On October 29, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe concluded that "it can reasonably be assumed" that Romani women in Slovakia were sterilized without their informed consent as documented in a human rights report released earlier this year by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradna pre obcianske a ludské práva, a Slovak human rights group. The Commissioner released its Recommendation one day after the Slovak government issued its own report denying that illegal sterilizations occured. The Commissioner found that the Slovak government's investigation "is unlikely ... [to] shed full light on the sterilization practices" because of the intimidating atmosphere created by law enforcement officials who, throughout the investigation, have threatened and intimidated victims, witnesses and human rights defenders.
"The Commissioner for Human Rights' conclusions call into question the Slovak government's denial of the sterilization of Romani women without their informed consent," said Christina Zampas, the Center for Reproductive Rights' Legal Adviser for Europe. "The Slovak government should take full responsibility for these human rights abuses."
The Slovak government should accept its "objective responsibility for failing to ensure that no sterilizations were performed without free and informed consent, as required by international human rights instruments" and "redress should include compensation and an apology" for the victims, according to the Commissioner for Human Rights. The Commissioner also called for rapid adoption of a new law requiring free and informed consent for medical procedures, including sterilizations, in line with international legal standards.
The Commissioner's report also calls on the Slovak government to guarantee the basic right of patients to access their medical files, which the Commissioner notes has made it difficult for many Romani women victims to bring cases to court. "The Slovak government must cease all efforts to prevent the victims of forced or coerced sterilization from seeking their right to legal redress and enact laws that will put an end to this horrible practice," said Barbora Bukovská, Executive Director of Poradna.
Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia documented 110 cases of Romani women who were forcibly and coercively sterilized in public hospitals in eastern Slovakia. It also exposed other violations of Romani women's rights such as verbal and physical abuse, segregation in maternity wards and other racially discriminatory standards of care, misinformation in health matters, and denial of patient access to medical records. The report is based on interviews with Romani women, non-Romani women, obstetricians, gynecologists, hospital administrators and government officials that took place in eastern Slovakia in 2002.
Contact Numbers for:
Christina Zampas: +46-707-452-803
Barbora Bukovská: +44-20-7843-0480
The Center for Reproductive Rights is a nonprofit, legal advocacy organization that promotes and defends the reproductive rights of women worldwide. Founded in 1992 (as the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy), the Center has used international human rights law to advance the reproductive freedom of women and has strengthened reproductive health laws and policies across the globe by working with more than 50 organizations in 44 nations including countries in Africa, Asia, East Central Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Centre for Civil and Human Rights (Poradna pre obcianske a ludské práva) is a nonprofit organization engaged in advocacy and strategic litigation on discrimination against Roma in the Slovak Republic. Contact info: Kovácska 28, 040 75 Košice. Tel./Fax: +421-55-670 9518, +421-908-695 531.