Slovak Investigation Covers Up Human Rights Abuses

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At the conclusion of a criminal investigation tainted by strong-arm tactics, the Slovak Deputy Prime Minister of Human Rights and Minorities Pál Csáky rejected the findings of a human rights report that documented 110 cases of Romani women who were forcibly and coercively sterilized in public hospitals in eastern Slovakia.

"The continued harassment and intimidation of victims, witnesses and human rights defenders shatters any notion of credibility to the Slovak government's investigation into the forced and coerced sterilization of Romani women," said Christina Zampas, the Center for Reproductive Rights' Legal Adviser for Europe and an author of the report Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia. "The only way the government can begin to remedy the human rights abuses of Romani women is to reopen the investigation and to conduct it in accordance with international legal standards."

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradna pre obcianske a ludské práva, the co-authors of the report that uncovered the abuses of Romani women, urge the Slovak government to continue its inquiry into the human rights violations. The victims' legal counsel will formally appeal the conclusions of the criminal investigation. The investigators violated Slovak law as well as international law enforcement and human rights standards throughout the criminal investigation.

  • Romani women were severely threatened with one to three years of imprisonment if their cases failed to prove forced sterilization.
  • Some women were given no written notice of interrogations: police simply entered some settlements and told women they had to go the police station immediately for interrogation.
  • Investigators used information extracted from these interrogations to further threaten some women. Women who were pregnant before the age of 15 were told that their partners would be prosecuted for statutory rape.

This intimidating atmosphere and unlawful treatment prevented other women from coming forward to report their cases to authorities.

Although the criminal investigation identified Romani women who were sterilized without their informed consent, they failed to investigate this central issue. Romani women testified that they signed consent forms after the operation or unknowingly signed consent forms-often in the delivery room and usually while experiencing severe pain or under anesthesia. However, investigators focused solely on determining whether sterilization victims signed consent forms and whether there was a medical indication for sterilization. They failed to examine the circumstances under which women signed consent forms, ignoring legal standards that do not consider a signature as evidence of full and informed consent. Additionally, they have disregarded universally accepted medical standards that say sterilization is never an emergency procedure that would prevent doctors from obtaining the full and informed consent of patients.

"The Slovak investigators missed the point," said Barbora Bukovská, Executive Director of Poradna and an author of Body and Soul. "The issue is whether these women gave their informed consent to sterilization. Just because doctors can point to a woman's signature doesn't mean she wasn't coerced or forced into providing it."

There were also concerns about bias of the supervising prosecutor. The supervising prosecutor told representatives of the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradna in May of this year that his wife was sterilized without her full and informed consent and that he does not find this problematic nor does he feel that it violates the law. The Ministry of the Interior, which oversaw the investigation, has ignored a complaint filed by the victims' legal counsel on the impartiality of the supervising prosecutor.

In addition, Slovak government officials have accused the authors of the Body and Soul of undermining their investigation by refusing to disclose the names and identities of the victims documented in the report. The authors have declined to release this information because of their legal obligation to preserve the strict confidentiality of their sources. Numerous international legal standards, including Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, support the authors right to keep their sources confidential.

Body and Soul 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.

Roma in Slovakia are considered one of the most vulnerable minorities in all of Europe:

  • Romani men and women live, respectively, an average of 13 to 17 years less than the majority white population.
  • From 1995 to 1997, low birth weights were more than twice as common among Romani women as non-Romani women, and the Romani infant mortality rate was double that of non-Roma.
  • Surveys of the Slovak population in 1995 and 1999 found that two-thirds of respondents believed that Roma should live apart from the majority white population.

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.