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Justice Ministry axes support for human rights projects

The government is trying to eliminate democracy, opposition MPs say.

Compiled By Spectator staff

February 22, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

Without any prior warning, the Justice Ministry has abruptly cancelled a scheme supporting human rights initiatives for this year and announced its plan to spend €769,500 on supporting victims of sexual violence instead.

The ministry hasn’t explained its decision. The organisations that were close to obtaining finances from the ministry for this year’s projects were told about the decision a day before presenting their projects to the commission.

The strongest ruling party, Smer, hinted as to why the scheme was axed a few days later.

“In the past years, several LGBT+ and progressive non-governmental organisations have received money from the scheme,” Smer posted on Facebook.

Smer has long been in conflict with NGOs. When the party came to power last October, PM and Smer party leader Robert Fico announced his intention of labeling NGOs that receive funds from abroad as “foreign agents”. Later, it wanted to cut their funding by changing the system of 2-percent tax assignation (a citizen can donate 2 percent of the tax to an organisation.)

But the ministry’s decision regarding the grant scheme may also be linked to the new Penal Code.

The Justice Ministry, which pushed through its controversial amendment to the Penal Code without any expert discussion in the parliament on February 8, is headed by lawyer Boris Susko of the Smer party. Among other things, the disputed amendment shortens the statute of limitations for violent crimes such as rape. The coalition has defended its move up until now, but it’s shifting away from this narrative - at least formally - following a shower of criticism from experts, the president and the opposition. On Thursday, the government passed an amendment that would preserve the current statute of limitations of 20 years in the case of violent crimes and sent it to parliament for approval.

However, when it comes to organisations defending human rights in Slovakia, the coalition seems to be ignoring their calls for keeping the scheme intact.

“The government is clearly telling us that it has no interest in human rights,” said Post Bellum’ Sandra Polovková.

Organisations point out that the ministry’s decision will also affect school projects and other projects that should support, for example, the disabled.

Launched 14 years ago, the scheme is the only state-funded human rights programme in the country. Post Bellum and 80 other civic organisations have launched a petition.

The opposition parties Slovensko and SaS criticised the ministry for its decision.

“It's the direct intervention of organisations that are important for us to have democracy here, the rule of law, to respect human rights,” said SaS MP and former justice minister, Mária Kolíková.

Her colleague Vladimíra Marcinková pointed out that the coalition that is trying to eliminate its critics and civic society is close to becoming an autocracy.

The Culture Ministry also cancelled a grant scheme back in December. Instead of the €300,000 allocated to support media education and the fight against disinformation, the ministry transferred the sum to the Slovak Philharmonic for the repair of its old roof.


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