Slovak NGO will appeal after court rules it is not discriminatory for hospitals to segregate Romani women away from non-Romani women
The Slovak news agency TASR reports that the Counseling Center for Civil and Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, disagrees with a recent court decision which found that the placement of Romani women into so-called "Romani rooms" in the maternity ward of a hospital in Prešov is not discriminatory. In a judgment dated 29 July, that was the decision made by the Bratislava III District Court.
The NGO has been documenting the existence of "Romani rooms" in the maternity ward since 2002. "For a long time, many Romani women who gave birth in that hospital have repeatedly warned us of this practice," the NGO said in a statement about the lawsuit, which it brought under the Antidiscrimination Act.
"During the proceedings we pointed out that in both of the departments of obstetrics and gynecology at the J. A. Reiman Teaching Hospital and Polyclinic in Prešov, in what are called the old and the new maternity wards, the practice was introduced long ago of placing Romani women into separate rooms in both the old and new maternity wards," the NGO said in a press release. "We argued that this practice constitutes their segregation on the basis of their ethnicity."
"Segregation is a serious form of discrimination and contravenes both the domestic Antidiscrimination Act and international antidiscrimination legislation," the NGO said, adding that attempts had been made to get the hospital being sued to eliminate the practice. The Bratislav III District Court, however, has completely rejected the lawsuit; according to the court, the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Romani women had been placed in separate rooms because of their nationality.
The court further ruled that placing Romani women in a separate room does not in and of itself represent a segregation that is necessarily unlawful and that such placements could be justified by a patient's state of health, by how full the ward is, and by whether an individual herself prefers to stay in a room with other Romani women. The hospital argued that many Romani women want to be placed in a room with other Romani women and the hospital in such cases, according to the court, is just respecting the wishes of the women.
NGO: This judgment is unlawful
According to the NGO, this first-instance judgment is itself unlawful and will be appealed. "This judgment is yet another confirmation of the fact that for the courts in Slovakia, making decisions on cases of racial discrimination remains a challenge. From my own practice I know that court decisions are frequently tainted by the racial prejudices that are pervasive in our society," attorney Vanda Durbáková, who is representing the NGO in this case, said in the press release.
"The court in this case also gave greater weight to the testimonies of the medical personnel than to the testimonies of the Romani women themselves who have confirmed that this practice takes place. The fact that this dispute took almost nine years to be decided by the District court is certainly also worth scrutiny, as that definitely cannot be considered adequate," the attorney said.
"This court judgment is not just. In the maternity ward in Prešov there are 'Romani rooms' to this day, nothing has changed in all these years. We continued to be separated from the white women. We want that to change so they will stop humiliating us in that hospital and treat us with respect," a Romani activist collaborating with the NGO commented.
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