WASHINGTON–Following oral arguments today in the first case ever heard by the European Court on Human Rights alleging coerced sterilization, U.S. Helsinki Commissioners urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge and condemn the past practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent.
Representative Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, observed, “This case puts a spotlight on a dark and shameful chapter of 20th century history. I urge the Slovak Government to finally acknowledge clearly and unequivocally that Romani women in Slovakia were, at one time, targeted for sterilization. As a matter of justice for the victims and truth about the past – due to all the people of Slovakia – this practice should be condemned as a grave human rights violation.”
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Commission Co-Chairman, said, "I have personally urged both Czech and Slovak officials to condemn the communist policy of targeting Romani women for sterilization and to admit to the failure of post-communist Czechoslovakia to immediately and completely halt this despicable practice. I was heartened that, in November 2009, the Czech Government formally acknowledged and regretted this past abuse, but more should be done. Slovakia should not wait for yet another judgment from Strasbourg before taking responsibility for past transgressions against Romani women.”
Representative Alcee L. Hastings (FL-23), Ranking Member of the Commission, added that “improving respect for the rights of the Romani minority requires improving respect for Roma, and that should begin by owning up to past discrimination and abuse.”
The case, V.C. v. Slovakia, is being argued before the European Court on Human Rights on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. The suit has been brought by a Romani woman from Slovakia who alleges that she was sterilized without informed consent in August 2000. A second sterilization case, I.G., M.K., and R.H. v. Slovakia, has also been declared admissible by the court but oral arguments have not yet been scheduled in that case.
A webcast of Tuesday's oral arguments will be available at www.echr.coe.int.
In the 20th century, eugenics theories formed the basis of coerced sterilization practices in numerous countries. Thirty-three states in the United States implemented such programs, which were all discontinued by the 1970s. These programs generally targeted persons perceived as having a “hereditary deficiency” and, over time, some programs exhibited a racial bias in their implementation. In Europe, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland are among the countries that have investigated, reported on, and condemned past sterilization programs.
Based on eugenics theories, the Czechoslovak communist state targeted Romani women for sterilization. Although the sterilization policy ended with the fall of communism, the practice continued sporadically and without official sanction in both the Czech and Slovak Republics even after the end of communism.
On December 13, 2006, Slovakia’s highest court ruled in favor of three Romani women who alleged they had been sterilized without informed consent. The court held that a regional prosecutor had improperly closed his investigation into their claims and that the investigation had been so faulty that it violated both the Slovak Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
In Case of K.H. and Others v. Slovakia, decided in April 2009, the European Court on Human Rights found a violation of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a hearing regarding civil rights and obligations) and article 8 (right to family life) in a case in which Romani women had been denied access to their own medical records.