is conducted with simple delicts. After the pre-trial process is completed, the prosecutor can declare a suit to the court, the investigator or prosecutor can stop the investigation, or the suit can be submitted to another court. Often the case is transferred to another branch if it is judged to be a small delict or trespass. (Penal Code, Sect.222). Approximately 66% of all cases result in a suit being declared by the prosecutor.

Approximately 97% of trials result in guilty verdicts. Approximately 16% of cases which go to trial result in a prison sentence.

Pre-trial incarceration can be imposed in cases meeting one or more of the following conditions: a) the accused is likely to escape or avoid the trial, particularly if his or her identity is not known or he or she has no domicile; b) the accused might influence the witnesses or other defendants or hinder the fact-finding process; c) the accused may continue or begin committing crimes or threatens to do so; or d) the crime has a minimum of 8 years imprisonment attached to it. The court decides whether or not to impose pre-trial incarceration on the basis of the prosecutor's recommendations. A special law (Act. No. 156/1993 of Code) describes the pre-trial incarceration process. Justifications for pre-trial incarceration are described in the Penal Order.

The accused may be released while awaiting trial provided that: (1) the court accepts a guarantee of association with a reliable person; (2) the accused must promise in writing that he or she will behave in an orderly fashion and will not commit any penal activity or crime, (3) the court accepts a financial guarantee the amount and type to be established by the trial judge. None of these factors apply in the case of an especially dangerous intentional crime.

The Constitutional Court is an independent branch of the government which has jurisdiction over matters involving the constitution.

Civil and Penal Courts. Courts which hear both civil and penal cases, include the Highest court of the Slovak Republic, Regional courts and district courts. The Town court of Bratislava is at the level of a Regional court.

There are courts martial operating at the district level and higher which have jurisdiction over the penal actions and crimes of soldiers during military duty and over other military organized corps if the special Law is determined for it. These courts also have jurisdiction over some criminal actions of civilians such as their involvement with a foreign army or forms of treason.

The judges of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the President of the Republic for a term of 7 years. These judges are chosen from a pool of 20 nominees recommended by the National Council of the Slovak Republic. The judge must be a citizen of the Slovak Republic, at least 40 years old, must be a Law School graduate and worked for a minimum of 15 years as an attorney, prosecutor, or judge.

Judges of other courts are elected by the National Council of the Slovak Republic on the basis of a proposal of the government for a term of 4 years. Nominees must have a Law Degree, and must have completed 3 years in practice. After a 4-year period, the judges are appointed by the National council of Slovak Republic on the basis of government proposal to fill the position permanently. In the courts martial there are 18 judges, all of whom are men.

The court determines the guilt and the sentence of the accused at a sentencing hearing. The conditions of the sentencing hearing are stated in the Penal Order. The sentence is declared by a judge after secret consultation with the sitting judge. When the main trial or the public trial is finished, the sentence is declared in a separate public declaration. The introductory words: "In the name of the Republic" are declared, after which follows the details of the sentence. The sentence must be presented in written form as well, within 30 days. It must consist of the introductory words, the court name, the full names of judges and judge seat members, the place and date of sentence declaration, the actual wording of the sentence with the accompanying legal regulations which were used, and justification and declaration about correctional measures to be taken. It must also include information about the accused, such as the full name, birth date and birth place, current domicile and occupation. The sentence may include a settlement of damages, and prescribe various protective measures.

The Penal Code provides for the following types of penalties: prison with a maximum of 15 years; suspended prison penalty for up to 2 years conditional on good behavior, or a conditional sentence of 1 to 5 years based on good behavior; fines from 2,000SK to 1,000,000SK; prohibition against such activities as automobile usage, from 2 to 10 years; domicile prohibitions in certain regions (a person may be banished from a certain region) from 1 to 5 years; property confiscation, confiscation of titles and notes of distinction; loss of army rank, and general banishment, particularly for foreigners.

There are two special penalties in the Penal Code. A person can be sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison for very serious penal activities or crimes, particularly if the person poses a serious danger to society. Life imprisonment can also be imposed for such serious crimes as murder, high treason, terrorism, genocide or crimes of general threatening, and for special perpetrators considered to be a danger to society.

All serious crimes and penal actions are punishable by prison sentences.

Other types of sanctions under the Penal Code include medical treatment and the education of perpetrators who are 15 to 18 years old.

