HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE
Simunek et al. v. Czech Republic
Communication No 516/1992
19 July 1995
Submitted by: Mrs. Alina Simunek, Mrs. Dagmar Hastings, Tuzilova and Mr. Josef Prochazka
Alleged victims: The authors and Jaroslav Simunek (Mrs. Alina Simunek's husband)
State party: The Czech Republic
Date of communication: 17 September 1991 (initial submissions)
The Human Rights Committee, established under article 28 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Meeting on 19 July 1995,
Having concluded its consideration of communication No. 516/1992 submitted to the Human Rights Committee by Mrs. Alina Simunek, Mrs. Dagmar Hastings Tuzilova and Mr. Josef Prochazka under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Having taken into account all written information made available to it by the authors of the communication and the State party,
Views under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol
1. The authors of the communications are Alina Simunek, who acts on her behalf and on behalf of her husband, Jaroslav Simunek, Dagmar Tuzilova Hastings and Josef Prochazka, residents of Canada and Switzerland, respectively. They claim to be victims of violations of their human rights by the Czech Republic. The Covenant was ratified by Czechoslovakia on 23 December 1975. The Optional Protocol entered into force for the Czech Republic on 12 June 1991. 1
The facts as submitted by the authors:
2.1 Alina Simunek, a Polish citizen born in 1960, and Jaroslav Simunek, a Czech citizen, currently reside in Ontario, Canada. They state that they were forced to leave Czechoslovakia in 1987, under pressure of the security forces of the communist regime. Under the legislation then applicable, their property was confiscated. After the fall of the Communist government on 17 November 1989, the Czech authorities published statements which indicated that expatriate Czech citizens would be rehabilitated in as far as any criminal conviction was concerned, and their property restituted.
2.2 In July 1990, Mr. and Mrs. Simunek returned to Czechoslovakia in order to submit a request for the return of their property, which had been confiscated by the District National Committee, a State organ, in Jablonece. It transpired, however, that between September 1989 and February 1990, all their property and personal effects had been evaluated and auctioned off by the District National Committee. Unsaleable items had been destroyed. On 13 February 1990, the authors' real estate was transferred to the Jablonece Sklarny factory, for which Jaroslav Simunek had been working for twenty years.
2.3 Upon lodging a complaint with the District National Committee, an arbitration hearing was convened between the authors, their witnesses and representatives of the factory on 18 July 1990. The latter's representatives denied that the transfer of the authors' property had been illegal. The authors thereupon petitioned the office of the district public prosecutor, requesting an investigation of the matter on the ground that the transfer of their property had been illegal, since it had been transferred in the absence of a court order or court proceedings to which the authors had been parties. On 17 September 1990, the Criminal Investigations Department of the National Police in Jablonece launched an investigation; its report of 29 November 1990 concluded that no violation of (then) applicable regulations could be ascertained, and that the authors' claim should be dismissed, as the Government had not yet amended the former legislation.
2.4 On 2 February 1991, the Czech and Slovak Federal Government adopted Act 87/1991, which entered into force on 1 April 1991. It endorses the rehabilitation of Czech citizens who had left the country under communist pressure and lays down the conditions for restitution or compensation for loss of property. Under Section 3, subsection 1, of the Act, those who had their property turned into State ownership in the cases specified in Section 6 of the Act are entitled to restitution, but only if they are citizens of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and are permanent residents in its territory.
2.5 Under Section 5, subsection 1, of the Act, anyone currently in (illegal) possession of the property shall restitute it to the rightful owner, upon a written request from the latter, who must also prove his or her claim to the property and demonstrate how the property was turned over to the State. Under subsection 2, the request for restitution must be submitted to the individual in possession of the property, within six months of the entry into force of the Act. If the person in possession of the property does not comply with the request, the rightful owner may submit his or her claim to the competent tribunal, within one year of the date of entry into force of the Act (subsection 4).
2.6 With regard to the issue of exhaustion of domestic remedies, it appears that the authors have not submitted their claims for restitution to the local courts, as required under Section 5, subsection 4, of the Act. It transpires from their submissions that they consider this remedy ineffective, as they do not fulfil the requirements under Section 3, subsection 1. Alina Simunek adds that they have lodged complaints with the competent municipal, provincial and federal authorities, to no avail. She also notes that the latest correspondence is a letter from the Czech President's Office, dated 16 June 1992, in which the author is informed that the President's Office cannot intervene in the matter, and that only the tribunals are competent to pronounce on the matter. The author's subsequent letters remained without reply.
