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European Court for Human Rights condemns Slovakia for forced sterilization of Romani woman

Strasbourg, France / Bratislava, Slovakia, 8.11.2011 18:14, (ROMEA)

The Košice-based Counseling Center for Civil and Human Rights has issued a statement welcoming today's European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in the case of V.C. vs. Slovakia. The plaintiff, a Romani woman who was forcibly sterilized at a hospital in Prešov, has been awarded compensation.

"We welcome the Court's judgment because it has confirmed what we have claimed since we were founded more than 10 years ago, that Romani women have been forcibly sterilized in hospitals without their informed consent. The plaintiff is just one of the Romani women who have decided not to accept this serious violation of their rights and found the courage to take a stand," says Vanda Durbáková, one of the plaintiff's legal representatives.

"This case is a significant breakthrough in the efforts which should lead to the practice of the forced sterilization of Romani women in Slovakia being dealt with. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Counseling Center hereby calls on the Slovak Government to finally stop denying that forced sterilizations have occurred in Slovakia, to apologize to all of the victims of this illegal practice, and to compensate them," said Barbora Bukovská, another legal representative of the plaintiff.

"I believe in justice, which is why I filed this case with the Court. I have enormous satisfaction in seeing that after so many years, the Court has recognized that my rights were violated," said the plaintiff. The ECtHR recognized Ms. V.C.'s request for anonymity, which means that neither her identity nor her name can be published.

The plaintiff, a Romani woman, was forcibly sterilized at a hospital in Prešov on 23 August 2000 during the birth of her second child. As is evident from medical records, while in labor the plaintiff was in pain, with contractions every three minutes. Shortly before she was delivered by Caesarian section, medical personnel asked her to sign a request to be sterilized. The plaintiff was told that if she did not sign the "request", either she or her child might die during her next pregnancy. Despite not understanding what "sterilization" meant, the plaintiff signed the "request" because she was very afraid of dying during a future pregnancy.

Since 2004, the plaintiff has been seeking an apology and compensation through courts in Slovakia, including the Slovak Supreme Court, but all of her lawsuits have been rejected. In 2007 she turned to the ECtHR, where she complained that her rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. Today's judgment, in which the Court found in favor of the plaintiff, is just the first of several cases brought by forcibly sterilized Romani women. The Court found violations of the right to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to the protection of family and private life. The Court rejected the Slovak Government's claim that the sterilization had to be performed for "medical reasons", because sterilization is not a life-saving operation. The informed consent of the plaintiff to the surgery was essential for its performance. According to the Court, the approach taken by the staff of the hospital in Prešov contravened the principles of respecting human dignity because the plaintiff was not afforded the opportunity to freely decide.

"The way in which the hospital staff acted was paternalistic, since, in practice, the applicant was not offered any option but to agree to the procedure which the doctors considered appropriate in view of her situation," the Court states in its judgment, "...the sterilisation procedure grossly interfered with the applicant’s physical integrity as she was thereby deprived of her reproductive function.... the medical staff... acted with gross disregard to her right to autonomy and choice as a patient. For the Court the treatment to which she was subjected as described above attained the threshold of severity required to bring it within the scope of Article 3 [the right to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment]. "

In addition to the Court finding violations of Articles 3 and 8 of the Convention, it awarded compensation to the plaintiff in the amount of EUR 31 000, as well as the right to compensation for her costs.

Gwendolyn Albert, tisková zpráva, jb, press release of the Counseling Center for Civil and Human Rights, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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