March 22, 2009

Sterile Dreams: Forced Sterilization of Romani women in Slovakia and Czech Republic

Romani women are being coerced or forced to undergo sterilization procedures in Slovakia’s government-run health facilities, according to a new report released today by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradna pre obcianske a ludské práva, in collaboration with Ina Zoon. Two hundred and thirty in-depth interviews were held with Romani women in 40 settlements in eastern Slovakia. The investigative report documents grave human rights violations against Romani women in Slovakia, including about 110 cases where women were forcibly or coercively sterilized, or had strong indications that they had been sterilized. The report also documents extensive racism and verbal and physical abuse towards Romani women in public hospitals, including the denial of patient access to their own medical records and segregation in patients’ rooms, maternity wards, restrooms and dining facilities.

Agata, 28, from Svinia,Slovakia talks about being Coercively Sterilized:
"Doctors came and brought me to the operating room [for a C-section] and there they gave me anesthesia. When I was falling asleep, a nurse came and took my hand in hers and with it she signed something. I do not know what it was. I could not check because I cannot read, I only know how to sign my name. When I left the hospital, I was only told that I would not have any more children…I was so healthy before, but now I have pain all the time. Lots of infections…"

Alexandra from Richnava,Slovakia talks about Racial Segregation in Slovakia’s Public Hospitals:
"In Krompachy hospital, there are separate rooms for Roma—there are three Gypsy rooms, one shower and one toilet for us while white women have their own toilets. White women can go to the dining room but Roma cannot eat there. In Gypsy room, there is not even a dust bin. It is like in a concentration camp there."

Romani women in Slovakia continue to be subject to grave violations of their human rights, particularly their reproductive rights, even though a communist-era law offering monetary incentives for sterilization has been rescinded. A three-month fact-finding in late 2002 by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Poradna pre obcianske a ludské práva (Centre for Civil and Human Rights), a Slovak human rights organization, reveals that not only do coerced and forced sterilization practices continue in Slovakia, so too does the widespread abuse and discrimination against Romani women in the country’s maternal health services. We conducted extensive interviews with more than 230 women in almost 40 Romani settlements throughout eastern Slovakia, the region with the highest concentration of Roma.
The interviews revealed numerous instances of coerced, forced and suspected sterilization of Romani women, along with physical and verbal abuse, racially discriminatory standards of care, misinformation in health matters, and denial of access to medical records.

Iveta Cervenakova, was forcibly sterilized after the birth of her second daughter 12 years ago. She was among possibly as many as a quarter of a million Roma (Gypsy) women sterilized against their will in the Czech Republic.
Since the end of the cold war and the opening up of central and eastern European countries in 1990, the living conditions of the Roma and Sinti minority have drastically deteriorated as a result of nascent racism. However, racist-motivated violence and discrimination against Roma and Sinti have significantly increased in a large number of countries in western Europe. As The New York Times correctly observed in a commentary in March 1996, members of the minority are today subjected to marginalization and racism to an extent that corresponds to the situation of African-Americans in the United States up until the mid-1950s.

A notable cause for the continued marginalization and discrimination of Roma and Sinti is the structures of prejudice and racist clichés, which have been substantially influenced by the misanthropic racial ideology of the National Socialists and the associated fascist regime. In view of these ideological lines of continuity, it is hardly surprising that Roma and Sinti minorities are not only socially disadvantaged to a considerable extent but are also repeatedly the victims of open violence. The authorities in eastern and western Europe have recorded a drastic increase in racist violence against minorities by neo-Nazis; however, such attacks increasingly emanate from the security forces themselves. Only rarely can the perpetrators expect consistent prosecution and conviction by the police and legal authorities. As an example, the police officers responsible for the obviously racist-motivated murders of two Bulgarian Roma in 1996 were not punished by competent authorities; only after a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 was the Bulgarian State obliged to investigate the racist background to this crime. The Court issued a similar adjudication in a comparable case, also in Romania; in all probability, however, the perpetrators will escape criminal prosecution appropriate to a State governed by the rule of law.


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