Slovak Government Officials Retaliate Against Romani Women and Legal Advocates for Exposing Human Rights Violations

Romani Women Interrogated and Threatened Following Report Documenting Abuses in Slovakia’s Hospitals

New York, NY

Law enforcement officials and medical personnel in hospitals are reportedly threatening and retaliating against Romani women in Slovakia, following the release of a new report that documents grave human rights violations in Slovakia’s public hospitals. The report, released last week by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradna pre obcianske a ludské práva (Center for Civil and Human Rights), documents cases of forced and coerced sterilization of Romani women, along with verbal and physical abuse, racially discriminatory standards of care, misinformation in health matters and denial of patient access to medical records.

"We are pleased that the Slovak government has recognized the need to address these illegal practices but we are now hearing disturbing reports of Romani women being threatened and abused in at least one of the settlements and the hospital that serves the settlement," said Christina Zampas, legal adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights and an author of the report entitled Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia.

At least one settlement to date has reported that police have begun rounding up Romani women to interrogate them. They have also threatened that, if these women file legal complaints against health care personnel for forced sterilization, they will face three years in prison for bringing false charges. In addition, there have been several reports that health care personnel in the Krompachy hospital are verbally abusing pregnant Romani women because of the information in the report. Poradna and Romani organizations are actively monitoring the situation.

"We are calling on the Slovak government to take immediate steps to stop this and to prevent any escalation and future intimidation or violence against the Romani community," said Barbora Bukovská, Executive Director of Poradna and an author of the report. "We urge the government to proceed with the investigation in a manner that respects the rights of victims, their families and communities, and recommend that the abuses be investigated through the transparent process set forth in the report," added Bukovská.

The Slovak government’s Office of Human Rights and Minorities has filed a criminal complaint with the General Prosecutor’s office against the "unknown perpetrator" that is violating health standards. This has led to the launch of the police investigation into illegal sterilization practices.

In addition, the Office of Human Rights and Minorities has filed a criminal complaint with the General Prosecutor’s office against the authors of Body and Soul. Although the authors have not yet been charged, the Office’s press release asserts that the complaint against the authors states two things:

1. If the information in the report is found to be true, authors will be prosecuted for failure to inform law enforcement of criminal activities, and
2. If the information is found to be false, authors will be prosecuted under section 199 of the Criminal Code for "spreading false rumors and creating panic in society."

"Filing this complaint is an outrageous attempt to deflect attention from the government’s failure to prevent and investigate allegations of forced sterilization and other reproductive rights violations against Romani women," said Katherine Hall-Martinez, Director of the International Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "It appears to be aimed at intimidating human rights defenders, as well as victims who spoke to our investigators," added Hall-Martinez.

On January 30th, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradòa presented the findings to the Health Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. Jan Marinus Weirsma, Member of the European Parliament, EP Rapporteur on Slovakia and member of the Human Rights Committee, publicly expressed concern about the finding of the report and urged the Slovak government to investigate the findings and to address the issue immediately. He is in Bratislava this week and will be discussing the findings of the report, amongst other issues, with government officials. As a future member state of the European Union, Slovakia has committed itself to the "rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities," as required by the political criteria for joining the European Union.

Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia is based on a fact-finding mission undertaken in eastern Slovakia in 2002. The report was launched in Bratislava on the January 28, 2003 and documents 110 cases where women were forcibly or coercively sterilized, or had strong indications that they were sterilized. Romani women, non-Romani women, obstetricians, gynecologists, hospital administrators and government officials were interviewed for the report. Real names of the victims were not used in the report and will remain confidential.

The practice of forced sterilization stems from a communist era policy targeting Romani women that provided monetary incentives to women to undergo sterilization. That policy was formally rescinded over a decade ago, and although monetary incentives are no longer given, the practice continues without full and informed consent of the patient.