2.7 Dagmar Hastings Tuzilova, an American citizen by marriage and currently residing in Switzerland, emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1968. On 21 May 1974, she was sentenced in absentia to a prison term as well as forfeiture of her property, on the ground that she had 'illegally emigrated' from Czechoslovakia. Her property, 5/18 shares of her family's estate in Pilsen, is currently held by the Administration of Houses in this city.
2.8 By decision of 4 October 1990 of the District Court of Pilsen, Dagmar Hastings Tuzilova was rehabilitated; the District Court's earlier decision, as well as all other decisions in the case, were declared null and void. All her subsequent applications to the competent authorities and a request to the Administration of Houses in Pilsen to negotiate the restitution of her property have, however, not produced any tangible result.
2.9 Apparently, the Administration of Housing agreed, in the spring of 1992, to transfer the 5/18 of the house back to her, on the condition that the State notary in Pilsen agreed to register this transaction. The State notary, however, has so far refused to register the transfer. At the beginning of 1993, the District Court of Pilsen confirmed the notary's action (Case No. 11 Co. 409/92). The author states that she was informed that she could appeal this decision, via the District Court in Pilsen, to the Supreme Court. She apparently filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on 7 May 1993, but no decision had been taken as of 20 January 1994.
2.10 On 16 March 1992, Dagmar Hastings Tuzilova filed a civil action against the Administration of Houses, pursuant to Section 5, subsection 4, of the Act. On 25 May 1992, the District Court of Pilsen dismissed the claim, on the ground that, as an American citizen residing in Switzerland, she was not entitled to restitution within the meaning of Section 3, subsection 1, of Act 87/1991. The author contends that any appeal against this decision would be ineffective.
2.11 Josef Prochazka is a Czech citizen born in 1920, who currently resides in Switzerland. He fled from Czechoslovakia in August 1968, together with his wife and two sons. In the former Czechoslovakia, he owned a house with two three-bedroom apartments and a garden, as well as another plot of land. Towards the beginning of 1969, he donated his property, in the appropriate form and with the consent of the authorities, to his father. By judgments of a district court of July and September 1971, he, his wife and sons were sentenced to prison terms on the grounds of "illegal emigration" from Czechoslovakia. In 1973, Josef Prochazka's father died; in his will, which was recognized as valid by the authorities, the author's sons inherited the house and other real estate.
2.12 In 1974, the court decreed the confiscation of the author's property, because of his and his family's "illegal emigration", in spite of the fact that the authorities had, several years earlier, recognized as lawful the transfer of the property to the author's father. In December 1974, the house and garden were sold, according to the author at a ridiculously low price, to a high party official.
2.13 By decisions of 26 September 1990 and of 31 January 1991, respectively, the District Court of Ustí rehabilitated the author and his sons as far as their criminal conviction was concerned, with retroactive effect. This means that the court decisions of 1971 and 1974 (see paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12 above) were invalidated.
3.1 Alina and Jaroslav Simunek contend that the requirements of Act 87/1991 constitute unlawful discrimination, as it only applies to "pure Czechs living in the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic". Those who fled the country or were forced into exile by the ex-communist regime must take a permanent residence in Czechoslovakia to be eligible for restitution or compensation. Alina Simunek, who lived and worked in Czechoslovakia for eight years, would not be eligible at all for restitution, on account of her Polish citizenship. The authors claim that the Act in reality legalizes former Communist practices, as more than 80% of the confiscated property belongs to persons who do not meet these strict requirements.
3.2 Alina Simunek alleges that the conditions for restitution imposed by the Act constitute discrimination on the basis of political opinion and religion, without however substantiating her claim.
3.3 Dagmar Hastings Tuzilova claims that the requirements of Act 87/1991 constitute unlawful discrimination, contrary to article 26 of the Covenant.
3.4 Josef Prochazka also claims that he is a victim of the discriminatory provisions of Act 87/1991; he adds that as the court decided, with retroactive effect, that the confiscation of his property was null and void, the law should not be applied to him at all, as he never lost his legal title to his property, and because there can be no question of 'restitution' of the property.
The Committee's admissibility decision:
4.1 On 26 October 1993, the communications were transmitted to the State party under rule 91 of the rules of procedure of the Human Rights Committee. No submission under rule 91 was received from the State party, despite a reminder addressed to it. The authors were equally requested to provide a number of clarifications; they complied with this request by letters of 25 November 1993 (Alina and Jaroslav Simunek), 3 December 1993 and 11/12 April 1994 (Josef Prochazka) and 19 January 1994 (Dagmar Hastings Tuzilova).
4.2 At its 51st session the Committee considered the admissibility of the communication. It noted with regret the State party's failure to provide information and observations on the question of the admissibility of the communication. Notwithstanding this absence of cooperation on the part of the State party, the Committee proceeded to ascertain whether the conditions of admissibility under the Optional Protocol had been met.
4.3 The Committee noted that the confiscation and sale of the property in question by the authorities of Czechoslovakia occurred in the 1970's and 1980's. Irrespective of the fact that all these events took place prior to the date of entry into force of the Optional Protocol for the Czech Republic, the Committee recalled that the right to property, as such, is not protected by the Covenant.
4.4 The Committee observed, however, that the authors complained about the discriminatory effect of the provisions of Act 87/1991, in the sense that they apply only to persons unlawfully stripped of their property under the former regime who now have a permanent residence in the Czech Republic and are Czech citizens. Thus the question before the Committee was whether the law could be deemed discriminatory within the meaning of article 26 of the Covenant.
4.5 The Committee observed that the State party's obligations under the Covenant applied as of the date of its entry into force. A different issue arose as to when the Committee's competence to consider complaints about alleged violations of the Covenant under the Optional Protocol was engaged. In its jurisprudence under the Optional Protocol, the Committee has consistently held that it cannot consider alleged violations of the Covenant which occurred before the entry into force of the Optional Protocol for the State party, unless the violations complained of continue after the entry into force of the Optional Protocol. A continuing violation is to be interpreted as an affirmation, after the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, by act or by clear implication, of the previous violations of the State party.
4.6 While the authors in the present case have had their criminal convictions quashed by Czech tribunals, they still contend that Act No. 87/1991 discriminates against them, in that in the case of two of the applicants (Mr. and Mrs. Simunek; Mrs. Hastings Tuzilova), they cannot benefit from the law because they are not Czech citizens or have no residence in the Czech Republic, and that in the case of the third applicant (Mr. Prochazka), the law should not have been deemed applicable to his situation at all.
5. On 22 July 1994 the Human Rights Committee therefore decided that the communication was admissible in as much as it may raise issues under articles 14, paragraph 6, and 26 of the Covenant.
The State party's explanations
6.1 In its submission, dated 12 December 1994, the State party argues that the legislation in question is not discriminatory. It draws the Committee's attention to the fact that according to article 11, Section 2, of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, "... the law may specify that some things may be owned exclusively by citizens or by legal persons having their seat in the Czech Republic."
6.2 The State party affirms its commitment to the settlement of property claims by restitution of properties to persons injured during the period of 25 February 1948 to 1 January 1990. Although certain criteria had to be stipulated for the restitution of confiscated properties, the purpose of such requirements is not to violate human rights. The Czech Republic cannot and will not dictate to anybody where to live. Restitution of confiscated property is a very complicated and de facto unprecedented measure and therefore it cannot be expected to rectify all damages and to satisfy all the people injured by the Communist regime.
7.1 With respect to the communication submitted by Mrs. Alina Simunek the State party argues that the documents submitted by the author do not define the claims clearly enough. It appears from her submission that Mr. Jaroslav Simunek was probably kept in prison by the State Security Police. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether he was kept in custody or actually sentenced to imprisonment. As concerns the confiscation of the property of Mr. and Mrs. Simunek, the communication does not define the measure on the basis of which they were deprived of their ownership rights. In case Mr. Simunek was sentenced for a criminal offence mentioned in Section 2 or Section 4 of Law No. 119/1990 on judicial rehabilitation as amended by subsequent provisions, he could claim rehabilitation under the law or in review proceedings and, within three years of the entry into force of the court decision on his rehabilitation, apply to the Compensations Department of the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic for compensation pursuant to Section 23 of the above-mentioned Law. In case Mr. Simunek was unlawfully deprived of his personal liberty and his property was confiscated between 25 February 1948 and 1 January 1990 in connection with a criminal offence mentioned in Section 2 and Section 4 of the Law but the criminal proceedings against him were not initiated, he could apply for compensation on the basis of a court decision issued at the request of the injured party and substantiate his application with the documents which he had at his disposal or which his legal adviser obtained from the archives of the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic.
7.2 As concerns the restitution of the forfeited or confiscated property, the State party concludes from the submission that Alina and Jaroslav Simunek do not comply with the requirements of Section 3 (1) of Law No. 87/1991 on extrajudicial rehabilitations, namely the requirements of citizenship of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and permanent residence on its territory. Consequently, they cannot be recognized as persons entitled to restitution. Remedy would be possible only in case at least one of them complied with both requirements and applied for restitution within 6 months from the entry into force of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations (i.e. by the end of September 1991).