As of September 1, 1992, the Constitution of the Slovak Republic and the Penal Code has forbidden capital punishment.

Today, the Constitution provides for courts that are independent, impartial, and separate from the other branches of government; however, some critics allege that the dependence of judges upon the Ministry of Justice for logistical support, the granting of leave requests, and other services undermines their independence. The Ministry of Justice can demote presidents and vice presidents of the courts for any reason, although they remain judges, and it has done so; however, the President of the Supreme Court can only be removed from office through impeachment. Although not specified in legislation, in practice the Judicial Council, an independent organization of lawyers and judges, recommends nominations for presidents of courts, and the Minister of Justice then officially nominates the recommended judge. The Ministry has denied the nomination of only one of the council's recommendations.

In July Parliament passed Constitutional amendments to increase the judiciary's independence; however, the amendments had not been implemented by year's end 2001. The amendments extends the term that judges' serve to life and requires that the Judicial Council nominate the judges instead of the Government. The amendments also define the competencies of the Constitutional Court and extends the terms of judges on the Constitutional Court.

The court system consists of local and regional courts, with the Supreme Court as the highest court of appeal except for constitutional questions. There is a separate Constitutional Court--with no ties to the Ministry of Justice--that considers constitutional issues. In addition there is a separate military court system, the decisions of which may be appealed to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Under the Constitution, the President appoints Constitutional Court judges to 7-year terms based upon parliamentary nominations. Parliament elects other judges, based on recommendations from the Ministry of Justice, and can remove them for misconduct.

Many activists credibly allege that some judges are corrupt and that adequate safeguards against corruption do not exist; however, they note that the July Constitutional amendments should curtail this corruption in the judiciary.

Under the law, persons charged with criminal offenses are entitled to fair and open public trials, although in practice observers stated that corruption among judges may infringe on a persons right to a fair trial. They have the right to be informed of the charges against them and of their legal rights, to retain and consult with counsel sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense, and to confront witnesses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Defendants also have the right to refuse to make self-incriminating statements, and they may appeal any judgment against them. According to existing legislation, suspects are presumed innocent during the appeal process, and if that process lasts more than 3 years, the suspect would be released. Occasionally criminals are released from prison because they have not had a complete trial within the 3-year time limit. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

Human rights monitors continued to charge that police and investigators are reluctant to take the testimony of witnesses, particularly Roma, regarding skinhead attacks on Roma, and police on occasion have failed to investigate cases of skinhead violence when the skinhead did not admit the crime. Some NGO's have defended the police, contending that the real fault lies in the law, which states that only evidence that is collected by the investigator in the 24-hour detention period can be considered in the decision on whether to hold the suspect. They also contend that due to financial restraints, police lack modern equipment and are forced to work in substandard conditions that make their jobs increasingly difficult. However, human rights monitors also reported that police used countercharges or threats of countercharges to pressure Roma victims of police brutality to drop their complaints. They also reported that medical doctors and investigators cooperated with police by refusing to describe accurately the injuries involved, and that lawyers often were reluctant to represent Roma in such situations, for fear that this would have a negative effect on their law practice.

Credible sources state that it is increasingly difficult for citizens who are disadvantaged economically to obtain noncriminal legal representation, and therefore it is becoming more difficult for some who may have had their rights infringed upon to take further legal action. The Ministry of Justice has initiated a program in which free legal advice is offered in seven cities every Wednesday for 5 hours; however, a legal NGO has claimed that a more systematic approach is necessary. The practice of Chamber of Advocates leadership encouraging their membership to avoid indigent cases has been eliminated. The Slovak bar association is preparing a program to encourage lawyers to accept pro-bono cases.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

 

CORRECTIONS

There are three levels of prisons, the third level being maximum security, in which adult convicts are housed with the view to re-education and rehabilitation. Juveniles are imprisoned in special prisons for juveniles and women are imprisoned in special prisons for females.

The Corps of Prison and Justice Guards of the Slovak Republic has the task of overseeing the rehabilitative and educational activities of the prisons as well as their security and administration. The Corps is subordinate to the Minister of Justice and has a General Director as its head.

The President of the Slovak Republic is entitled by the Constitution to declare amnesty and pardons. The declaration of amnesty and pardons is provided for in the Penal Order.

