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CRR Welcomes Landmark Decision from European Court on Coerced Sterilization

On November 8, 2011 the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in V.C. v. Slovakia, a case of a Romani woman who was sterilized without informed consent. The court found Slovakia in violation of the woman's right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, and right to respect for private and family life as part of the country's obligations under the international human rights treaty of European countries, the European Convention on Human Rights. This groundbreaking judgment is the first decision by the court to find serious violations with respect to forced and coerced sterilization. The Center for Reproductive Rights, having worked hard for the recognition of forced sterilization as a major human rights violation for years, is pleased to acknowledge that this issue now has been taken up by the most influential human rights body in Europe.

The woman at the center of the case, V.C., was sterilized in August 2000 during the caesarian delivery of her second child. When she was already in advanced stages of labor medical staff told her that if she had one more child, either she or the baby would die. She was then asked to sign a note in her medical record indicating that she had requested sterilization. V.C. did not understand the word 'sterilization,' and signed the form fearing that if she didn't there would be fatal consequences. As a result of the sterilization, V.C. has had serious medical health problems and she continues to suffer psychologically, knowing that she can no longer have children.

The court, finding a violation of the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, recognized that sterilizing V.C. without her informed consent grossly interfered with her dignity and physical integrity, and that " the […] procedure, including the manner in which the applicant was requested to agree to it, was liable to arouse in her feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority and to entail lasting suffering. "

The court dismissed the government's claim that the sterilization of V.C. was a life-saving surgery and concluded that there was no emergency involving imminent risk of irreparable damage to her life or health. The court also noted that "[t]he way in which the hospital staff acted was paternalistic, since, in practice, the applicant was not offered any option but to agree to the procedure which the doctors considered appropriate in view of her situation ." The medical staff thus "acted with gross disregard to her right to autonomy and choice as a patient." The court also found that Slovakia had violated its responsibilities under the Convention to guarantee sufficient safeguards so that V.C. could enjoy her right to private and family life.

The Center for Reproductive Rights would like to congratulate the Center for Civil and Human Rights (Poradňa), the Slovak human rights organization that brought the case to the court, and V.C. for this major victory. In 2003, the Center and Poradňa documented numerous cases of forced and coerced sterilization of Romani women in Slovakia in the fact-finding report Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia , which was among the first initiatives to shed light on this widespread and discriminatory practice and serious human rights concern. The Center and Poradňa have in the past advocated together at international and regional bodies to hold Slovakia accountable for these gross violations.

The Center for Reproductive Rights now calls upon the Slovak government to take immediate steps to effectively implement the European court's judgment as well as to adequately investigate reports of forced and coerced sterilization and provide victims with effective remedies and compensation.