8.1 With respect to the communication of Mrs. Dagmar Hastings-Tuzilova the State party clarifies that Mrs. Dagmar Hastings-Tuzilova claims the restitution of the 5/18 shares of house No. 2214 at Cechova 61, Pilsen, forfeited on the basis of the ruling of the Pilsen District Court of 21 May 1974, by which she was sentenced for the criminal offence of illegal emigration according to Section 109 (2) of the Criminal Law. She was rehabilitated pursuant to Law No. 119/1990 on judicial rehabilitations by the ruling of the Pilsen District Court of 4 October 1990. She applied for restitution of her share of the estate in Pilsen pursuant to Law No. 87/1991 on extrajudicial rehabilitations. Mrs. Hastings-Tuzilova concluded an agreement on the restitution with the Administration of Houses in Pilsen, which the State Notary in Pilsen refused to register due to the fact that she did not comply with the conditions stipulated by Section 3 (1) of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations.
8.2 Mrs. Hastings-Tuzilova, although rehabilitated pursuant to the law on judicial rehabilitations, cannot be considered entitled person as defined by Section 19 of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations, because on the date of application she did not comply with the requirements of Section 3 (1) of the above-mentioned law, i.e. requirements of citizenship of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and permanent residence on its territory. Moreover, she failed to fulfil the requirements within the preclusive period stipulated by Section 5 (2) of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations. Mrs. Hastings-Tuzilova acquired Czech citizenship and registered her permanent residence on 30 September 1992.
8.3 Section 20 (3) of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations says that the statutory period for the submission of applications for restitution based on the sentence of forfeiture which was declared null and void after the entry into force of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations starts on the day of the entry into force of the annulment. Nevertheless, this provision cannot be applied in the case of Mrs. Hastings-Tuzilova due to the fact that her judicial rehabilitation entered into force on 9 October 1990, i.e. before the entry into force of Law No. 87/1991 on extrajudicial rehabilitations (1 April 1991).
9.1 With respect to the communication of Mr. Josef Prochazka the State party argues that Section 3 of Law No. 87/1991 on extrajudicial rehabilitations defines the entitled person, i.e. the person who could within the statutory period claim the restitution of property or compensation. Applicants who did not acquire citizenship of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and register their permanent residence on its territory before the end of the statutory period determined for the submission of applications (i.e. before 1 October 1991 for applicants for restitution and before 1 April 1992 for applicants for compensation) are not considered entitled persons.
9.2 From Mr. Prochazka's submission the State party concludes that the property devolved to the State on the basis of the ruling of the Usti nad Labem District Court of 1974 which declared the 1969 deed of gift null and void for the reason that the donor left the territory of the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Such cases are provided for in Section 6 (1) (f) of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations which defined the entitled person as the transferee according to the invalidated deed, i.e. in this case the entitled person is the unnamed father of Mr. Prochazka. Consequently, the persons to whom the sentence of forfeiture invalidated under Law No. 119/1990 on judicial rehabilitations applies, cannot be regarded as entitled persons, as Mr. Prochazka incorrectly assumes.
9.3 With regard to the fact that the above-mentioned father of Mr. Prochazka died before the entry into force of the law on extrajudicial rehabilitations, the entitled persons are the testamentary heirs - Mr. Prochazka's sons Josef Prochazka and Jiri Prochazka, provided that they were citizens of the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and had permanent residence on its territory. The fact that they were rehabilitated pursuant to the law on judicial rehabilitations has no significance in this case. From Mr. Prochazka's submission the State party concludes that Josef Prochazka and Jiri Prochazka are Czech citizens but live in Switzerland and did not apply for permanent residence in the Czech Republic.
Authors' comments on the State party's submissions
10.1 By letter of 21 February 1995, Alina and Jaroslav Simunek contend that the State party has not addressed the issues raised by their communication, namely the compatibility of Act No. 87/1991 with the non-discrimination requirement of article 26 of the Covenant. They claim that Czech hard-liners are still in office and that they have no interest in the restitution of confiscated properties, because they themselves benefited from the confiscations. A proper restitution law should be based on democratic principles and not allow restrictions that would exclude former Czech citizens and Czech citizens living abroad.
10.2 By letter of 12 June 1995 Mr. Prochazka informed the Committee that by order of the District Court of 12 April 1995 the plot of land he inherited from his father will be returned to him (paragraph 2.11).
10.3 Mrs. Hastings Tuzilova had not submitted comments by the time of the consideration of the merits of this communication by the Committee.
Examination of the merits
11.1 The Human Rights Committee has considered the present communication in the light of all the information made available to it by the parties, as provided in article 5, paragraph 1, of the Optional Protocol.
