Helsinki Commission Statement Against Sterilisation without Consent
3 April 2006
According to a press release by the United States Commission of Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) dated 23 November 2005, Mr Christopher Smith, Co- Chairman of the Commission submitted a statement on 18 November 2005 to the United States House of Representatives regarding sterilisation without informed consent in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Mr Smith began his statement by highlighting the very important achievement secured in the Czech District Court in Ostrava deciding in favour of Ms Helena Ferencikova in her precedent- setting case against Czech medical practitioners.
Mr Smith commended Ms Ferencikova for her courage in bringing forward the case, and stated that both the decision by the District court and the ongoing investigations by the Czech Ombudsman into similar cases are signs of progress.
The statement continued by pointing out that coerced sterilisation is ongoing in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia and that unfortunately, in the case of Slovakia, the situation is met with persistent denial and stonewalling by government officials. The Slovak Government, in 2003, investigated allegations that, even after the fall of communism, some Romani women had been sterilised without informed consent. According to Mr Smith, the investigation was deeply flawed, compromised by such actions as the Minister for Human Rights threatening imprisonment for anyone bringing forward allegations.
The Co-Chairman informed the House of Representatives that both the investigations that took place in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia revolved around the same 1992 Czechoslovak law on sterilisations, put in place before the two countries split. Significantly, while Czech authorities have interpreted that law as requiring that sterilisations be requested by the person to be sterilized and that there be evidence of meaningfully informed consent by that person, Slovak authorities maintained that consent did not have to be informed. Accordingly, Slovak investigators examined numerous cases where there was a lack of informed consent but concluded nonetheless that there was no violation of the 1992 law because, according to their legal interpretation, consent did not have to be informed.
To this, Mr Smith added that in recent months, Slovak Government officials have made misleading statements, going so far as to declare that "illegal sterilisations of Romani women never happened in Slovakia". The Co- Chairman closed with a warning: "when the institutions of justice are perceived to follow one set of rules for the majority and another for the minorities, this is a recipe for social unrest … Romani mistrust of government institutions will only deepen if the Slovak Government persists in denying the wrongs perpetrated against their community".
In related news, acting in response to the publication by the Slovak General Prosecutor's office of extremely misleading information concerning the coercive sterilisation of women, including Romani women, in Slovakia, the ERRC sent a letter on 3 October 2005 to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, urging him to undertake a number of actions including: (1) publicly correct the information issued by the Slovak General Prosecutor; (2) affirm that the Slovak government remains committed to justice for any and all identified victims; and (3) in light of the evident bad faith demonstrated by members of the Slovak Attorney General's office, to demonstrate leadership in matters related to providing justice to victims of coercive sterilisation in Slovakia.
The letter was copied to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which remains in the course of the most recent very disturbing developments in Slovakia described above. Further information on the coercive sterilisation of Romani women in Slovakia, as provided in a number of public statements by the ERRC and partner organisations, is available at: www.errc.org.
(ERRC, Helsinki Commission)