After six months of preparations, the civic association Europe Roma CZ will officially launch a project entitled "Support for victims of hate crime" on 1 July. Association chair Ladislav Baláž said: "Even though we have been working in this field for two years, it is only recently that we succeeded in getting a grant to support the victims of racist attacks." The project is being financially supported by, among other donors, the British organization Network for Social Change. As part of the project, Europe Roma CZ is collaborating mainly with the Ostrava-based association Life Together (Vzájemné soužití), with Markus Pape, a longtime consultant and observer for the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), and with many other organizations. The project is mapping cases of racist attacks and discrimination. Currently the association is focusing primarily on the North Moravian region.
Legal and psychological aid to victims
During the past few years, coordinators of this project and the Prague-based attorney Pavel Uhl have represented the family of the victims of the arson attack committed in Vítkov on 18 April 2009. Trials of the perpetrators of that attack were held before the Regional Court in Ostrava and the High Court in Olomouc. In collaboration with the Ostrava homicide division of the North Moravian Regional Police, the project coordinators and Mr Uhl contributed to proving the assailants' intent to murder, which successfully led to their being given stricter sentences, and to achieving one of the largest-ever compensation awards for the victims of the attack. They also arranged for long-term psychological care for the victimized family shortly after the attack. Europe Roma CZ was also the first organization to focus on a case of racially motivated attempted murder committed by a 12-member crusade of neo-Nazis in November 2008 in the North Moravian town of Havíøov. During the course of half an hour, masked assailants committed several random attacks on Romani passers-by in two neighborhoods of the town. Europe Roma CZ provided legal aid to the victims, found them an attorney, and secured financial support for the legal representation of the main victim of the attacks from the ROMEA civic association.
After two years of wrangling in the courts, a first verdict was delivered in the Havíøov case. Some of the defendants received suspended sentences and some prison sentences without the possibility of parole. The victim also successfully won an award of compensation for his pain and suffering. The state prosecutor appealed the first verdict handed down by the Regional Court in Ostrava, seeking stricter sentencing and a change in the qualification of the crime from racially motivated grievous bodily harm to complicity in racially motivated attempted murder. Europe Roma CZ has now taken on the role of financially sponsoring the victim's attorney. Association chair Ladislav Baláž personally represented the victims of an arson attack committed against a family in the Bedøiška quarter of Ostrava in April 2010. Even though that attack did not actually result in extensive material damage or physical harm to the victims, it did the victimized family great psychological harm. Also in this case, strict prison sentences were eventually delivered.
Active resistance against neo-Nazis, monitoring and documentation of their activities
Europe Roma CZ participated in preparing the blockades of neo-Nazi marches this year in Brno, Krupka and Nový Bydžov, which association members also actively participated in. The association has collaborated long and closely with the civic association Life Together (Vzájemné soužití), the "We Don't Want Neo-Nazis in Ústí" initiative (V Ústí neonacisty nechceme), with the European Roma Rights Centre, with ROMEA, o.s., with several local Romani organizations, and with activists Kumar Vishwanathan, Ondøej Cakl and Jakub Polák. On the basis of the association's documentary activity, 14 nonprofit organizations and activists called on the Supreme State Prosecutor last year to complete investigations into the still-unsolved arson attacks committed in 2007-2009. One of those cases has already seen a reversal. The state prosecutor recently initiated criminal proceedings in the case of an arson attack committed against a Romani family in Opava at the end of June 2008. Police had shelved the case long ago.
Victims, speak up!
Victims of racist attacks or discrimination who are from North Moravia can contact the project director at (+420) 728 280 179 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In July the project team will travel through Romani localities to learn about cases, map them, and offer legal aid to the victims. Europe Roma CZ is also a long-term collaborator of the news server Romea.cz.
About those involved
Ladislav Baláž comes from the Karviná area, where he worked for decades as a miner. After the violent death of the Romani man Milan Lacko in 1998, Baláž organized a self-defense organization in order to calm the passions of the local Romani people and to show local neo-Nazis that Romani people would not passively stand by and watch as more attacks were committed by racists. After repeatedly receiving death threats against himself and his family, he emigrated with his family to Great Britain in August 1998. Not long after arriving in London, Baláž founded the Europe Roma initiative with support from British human rights defenders. The association, which concentrated on legal and social support for Roma asylum seekers from Central and Eastern Europe, collaborated with leading personalities in public life and with English MPs. In addition to other victories, he achieved recognition of Romani refugees' rights to remain in their new home. At the end of 2008, Baláž returned to the Czech Republic to support victims of racism in his home country.
Markus Pape is the author of an historical study of the concentration camp at Lety u Písku. Publication of that study led to an investigation of the crimes committed against the camp victims. He has long collaborated with the ERRC and the Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnìní romského holocaustu- VPORH) and contributed to preparing the D.H. lawsuit against the institutions responsible for discrimination against Romani children in the Czech education system. He has organized and produced several exhibitions on the Romani Holocaust which have been shown at the National Gallery in Prague and at the European Parliament in Brussels.
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