11.2 This communication was declared admissible only insofar as it may raise issues under article 14, paragraph 6, and article 26 of the Covenant. With regard to article 14, paragraph 6, the Committee finds that the authors have not sufficiently substantiated their allegations and that the information before it does not sustain a finding of a violation.
11.3 As the Committee has already explained in its decision on admissibility (para. 4.3 above), the right to property, as such, is not protected under the Covenant. However, a confiscation of private property or the failure by a State party to pay compensation for such confiscation could still entail a breach of the Covenant if the relevant act or omission was based on discriminatory grounds in violation of article 26 of the Covenant.
11.4 The issue before the Committee is whether the application of Act 87/1991 to the authors entailed a violation of their rights to equality before the law and to the equal protection of the law. The authors claim that this Act, in effect, reaffirms the earlier discriminatory confiscations. The Committee observes that the confiscations themselves are not here at issue, but rather the denial of a remedy to the authors, whereas other claimants have recovered their properties or received compensation therefor.
11.5 In the instant cases, the authors have been affected by the exclusionary effect of the requirement in Act 87/1991 that claimants be Czech citizens and residents of the Czech Republic. The question before the Committee, therefore, is whether these preconditions to restitution or compensation are compatible with the non-discrimination requirement of article 26 of the Covenant. In this context the Committee reiterates its jurisprudence that not all differentiation in treatment can be deemed to be discriminatory under article 26 of the Covenant 2. A differentiation which is compatible with the provisions of the Covenant and is based on reasonable grounds does not amount to prohibited discrimination within the meaning of article 26.
11.6 In examining whether the conditions for restitution or compensation are compatible with the Covenant, the Committee must consider all relevant factors, including the authors' original entitlement to the property in question and the nature of the confiscations. The State party itself acknowledges that the confiscations were discriminatory, and this is the reason why specific legislation was enacted to provide for a form of restitution. The Committee observes that such legislation must not discriminate among the victims of the prior confiscations, since all victims are entitled to redress without arbitrary distinctions. Bearing in mind that the authors' original entitlement to their respective properties was not predicated either on citizenship or residence, the Committee finds that the conditions of citizenship and residence in Act 87/1991 are unreasonable. In this connection the Committee notes that the State party has not advanced any grounds which would justify these restrictions. Moreover, it has been submitted that the authors and many others in their situation left Czechoslovakia because of their political opinions and that their property was confiscated either because of their political opinions or because of their emigration from the country. These victims of political persecution sought residence and citizenship in other countries. Taking into account that the State party itself is responsible for the departure of the authors, it would be incompatible with the Covenant to require them permanently to return to the country as a prerequisite for the restitution of their property or for the payment of appropriate compensation.
11.7 The State party contends that there is no violation of the Covenant because the Czech and Slovak legislators had no discriminatory intent at the time of the adoption of Act 87/1991. The Committee is of the view, however, that the intent of the legislature is not alone dispositive in determining a breach of article 26 of the Covenant. A politically motivated differentiation is unlikely to be compatible with article 26. But an act which is not politically motivated may still contravene article 26 if its effects are discriminatory.
11.8 In the light of the above considerations, the Committee concludes that Act 87/1991 has had effects upon the authors that violate their rights under article 26 of the Covenant.
12.1 The Human Rights Committee, acting under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol, is of the view that the denial of restitution or compensation to the authors constitutes a violation of article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
12.2 In accordance with article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, the State party is under an obligation to provide the authors with an effective remedy, which may be compensation if the properties in question cannot be returned. To the extent that partial restitution of Mr. Prochazka's property appears to have been or may soon be effected (para. 10.2), the Committee welcomes this measure, which it deems to constitute partial compliance with these Views. The Committee further encourages the State party to review its relevant legislation to ensure that neither the law itself nor its application is discriminatory.
12.3 Bearing in mind that, by becoming a party to the Optional Protocol, the State party has recognized the competence of the Committee to determine whether there has been a violation of the Covenant or not and that, pursuant to article 2 of the Covenant, the State party has undertaken to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the Covenant and to provide an effective and enforceable remedy in case a violation has been established, the Committee wishes to receive from the State party, within ninety days, information about the measures taken to give effect to the Committee's Views.
1/ The Czech and Slovak Federal Republic ratified the Optional Protocol in March 1991 but, on 31 December 1992, the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic ceased to exist. On 22 February 1993, the Czech Republic notified its succession to the Covenant and the Optional Protocol.
2/ Zwaan de Vries v. The Netherlands, Communication No. 182/1984, Views adopted on 9 April 1987, para. 13.
[Adopted in English, French and Spanish, the English text being the original version. Subsequently to be issued also in Arabic, Chinese and Russian as part of the Committee's annual report to the General Assembly.]