After persons have served half of their prison sentence, or two-thirds in the case of very serious crimes, they have the right to be set free on a conditional basis which can last from 1 to 7 years. The court makes the determination of whether this is possible. Convicts must be able to demonstrate thier readiness for release by their prison behavior, or the court must accept the guarantee of completion of rehabilitation of the convict.

Prisoners are obligated to work while serving time in prison. Invalids and the aged are exempt from this obligation. If an inmate fails to work, the convict is obliged to pay the cost of his imprisonment and is obliged to stay in a special room during the working hours.

For good behavior, good working results or exemplary action, the convict can be rewarded temporary release from prison for up to 15 days, praise, special visit permission, special packet permission, pocket money increase, or financial or material reward. Inmates have a right to receive and send letters, to receive packets and to be visited by relatives. They also have a right to use cultural and educational resources such as the prison library, sport and hobby activity opportunities, legal education and medical education. There are also legal regulations allowing them to further their education.

Today, prison conditions generally meet international standards. Men and women are held separately, as are juveniles from adults and pretrial detainees from convicted criminals.

The Government permits visits by independent human rights monitors. Amnesty International occasionally visited prisons. The Slovak Helsinki Committee was in the process of receiving government approval to monitor prisons at year's end 2001.

 

WOMEN

Violence, particularly sexual violence against women, remained a serious and underreported problem. According to Ministry of Interior statistics, there were 6,379 reports of violent crime against women: 6,309 occurred in the home, and 5,710 occurred in public. There were 632 reports of violence of a sexual nature committed against women: 287 occurred in the home, and 191 occurred in public. In 2000, police statistics indicated that over 70 percent of all violent crime occurred in the home, with 90 percent of the victims being women or children. One NGO's research showed that 38 to 40 percent of women were victims of domestic violence. A national poll from 2000 indicated that as many as one in five women are subjected to some form of physical violence in the home. Police estimate that two-thirds of female rape victims fail to report their cases. Police treat spousal abuse, other violence against women, and child abuse in the same way as other criminal offenses; sections in the criminal code specifically address rape, sexual abuse, and trafficking in women.

The law does not recognize or define the term domestic violence. NGO's criticize existing legislation for protecting aggressors over victims. If a husband or wife is guilty of child or spousal abuse, it is often the victim who is forced to leave the family home. The Ministry of Social Affairs reported that over 40 shelters for women exist; however, NGO's report that there are only 3 shelters that provide assistance and services to abused women and children. Experts from women's NGO's claim that the 40 shelters the Government refers to do not provide adequate assistance to women and children. According to some NGO's, the lack of relevant data on domestic violence is used by police authorities to downplay the extent of domestic violence. Many activists noted that the Government adopted a law in 2000 that addresses specifically abuse of family members.

Prostitution is legal; however, the Code prohibits activities related to prostitution, such as renting apartments for conducting prostitution, spreading sexually transmitted diseases, or trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution. However, trafficking in women was a problem.

 

CHILDREN

Child abuse remained a problem and is underreported. Experts from various state institutions dealing with child abuse claimed that there are significant discrepancies between official figures on child violence and the actual situation. During the year 2001, there were 14,450 reports of crimes against children, of which 13,192 were prosecuted. A 1999 survey of over 7,000 children conducted by an NGO offering resources to abused children indicated that 12 percent of children are victims of sexual abuse, while 20 percent are victims of physical abuse. According to available police statistics, cases of child beating and sexual abuse continued to increase. Among the most frequent crimes committed against children were: Nonpayment of child support, sexual violence, and beatings. In the past 10 years, only 127 cases of abused children were reported officially, while the actual number is estimated to be 20 to 30 times greater. According to independent research, 25 percent of all children are punished physically on a regular basis.

Existing legislation appears to place emphasis on parents' rights over children's rights. The law allows parents to place their child in a state-run institution for abandoned children, and as long as contact is maintained once every 6 months, the child remains in the custody of the parents and cannot be adopted. NGO leaders claim that the law protects aggressors before victims. If a husband or wife is guilty of child or spousal abuse, it is often the victim who is forced to leave the family home. However, the law was amended in 1999 to allow children who are victims of physical or sexual abuse to seek assistance and treatment without parental consent.

UNICEF, several NGO's, and other institutions dealing with children's issues have called for amendments to the law on families, particularly regarding relations between parents and children. Although new departments dealing specifically with children's issues have been established in the Ministries of Education and Social Affairs, the Government has not yet created an ombudsman's office to defend children's rights, as UNICEF recommended in 1999. In 2000 the Ministry of Social Affairs established a Commission on the Rights of the Child. The Commission provides information to children regarding their rights and performs the duties traditionally fulfilled by an ombudsman. There are several regional emergency hot line numbers for abused children and one counseling help line. There are five active hot lines, although only one hot line in Bratislava operates on a 24-hour basis.

Child prostitution is not addressed specifically in the Criminal Code, but is covered by more general provisions in the law. The Penal Code was amended in September 1999 to include a provision outlawing child pornography.

Trafficking of girls for the purpose of prostitution was a problem.

Several activists argue that children are born into poverty with increasing regularity, and that this phenomenon affects the Roma minority in particular. It has resulted in an increased number of abandoned Roma children either at the hospital immediately after birth or during infancy. These children become wards of the state and are sent to orphanages.

 

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

The law specifically prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons however, there were instances of trafficking in women and girls for prostitution. The country is a country of origin, a transit country, and a destination country for such victims of trafficking. Some NGO's estimate that 1,500 to 2,000 girls and young women are trafficked abroad into prostitution each year. The problem received more public attention during the year 2001, but it is still likely that there are more cases than those that are documented. Some observers claim that Bratislava has become an important transit station in the trafficking of women and children. The number of trafficking cases appeared to be on the rise, particularly among the Roma community.

According to an International Organization for Migration (IOM) survey conducted in numerous Slovak Embassies in various countries, an increasing number of Slovak women are trafficked to southern European countries, particularly Spain (26 cases reported in 1998 and 1999), Greece (23 cases), and Italy (12 cases). According to a report on trafficking in women issued by the Swedish National Criminal Investigation Department in March 1999, women from the Slovak Republic work in Sweden as prostitutes. There also were reports that Slovak women were trafficked to Western Europe with promises of work as models, waitresses, and au pairs. Their passports allegedly were confiscated, and they allegedly were forced to work in adult entertainment clubs or as prostitutes. Women also are trafficked to Austria and Slovenia for sexual exploitation.

A report issued during the year 2001 by the Ministry of Interior stated that the Slovak Republic is a transit country for persons being trafficked from Ukraine and Russia mainly to Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany for the purpose of prostitution. Some women from Russia and Ukraine reportedly were trafficked through the Slovak Republic on their way to countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, and Serbia, where they also were forced to work as prostitutes.

Although previously the Slovak Republic primarily was a country of origin, increasingly women from less prosperous eastern countries (including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria) find themselves trafficked through and to the Slovak Republic. Women, mostly Ukranian and Russian, are lured to Slovakia with the promise of work as domestic servants or waitresses. However, when they arrive, their documents allegedly are stolen and they are forced to work as prostitutes or in nightclubs and threatened with violence if they attempt to escape. Young women also are recruited through agencies (which offer false opportunities) or through personal contacts of owners or employees of hotels, casinos, entertainment or prostitution establishments.

There is no evidence of government involvement in or tolerance of trafficking, and the Ministry of Interior is involved in activities to combat trafficking. The Ministry of Interior sponsored training for the Customs Directorate, the Migration Office, and the police to identify and handle cases of victims of trafficking.

In 2000 the Ministry of Interior reported that there were 13 documented cases of Slovak women being forced into prostitution in other countries or foreign women being forced into prostitution in the Slovak Republic during the year 2001, of which 11 were resolved. In some cases, the investigation resulted in no evidence and the case was closed, while in other instances, the case was resolved by convicting the perpetrator. A case can be documented and opened either when a trafficked person files a complaint with the police or when the police initiate a criminal investigation against a suspected trafficker. The Penal Code specifically prohibits trafficking in women for sexual exploitation, with a prison term of between 3 and 5 years. There were nine recorded cases of trafficking and the Government prosecuted five of the cases.

In July 2000, an 18-year-old Roma girl from Hencovce allegedly was kidnaped, taken to the Czech Republic where she was sold for $93 (SK 4,500), and forced into prostitution. This case was pending at year's end 2001. Other Roma women have reported similar stories.

