Slovakia investigates allegations that Romany women were sterilised without consent

Цыганские женщины (Фото: Яна Шустова)

A couple of years ago, allegations that Roma women in Slovakia were being sterilised against their will created a storm of controversy and gave Slovakia negative press around the world. As a result Bratislava ordered a major investigation and two years on the country's general prosecutor has handed down a verdict.

Human rights activist Christina Zampas:

"I met a 22 year old woman. She had a child by a C-section. And during the cesarean section she is told that she will die, or that her next baby will die if she does not sign here."

She delivers, takes her baby home and three weeks later, her baby boy dies. She can't get pregnant again, and only after consulting her gynecologist finds out she has been sterilized and will never have another baby.

Quite an alarming story. One of more than 110, claim activists in the 2003 report Body and Soul. The report has led to a wave of discussion and the Deputy Prime Minister's office initiated a criminal investigation. The General Prosecutor's office came to the following conclusion:

"In August we received a report from the UN in New York saying they do not accept this claim and will not investigate it. In Slovakia illegal sterilizations of Roma women have not been taking place."

... concludes Jozef Centes, deputy director of the criminal department of the General Prosecutor's office. During the investigation 134 witnesses were interviewed and 24 thousand files were examined, but only a few formal shortcomings were discovered. But Barbora Bukovska from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights says the case has been only examined from the formal side and the main point of the allegations has not been examined.

"We have still the proof that these sterilizations were indeed conducted in Slovakia, however the prosecution has ignored theses findings."

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Bukovska says that a final decision is still pending in many of the cases. The issue has also been taken to the EU human rights court in Strasbourg. International standards oblige doctors to inform their patient about the alternative options to sterilization and have a written consent of the patient to this irreversible procedure. As Jozef Centes from the General Prosecutor's office says:

"We have not found any breach of the law. Every one of the women has in a written form requested sterilization, just as the law requires."

Human rights activist Christina Zampas:

"We just want to emphasize that a signature alone is not indicative of consent. While a nurse take s a patient's pen, while the patient is undergoing anesthesia, grabs the patient's hand and makes her sign. Is this consent, I ask."

Back in 2003, Mrs Zampas raised the question of informed consent, which now in 2005 seems not to have been challenged at all in the Prosecution's findings. According to the study from 2003 forced sterilization has been going on since the days of communism and still continues.

"I think the case has been blown out of proportion into a scandal. Historically sterilization was legal. In the 70's or 80's women who had many children and decided to be sterilized received a certain sum of money. I think it was 10 - or 20 thousand Slovak crowns, back then quite a large sum."

... says Jan Dragula, president of the Chamber of Doctors. He clearly implies that Roma women had been doing this for the money.

"I consider this scandal to be artificial. Maybe it comes from some women who were sterilized voluntarily, received some financial benefit, and wanted more."

False loyalty, protective statements and too many emotions is how human rights activists describe the findings of the investigation. Although the case is currently in Strasbourg and many civil court cases connected to this matter have no result yet Slovakia seems to have sighed with relief after the United Nations' decision not to investigate the case any further.