ERRC Will Provide Legal Support to Romani Mother Abused by a Doctor in Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia
23 January 2024
Brussels, 23 January 2024: The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) will provide legal support to a Romani woman, Ms. Marica Mihajlović, who was the victim of severe obstetric violence in Sremska Mitrovica General Hospital resulting in the death of her baby on 13th January 2024. The Roma Rights organisation will provide a lawyer to accompany Ms. Mihajlović and represent her interests in the ongoing criminal investigation against the doctor who perpetrated the alleged violence against her. The ERRC has written to Serbian authorities urging them to investigate the likely racist motivation for this shocking case of violence against a Romani mother while giving birth. The ERRC continues to explore all legal avenues available to ensure justice for Ms. Mihajlović and to protect other women and infants from further obstetric violence.
Marica Mihajlović alleges that she was subjected to racist violence by a doctor while delivering her baby in the General Hospital of Sremska Mitrovica on the 12th January 2024. As reported in various news outlets, the attending doctor stands accused of wilfully negligent care, using racial slurs and making threats of extreme violence. He repeatedly refused Ms. Mihajlović’s pleas for a caesarean section to save her baby, which was breached in her pelvis. He chose instead to apply pressure to her abdomen to force the delivery. This alleged action caused complications for the infant, who was pronounced dead at 6:00 a.m. the following day after being transferred to a hospital in Novi Sad. The baby’s name was Elena Novakov.
The ERRC has heard testimony from other Romani women that this is allegedly not the first such incident involving this doctor abusing pregnant Romani women, nor is it the first time this has allegedly resulted in the death of a baby.
“This latest incident of racist abuse and violence against a Romani woman in childbirth is far from the first and sadly won’t be the last,” said the ERRC’s President, Đorđe Jovanović. “According to the mother’s account, the death of the infant Elena was the tragic and traumatic outcome of wilful medical neglect, violent intimidation, and anti-Roma abuse. A labour ward should be a place where expectant mothers feel safe, protected and respected. Instead, Marica Mihajlović found herself at the cruel intersection of racism, gender-based and institutional violence. This must end, and perpetrators must be held accountable for obstetric violence.”
The ERRC welcomes the decision of the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office of Sremska Mitrovica to open a criminal investigation, and requests the accused doctor be charged on suspicion of the criminal offence ‘Grave offence against Health’ in conjunction with the criminal offence ‘Medical Negligence’. In addition, the ERRC calls upon these authorities to consider the possible racist motivation behind such vicious obstetric violence, especially in light of the derogatory language that accompanied the threats of violence. As well as threatening to smash her skull and break her teeth, a witness to the incident alleges that the doctor racially abused her shouting “shut up you Gypsy!... You are a cow!". The ERRC will also be closely following the outcomes of the internal investigation being carried out at the Sremska Mitrovica General Hospital, and the external investigation launched by the Ministry of Health.
The ERRC has also urged the Regional Medical Chamber of Vojvodina to pay close attention to the outcome of these investigations, with a view to launching a disciplinary procedure before the Court of Honour to revoke the doctor’s medical license. Firstly, as an appropriate response to match the severity of the crimes he has allegedly committed, and second, to protect other Romani women and their new-borns from similar cruelty and abuse.
The ERRC will monitor the progress and outcomes of the pending investigations. In the meantime, we have reached out to Ms. Mihajlović to explore all legal options available to her in the pursuit of justice.
This press release is also available in Serbian.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:
Jonathan Lee (in English)
Advocacy & Communications Director
European Roma Rights Centre
+32 49 288 7679
Andrea Colak (in Serbian)
European Roma Rights Centre
+381 64 41 39 117
Editorial Note: This press release was amended on 12 February 2024 to correct inaccuracies. It previously stated that Ms. Mihajlović alleged the doctor had said “shut up you Gypsy! You knew how to fuck... and you are crying! You are a cow!" when it was in fact a witness who alleged hearing a part of this statement (the witness does not claim to have heard 'You knew how to fuck... and you are crying!'). In addition, the description of the doctor 'sitting' on Ms. Mihajlović's abdomen to force delivery was edited to state that he applied 'pressure to her abdomen' to better reflect the sequence of events according to the victim's own testimony.