According to the IOM, the Government does not assist victims by providing temporary to permanent residency status. Victims are provided temporary relief from deportation through admittance to a detention center where they can remain for 30 days while their case is investigated, at which time the person usually is sent to their country of origin. NGO's and the IOM reported that victims feared returning to their home countries because of the stigma attached to trafficking victims. There is very little legal, medical, or psychological assistance for victims of trafficking. According to NGO activists, government agencies such as customs and police officers treat victims poorly since many law enforcement officials believe that victims were not forced, but rather chose their fate.

There are only a few NGO's or organizations that have as their main purpose the provision of support to victims of trafficking; however, the NGO Fenestra provides support for these victims. One NGO, supported by the Government, conducted a prevention campaign in the city of Zilina; they distributed posters, stickers and pamphlets discussing the dangers of trafficking in secondary schools.

 

DRUG TRAFFICKING

Continuing a trend begun following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, drug use in the Slovak Republic escalated in 1998. The Slovak Government acknowledged in 1997 that Slovakia has changed from primarily a transit country for illicit drugs to a consumer country as well, and has taken steps to address this issue. Despite increased law enforcement spending and international cooperation on drug enforcement, demand for drugs within the country, trafficking of drugs and public awareness of drug use and sales throughout Slovakia has remained on a steady upward trend. Slovakia remains a transshipment point to Western Europe on the Balkan Route from the Middle East and Turkey to Germany, France and other European countries. The Government of the Slovak Republic is a party to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Drug dealing within Slovakia has increased markedly in the last year. Press reports regularly noted arrests for drug use and small seizures of drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine to heroin. Slovak authorities are especially concerned about the increasing use of heroin by young people in economically disadvantaged parts of the country. In particular, Petrzalka, a section of the capital city, Bratislava, is known for an ever-increasing amount of drug-related violence. Several non-governmental organizations have noted increasing drug abuse among young people, and homegrown, Slovak-organized criminal elements have expanded their control over the sale and distribution of drugs in Petrzalka and in other localities.

The Slovak Government stated in 1998 that there has been an increase in the number of drug users from ever-younger age groups (though the number of minors arrested for drug possession/use actually decreased to 51 in 1998 from 102 in 1997). The Slovak Government acknowledged that the Slovak Republic is now a consumer country, as well as a transshipment country.

The Slovak Government reports that the number of drug consumers and addicts in Slovakia is increasing. Excluding Bratislava, locations within the Slovak Republic which are noted for drug-related offenses are the country's numerous spas (Piestany, Trencianske Teplice, Bardejov) and tourist centers (such as the high Tatra mountains near the Polish border).

As noted above, one of the Slovak Government's main concerns with regard to the smuggling of illicit drugs centers on Slovakia's position as a transshipment point. The Slovak Government is concentrating on east-west smuggling from Ukraine and Russia. Additionally, the Balkan Route is a major concern, chiefly because of Slovakia's small and under-manned border posts, such as Komarno and Medvedov along the Slovak-Hungarian border.

As in other areas, the influence of organized crime on drug sales and use increased in 1998. The Slovak police have seen organized crime elements (both from within Slovakia and from abroad) gaining ground in terms of their complexity and the amount of resources at their disposal. In contrast to past years, when organized crime was less pervasive and had fewer connections, criminal figures now have state-of-the-art equipment, receive financing from other ventures and utilize their international contacts to further drug-related criminal enterprises. Specific information about the extent to which they collaborate with their foreign partners is sketchy, however.

Data is lacking on production and cultivation of opium poppy; however, poppy seeds are a traditional ingredient in Slovak food, as they are in neighboring countries. The climate is unsuitable for coca production. The National Drug Service reports that cannabis is grown almost everywhere in Slovakia; however, this is largely for domestic consumption.

The Ministry of Health operates a specialized health care system for drug users, and includes six specialized treatment centers and 40 out-patient clinics. The Centre for the Treatment of Drug Dependencies in Bratislava is a specialized in-patient center and also houses a training, research and information institution. The Ministry of Health estimates that the main users of drugs are between 18 and 24 years old and estimates the number of heroin users in Bratislava, the capital, at 4,000.

Slovak observers continue be concerned that corruption exists in the Slovak Republic, particularly at the lower levels of the law enforcement community. The newly elected government acknowledged in late 1998 that corruption was a significant problem and pledged to work against it within the framework of international norms.

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Dr. Robert Winslow
rwinslow@mail.sdsu.edu
San Diego State University