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Commission Chairman Welcomes Vote on Czech Citizenship

WASHINGTON – “Friday’s vote by the Czech Chamber of Deputies to amend the Czech citizenship law represents an important victory in the Romani civil rights movement,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today.

“It is another concrete manifestation of the current Czech Government’s efforts to address the human rights concerns of the Czech Republic’s largest minority, the Roma. I commend those parliamentarians who supported this legislation and those in the government, especially Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl and Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, for their leadership. The previous government policy—saying that the Romani minority need not seek asylum in Canada or elsewhere, while simultaneously denying many Czech Roma citizenship—simply made no sense. Friday’s vote restores common sense to the government’s citizenship policy. I hope the Czech Senate will quickly approve this measure and that President Havel will sign this into law at the earliest opportunity, ” said Smith.

After the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation on January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic implemented a citizenship law that was one of the most restrictive of any of the 21 newly independent states of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Tens of thousands of former Czechoslovak citizens who were permanent residents of the Czech Republic were rendered de facto or de jure stateless; all of them were members of the Romani minority. In 1996, the law was amended in an effort to placate international critics of the law, but the 1996 amendment failed to make substantive changes or to address the law’s fundamental shortcomings. On Friday, July 9, the Czech Chamber of Deputies adopted an amendment by 114 to 58 which will enable Roma who are permanent residents in the Czech Republic and who had been previously been excluded from citizenship to regularize their status.

Chairman Smith also stated, “Many non-governmental organizations share the credit for this success: the Tolerance Foundation, the Czech Helsinki Committee, the Gremium of Roma Regional Representatives, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the European Roma Rights Center and others have played a critical role in monitoring and documenting the problems faced by Roma in the Czech Republic. Finally, I commend the Romani men and women who had the courage to stand up for their inalienable rights. The non-governmental community has once again demonstrated the critical role they play in any civil society—a role that should never be underestimated.”

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