Slovak Officials Release False and Misleading Information Concerning Coercive Sterilisation
04 October 2005
ERRC Urges Prime Minister to Issue Prompt Correction and to Lead in Ensuring that Victims Receive Justice
Budapest, Bratislava. 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 yesterday sent a letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, urging him to undertake a number of matters 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.
On 21 September 2004, the ERRC submitted, under a confidential complaint mechanism available before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW Article 8 procedure"), details concerning procedures undertaken by Slovak medical officials with respect to 49 Romani women. This complaint included details of 22 cases of sterilisation performed without any form of consent; 23 cases of sterilisation in which consent to sterilisation was obtained by coercion; and four cases in which sterilisation had been performed following consent secured absent the provision of information regarding alternative contraceptive measures.
In a communication of 1 August 2005, the CEDAW declined to conduct an Article 8 inquiry into the matter, primarily as a result of the entry into force, on 1 January 2005, of a new Act on Healthcare, including provisions to ensure "ethical medical practice as well as access to a patient's file".
The CEDAW communication states, however, that while it would not at present conduct an inquiry into the matter, under the Article 8 procedure, "it remains concerned that there may have been individual cases of sterilisation of Roma women without consent or with consent obtained by coercion and that, within this context, the issues of responsibility and redress have so far not been sufficiently addressed." The Committee further advised the Slovak government "to pursue and appropriate consideration of these questions".
This decision, issued confidentially to the ERRC and the Slovak Government has, in the week foregoing, been dramatically misrepresented by Slovak officials in public statements. In addition, the views of a number of European expert bodies which have expressed extreme concern at the actions of Slovak medical officials have also been misrepresented by Slovak officials. A summary of wrong, misleading or otherwise manipulative information disseminated by Slovak authorities and widely quoted in the Slovak media in the past week follows below:
According to the Slovak news agency SITA from September 29, 2005, Mr. Jozef Centes, Vice President of the Criminal Division of the Slovak Attorney-General's Office, made statements that "illegal sterilisation of Romani women has never happened in Slovakia" and claimed that the same conclusion had been reached by a UN Committee after examining the issue upon request submitted by the European Roma Rights Centre. The statements of Mr. Centes were welcomed, endorsed and repeated by a number of Slovak officials, and have been widely quoted in the media.
As of October 3, the Internet website of the Slovak General Prosecutor's Office included a news item, at http://www.genpro.gov.sk, containing extensive misleading information on the issue, including for example the following: "The non-existence of evidence of the crime of genocide has been affirmed also by an independent parliamentary survey by the Inter-European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (IEPFPD), Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for Social, Health and Family Affairs Christine McCafferty, as well as the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles".
The statement of the Slovak General Prosecutor is formally correct solely because none of authorities listed, including the ERRC, have alleged the crime of genocide in Slovakia in connection with these practices. Indeed, the Slovak General Prosecutor opened investigation into the crime of genocide – which carries with it a very high burden of proof -- against the explicit recommendation of a number of parties, and apparently for the sole purpose of dismissing the claims.
In actual fact, every one of the officials listed above has expressed concern at practices of sterilisation of women carried out absent informed consent in Slovakia, as well as in particular the targeting of Romani women for coercive sterilisation.
In one example of statements misrepresented by the Slovak General Prosecutor, in 2003, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles stated, following visits to Slovakia: "- on the basis of the information contained in the reports referred to above, and that obtained during the visit, it can reasonably be assumed that sterilizations have taken place, particularly in eastern Slovakia, without informed consent. The information available to the Commissioner does not suggest that an active or organized Government policy of improper sterilizations has existed (at least since the end of the communist regime). However, the Slovak Government has, in the view of the Commissioner, an objective responsibility in the matter for failing to put in place adequate legislation and for failing to exercise appropriate supervision of sterilisation practices although allegations of improper sterilizations have been made throughout the 1990's and early 2000."
The foregoing statement was reiterated in the High Commissioner's Preliminary Report on the Human Rights Situation of Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Europe, dated May 4, 2005, to which was added the comment "I remain concerned that sufficient consideration has not, at least as yet, been given to the question of responsibility for the violations that have already occurred as well as providing redress for the victims".
The Commissioner further concluded that "The issue of sterilizations does not appear to concern exclusively one ethnic group of the Slovak population, nor does the question of their improper performance. It is likely that vulnerable individuals from various ethnic origins have, at some stage, been exposed to the risk of sterilization without proper consent. However, for a number of factors, which are developed throughout this report, the Commissioner is convinced that the Roma population of eastern Slovakia has been at particular risk."
Similarly, an independent study mission of the Inter-European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (IEPFPD) after, as noted above, agreeing with all parties that the practices alleged likely did not amount to genocide, concluded, "Participants did find, that in most cases Romani woman were sterilized without sufficient information to make an informed consent. This is due to the fact, that hospital doctors do not consider it their duty to inform the woman, even when they should have realised that the patient has not attended prenatal care, where this information is supposed to be given and will also not attend post natal care. In cases of emergency the patient is also not informed. This is open to very strong criticism."
Since plausible documentation was first brought forward in 2003 that practices of coercive sterilisation of Romani women have recently taken place in Slovakia, high-level Slovak authorities have repeatedly misled the Slovak public on the nature and dimensions of the issue. Indeed, Slovak authorities have even threatened prosecution of the authors of "Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia", the first comprehensive study published on the matter. To date, although some Slovak officials have occasionally acknowledged the practice, justice has been denied to victims.
The ERRC letter to Prime Minister Dzurinda of October 3 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: