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Opinion Editorial by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks

Justice has to be done for all the erased

Twenty two years have passed since the erasure of more than 25 000 persons from the Slovene Register of Permanent Residents, a decision which caused serious violations of human rights and grave suffering of the individuals concerned and their families. As a result, the erased became, in effect, irregular migrants – without documents, healthcare and social security, denied the right to work, in constant fear of prosecution and subject to exploitation. These days the Slovene Parliament is discussing a compensation law which aims to remedy these human rights violations. It is a historic chance for Slovenia to come to terms with its past and put an end to the suffering of thousands of people.

In 2012, Slovenia was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights and was ordered not only to compensate six plaintiffs but also set up a specific compensation scheme for the erased by July this year. The execution of this judgment is now expected within the next three months.     

This deadline confers additional importance to the current parliamentary discussion, which should not only focus on compensation, but should broaden the scope of the law to provide full remedy for the human rights violations which occurred. I see in particular three main priorities that need to be met.  

First, reparations should be ensured for all the erased and all who wish to do so should be allowed to reintegrate into Slovene society. To date, only less than half of the erased were able to settle their residence status, despite the fact that the Slovene Constitutional Court had found that the erasure was unlawful because it did not take into account the individual circumstances of the erased. As all the erased suffered injustice, dividing them on residence or other grounds, as envisaged by the draft law on compensations, would be tantamount to harming them once again.

Second, special attention should be paid to the human rights of the most vulnerable, in particular children of the erased. They should also be entitled to remedies and specific rights. Furthermore, a possible re-registration should not lead to the splitting of the erased persons’ families who live abroad. The residence permit should be extended to all family members so as to allow their unhindered return to and reintegration in Slovenia.

Third, Slovenia should provide a remedy for those who became stateless upon the demise of Yugoslavia and whose situation further deteriorated due to the erasure. This has disproportionately affected persons belonging to particularly vulnerable social groups, such as children, Roma and the elderly. Worse, this plight has so far received little attention in Slovenia.

To date, the Slovene authorities have been taking important steps towards the execution of the European Court`s judgment and remedying for the erasure. However, the erased have not been properly included in the debate concerning their own fate. An open, constructive dialogue with civil society, the erased and their representatives, that would include their participation in the on-going legislative process, would ensure a better, durable outcome.

Now a final, joint attempt by the Slovene government, Parliament and civil society is to be made to reconsider all open questions and to find fair and lasting solutions for all victims of the erasure. The adoption of a new law encompassing such improvements is not only a crucial step to fully remedy past wrongs, but also a necessary act to acknowledge the State’s responsibility for the erasure and to prevent a recurrence of similar human rights violations.

 

Nils Muižnieks

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights