European Court of Human Rights Finds Slovakia violated Romani women’s rights in another involuntary sterilization case

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(PRESS RELEASE) Today the European Court of Human Rights re-affirmed its recognition of involuntary sterilization of Romani women as a major human rights violation in its ruling in I.G. and Others v. Slovakia.  In the significant decision, the court found that sterilization without prior full and informed consent violated the applicants’ right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment and their right to respect for private and family life.  

“All women have the fundamental right to exercise autonomy over their reproductive lives, said Johanna Westeson, Regional Director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These women were treated like second-class citizens, humiliated, abused and left with physical and emotional scars – unable to ever bear children again.”

 “It is time for the Slovak government to finally take these gross human rights violations seriously and to ensure that they are effectively and promptly investigated, and that victims be provided with adequate redress.” 

The applicants, I.G., M.K. and R.H., are three women of Romani ethnic origin. They were involuntarily sterilized in a public hospital during childbirth via Caesarian section in 2000, 1999 and 2002 respectively. While in the hospital they were asked to sign a document, which they learned only a few years later during an investigation into their cases, was in fact a request form for sterilization. In addition to not providing informed consent, both I.G. and M.K. were minors at the time, and the doctors sterilized them without the consent of their legal guardians as required by Slovak law. These unlawful and abusive acts permanently deprived the women of their reproductive self-determination, resulting to their physical and psychological suffering. 

The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of the fundamental rights of Ms. I.G. and Ms. M.K. Reiterating that their sterilization was not a life-saving intervention, and that neither the applicants nor their legal guardians gave prior informed consent to the procedure, the court held that the sterilization did not respect the applicants’ human freedom and dignity. It therefore amounted to degrading treatment. The court also found that the Slovak authorities failed to conduct the investigation in an expeditious manner, and that the State did not put in place effective legal safeguards to protect the reproductive health of, in particular, Romani women. With regard to the application of Ms. R.H. the court decided to strike it down due to her death in the course of the proceedings. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights congratulates the Center for Civil and Human Rights (Poradňa), the Slovak human rights organization that represents the applicants, and Ms. I.G. and Ms. M.K. for this major victory. Over the course of one year the European Court of Human Rights has issued three decisions finding Slovakia in violation of reproductive rights of Romani women due to their forced and coerced sterilization (V.C. v. Slovakia (2011) and N.B. v. Slovakia (2012)). In 2003, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradňa co-authored a fact-finding report Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia, documenting numerous cases of forced and coerced sterilization of Romani women in Slovakia, which was among the first initiatives to shed light on this widespread and discriminatory practice and serious human rights violation.