European & International News

European Court of Human Rights rules on forced sterilisation of Roma women in Slovakia

[Brussels, 01 August 2012] On 12 June 2012, the European Court of Human Rights issued a new ruling against Slovakia, for sterilisation of Roma women without informed consent. The ruling follows a similar 2011 judgement for coerced sterilisation of Roma women. The Court in both cases finds the forced sterilisation of Roma Women in contravention of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.


Case Summaries by Andy Sprung, law student and Fellow in U of Toronto Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program

V.C. v Slovakia [2011]

On November 8, 2011, the European Court of Human Rights issued its first judgment dealing with sterilization. The court unanimously found that a Slovak woman of Roma ethnic origin had been the victim of coerced sterilization in violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court found that VC had been the victim of coerced sterilization, while in a public hospital, undergoing a Caesarian section to deliver her second child. In the late stages of her labour, medical personnel informed her that another pregnancy would result in the death of either the child or herself. VC signed the request for sterilization form without an understanding of the nature of the procedure or its consequences. This was not a life-saving surgery, and VC’s sterilization, as well as the way in which the hospital had requested she agree to it, had long-lasting negative effects on her physical and psychological health, in addition to damaging her marital relationship and her position within the Roma community.

In finding a violation of Article 3, the court noted that sterilization amounts to a major interference with a person’s reproductive health status and involves many aspects of personal integrity, including physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and family wellbeing. As recognized by a number of international documents, it requires informed consent. Although there was no proof that the medical staff had acted out of ill intent, the court recognized the gross disregard to VC’s right to autonomy.

In also finding a violation under Article 8, the court added that Slovakia failed to fulfill its obligation to respect VC’s private and family life by not ensuring that particular attention was paid to her reproductive health as a Roma woman. The court noted the prominence of VC’s ethnic origin in her medical records, as well as the segregation of Roma women within the hospital ward. It highlighted that these facts needed to be understood in the context of Slovakia’s history of the targeted sterilization of Roma women and as a failure to provide additional legislative safeguards to protect Roma women from coerced sterilization—a need identified by several European Commission Reports.

The dissenting opinion of Judge Mijovic would have also found a violation of Article 14 (discrimination).

***

N.B. v Slovakia [2012]

On June 12, 2012, only a few months after the release of the judgment in the VC case, the European Court of Human Rights released a similar decision in another Slovak case. Once again, the court unanimously found that a Slovak woman of Roma ethnic origin had been sterilized without informed consent in contravention of Articles 8 and 13.

Similar to VC, NB was also sterilized while undergoing a caesarean section at a public hospital. However, NB was only 17 years old at the time of the intervention, so she was also legally a minor. The hospital, in addition to having NB sign the consent form after the administration of tranquilizing premedication, never obtained the consent of her legal guardians. NB did not learn of her sterilization until several months after the fact because it was not noted in her release report from the hospital.

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