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Slovak Romani Sterilization Victims Win Damages

WASHINGTON – U.S. Helsinki Commissioners welcomed news that the European Court on Human Rights issued a decision yesterday awarding damages to eight Romani women. The plaintiffs had sued the Slovak Government in connection with investigations into sterilization without informed consent. 

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, remarked on the decision: “I have personally expressed my concern to both Czech and Slovak officials regarding the sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. Neither government has done enough to acknowledge this past practice or to provide victims with remedies, so I am particularly pleased that these women have persevered and prevailed.” 

“It is a travesty of justice that these victims were denied adequate access to their very own medical records, which they have sought for nearly a decade now. I commend them for their courage and tenaciousness throughout this ordeal,” stated Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings. 

Ranking Member Congressman Christopher H. Smith added that, “The full extent of the emotional and physical damage these women have suffered is incalculable, yet it is my hope that the court’s decision provides them some measure of justice and comfort, and serves as a clear warning to the human rights abusers who even today are coercively sterilizing women elsewhere in the world.” 

Background 

Based on theories of eugenics, the Czechoslovak communist state targeted Romani women for sterilization. Although the sterilization policy ended with the fall of communism, the practice continued sporadically in both the Czech and Slovak Republics even after the end of communism. 

An October 2000 Slovak Government national strategy paper reportedly stated, “[i]f we do not succeed in integrating the Romani population and modify their reproduction[,] the percentage of nonqualified and handicapped persons in the population will increase.” 

In 2001, the spokesperson for the Minister for Human Rights and National Minorities threatened that women who came forward alleging wrongful sterilization would go to jail. 

In 2001, Romani activist Alexander Patkolo was threatened with the criminal charge of “spreading alarming information” for even suggesting that Romani women had been sterilized without informed consent. 

In 2002, then-opposition MP Robert Fico (now Prime Minister) ran on a parliamentary campaign pledge to “actively effect the irresponsible growth of the Roman[i] population.” 

On December 13, 2006, Slovakia’s highest court ruled that the regional prosecution’s investigation in the cases of three Romani women alleging wrongful sterilization 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, announced yesterday, 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).

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