(Washington) - Eight members of the United States Helsinki Commission have urged Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to change the Slovak health care system to ensure that sterilizations of women are not performed without informed consent; institute legal changes that will guarantee patients' rights to their medical records; and allow independent expert medical testimony so that individual victims of wrongful sterilization procedures may pursue their cases in court.
Their letter follows the conclusion in late October of a Slovak Government investigation triggered by reports alleging that Romani women, including minors, in Slovakia had been sterilized without informed consent. It was signed by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).
"We believe that there were significant deficiencies in the Slovak Government's recently concluded investigation into this matter," the Members wrote. "[C]onflicts of interest were not adequately addressed; human rights activists and possible victims were threatened with criminal charges for speaking out; investigators failed to evaluate whether consent, when given, was informed; and some Romani women and their lawyers were blocked from accessing their own medical records.
"Against this backdrop, Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky's assertion that 'illegal sterilizations' have not taken place rings hollow, especially as a closer examination of [the Slovak] government's own reports confirms that some women, including minors, were in fact sterilized without consent. Moreover, such denials detract from the positive steps your government is taking--which we welcome--to implement reforms in the health care system intended to ensure that, in the future, sterilizations are only performed when informed consent is given."
Concern regarding sterilizations of Roma in Slovakia have been raised by the European Union Rapporteur for Slovakia, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights (who issued a special report on this issue in October), and the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE's annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. The Slovak Government has cooperated with international organizations interested in this matter.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.