As the European Union opens membership talks with six new candidate nations (viz. Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (www.iheu.org) desires to highlight the case of Slovakia whose Human Rights record relating to freedom of religion or belief seriously falls short of International Human Rights Standards.
There is no doubt that the Slovak State is founded on sound principles, and that it has committed itself to the creation of a pluralist democratic state.
Article 1 of the Slovak republic Constitution declares that the Slovak Republic is a sovereign, democratic state which is ‘not linked to any ideology, nor religion’. Article 11 assures that International Treaties on Human Rights and fundamental freedoms which are ratified by the Slovakian Republic will bear precedence over national laws. Article 24 (1) guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience, religious creed and belief, and expressly states ‘Everybody has the right to be without religious allegiance. Everybody has the right to manifest his/her persuasion in public’.
As a successor of the Czechoslovak Federative Republic, the Slovakian Republic since January 1993 has also either ratified or accepted the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (1948), the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ (1966), the ‘UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief’ (1981) as well as European Instruments such as the ‘European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’ (1950), and the ‘Declaration of European Parliament about Fundamental Rights and Freedoms’ (1989). Without adherence to the principles enumerated in these International instruments, membership of the European Union would be impossible.
HOWEVER, in practice all the Slovakian governments have paid scant heed to its sovereign obligations under the above International Treaties or Declarations, or to its own Constitutional dictates. Of late there has been a steady erosion of the Slovakian State’s neutrality in matters of faith and belief, in gross violation of existing constitutional provisions, as well as principles of natural justice.
For example, in 1997, the then Pesident of the Republic dedicated officially the Slovak Republic to the ‘Holy Virgin Mary’. There is now in force a one-sided law governing (in favour of the Church) the relationship between the State and Church. At present the Slovak Republic is considering (in a not very transparent manner), a Treaty with the Vatican regulating the advantageous position of Roman Catholic Church in Slovak sciety. In addition, now, the Catholic Church is attempting to establish church schools in the country, completely financed by the state but administered exclusively by the Church authorities, with no State supervion!
Since 1991, the IHEU’s member organisation Prometheus Society Slovakia (www.jhm.sk/prom/prom.htm) has been highlighting many developments damaging to the Internationally accepted human rights standards, specifically pointing to the discrimination against humanists in the country, ie those who do not profess any religious belief as their life stance or life philosophy is based on a naturalistic understanding of the Universe and their ethics is a secular ethics grounded in human values. Humanists do not receive any state support for the promotion of their life stance, whereas the Church receives generous help from the state.
In an attempt to redress the situation, the Prometheus Society has called for – since 1991 – parity in treatment of all the citizens by the state. More than 40 attempts have been made since then to request the government and its top constitutional officers to respond to requests that the spiritual and cultural needs of humanists in the community too should be addressed by the state which received taxes from humanists who constitute 30% of the population. Full text of the Petition to the constitutional officers as well as the list of 40 attempts to change government policy can be obtained from www.iheu.org Slovakian language information is abailable from Prometheus Society’s website www.jhm.sk/prom/prom.htm
In summary, the Prometheus Society has called for the creation of a special office at the a Ministry of Culture which can address the needs of the non-religious citizens of Slovakia, just as at present there is such an office at the Ministry of Culture to cater to churches. The Prometheus Society has also called for the institutionalisation of the position of secular counsellors in the army, just as there are religious counsellors in the Slovakian Army. On Radio and Television which are public corporations, the Prometheus Society has called for the inclusion of broadcasting content that will reflect the plurality of beliefs in the Slovak Republic, and has asked for air-time. None of these requests have even been adequately acknowledged or properly dealt with by the government. Ongoing developments make it even more difficult for humanists to profess their beliefs or work for the promotion of their life-philosophy as they are denied their legitimate right to state support and public financing, and as they have lived under governments applying a policy hostile to their beliefs, regardless of all anti-discriminatory laws in force.
As approaching the national government has not resulted in satisfactory response, the Prometheus Society has contacted the European Union directly – both the President and the Commissioner for relations with member States – with information about the situation in Slovakia, for the EU’s consideration before the membership of Slovakia in EU can be accepted. The Prometheus Society is also contacting member states of the EU to request support for the protection of the Human Rights of Humanists in Slovakia.
As part of an International initiative, the Prometheus Society is determined, with the support of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, to highlight the situation via the IHEU’s Representative at the Council of Europe, and even take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.
As Slovakia comes under International scrutiny, the IHEU calls on the Slovakian government to take adequate concrete steps to redress the situation. The demands of parity of treatment made by Slovakian Humanists are those which are accepted by states which are members of the European Union, and whose membership Slovakia is seeking. The IHEU also hopes that member states of the European Union will be vigilant at this deprival of human rights by Slovakia, and use diplomatic steps to improve the situation before membership can be granted. The IHEU also appeals to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, as well as the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, to ensure that Slovakia adheres to basic non-discriminatory standards of human rights, the basic minimum of all civilised societies.