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UN Human Rights Committee asks Slovak Government for independent body to investigate the forced sterilizations of Romani women

22.11.2016 17:13
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The UN Human Rights Committee (UN HRC) has called on the Slovak Government to take responsibility for investigating past cases of forced sterilizations of Romani women and to establish an independent investigative body for that purpose. That is the outcome of the concluding recommendations published by the UN HRC after its October session of discussions with the Slovak Government delegation in Geneva.

The NGOs Center for Civil and Human Rights (POĽP, Slovakia), Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR, USA), Citizen, Democracy and Responsibility (ODZ, Slovakia) and Women's Circles (Ženské kruhy, Slovakia) provided the Committee with information about the current situation in the area of protecting human rights in Slovakia. Their communications to the Committee mainly reported on the ongoing violations of rights of members of the Romani minority, including violations of women's reproductive rights such as forced sterilizations of Romani women.

In its concluding recommendations, the Committee pointed to many serious, unresolved problems in the area of human rights protection. The Committee focused on deficiencies concerning the protection of the rights of women and of various minority groups living in Slovakia.

The Committee expressed its deep unease over the ongoing discrimination and social exclusion of disadvantaged Romani men and women and emphasized the need to eliminate segregation in education and housing. During its discussion with the Slovak Government at the session in Geneva, the Committee dedicated significant attention to the question of forced sterilization of Romani women performed without their informed consent, which was documented in 2002 by the CRR and POĽP in their report called Body and Soul.

Apparently the Committee was responding to recent judgments from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which found against Slovakia in 2011 and 2012 in three specific cases, after which the Government compensated several Romani women who had been forcibly sterilized. The Slovak Government pointed out that in the past it had conducted an investigation of the issue through the criminal justice authorities that found no violations of law.

The cases of Romani women who have achieved justice through the courts are considered by the Government to be decisions about individual instances of individual wrongdoing with respect to the performance of sterilizations. The Government claims to have received no complaints about the sterilizations and says the women who feel harmed can turn to the criminal justice authorities or the courts for relief.

In its recommendations, however, the Committee rejected the Government's stand on the issue and has asked it to take responsibility for investigating the practice of forcibly sterilizing Romani women. The Committee is expressly demanding that the Government establish an independent body to investigate the entire extent of the practice in the past and arrange for financial and other compensation to all women so harmed.

Vanda Durbáková, an attorney working with POĽP who has successfully represented several forcibly sterilized Romani women in court, commented as follows: "I am very pleased that the Committee in its concluding observations clearly communicates to the Slovak Government what we have been promoting for a long time. I am convinced that court proceedings, indeed, may not be the most effective way to secure access to justice in cases of human rights violations every time, specifically when human rights violations seem to have a systemic nature and affect a considerable number of people, and that is exactly the case of the forced sterilizations of Roma women that have been documented in the former communist Czechoslovakia as well as later in independent Slovakia. This is even more relevant when the police and domestic courts fail to effectively resolve concrete cases in favor of the affected women, as they have failed to do in Slovakia."

"Over the last 12 years of my being engaged in these cases as an attorney, there has been only one single decision of the domestic courts that is in line with the relevant jurisprudence of the European Court and has granted the forcibly sterilized Roma woman adequate compensation. It took an unbelievable 10 years to achieve that, and it is still only the first-instance decision. In such conditions, we cannot expect that the affected Roma women are going to turn to the police or courts. In addition, the courts by their very nature decide on individual cases of claimants - they are not able to document and describe the overall character and extent of this practice," she said.

"It should be noted that in the past, countries like Norway, Sweden or Switzerland have also dealt with their own history of illegal sterilizations of women from ethnic minorities or persons with mental disabilities in such a way [extra-judicially]. It is high time for Slovakia to start thoroughly dealing with this issue as well. The concrete institutional framework and the competences of the extra-judicial body that the Committee is asking be established in this regard should be thoroughly discussed now," Durbáková concluded.

th, voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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