By Asjylyn Loder
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
At least 110 Romani women in eastern Slovakia have been subjected to involuntary sterilization says a recent report by investigators from women's rights organizations in New York and Slovakia.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Romani women in eastern Slovakia have been subject to at least 110 forced and coerced sterilizations in government health care facilities since the fall of communism in 1989, according to a recent report by human rights investigators in New York and Slovakia. The report also says that Romani women have experienced physical and verbal abuse as well as segregated health care services, showing a pattern of ethnic bias in Slovak medical facilities.
Since the release of the report on Jan. 28, 2003, Slovak police have harassed some Romani women who had reported that they had been sterilized without their consent. The report's authors, based in Slovakia and New York, have had their records subpoenaed and have been subject to interrogations and threatened with criminal charges.
The report, "Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom," is based on 230 in-depth interviews conducted in 40 Roma settlements in eastern Slovakia, according to the report's authors, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (formerly the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy) and the Centre for Civil and Human Rights in Kosice, a Slovak non-governmental organization.
"Slovak health care providers throughout eastern Slovakia are complicit in the illegal and unethical practice of sterilizing Romani women without their informed consent," the report stated. "Physical and verbal abuse driven by racial hatred taints the Slovak health care system."
In response to the report, the government office in charge of human rights and minority affairs promised an investigation into the "unknown perpetrator," meaning the doctors who performed the sterilizations and announced criminal charges against authors of the report. The report's authors face possible charges of filing a false report. If their report proves true, they face charges of failing to notify the authorities of criminal activity.
"They're denying women their right to legal redress by intimidating them," said Christina Zampas, the Center for Reproductive Rights' legal advisor for Europe.
The report quoted one woman saying that, during a Caesarean section, when she was falling asleep, "a nurse came and took my hand in hers and with it she signed something." She added, "I do not know what it was. I could not check because I cannot read. I only know how to sign my name," the woman said. "When I was released from the hospital, I was only told that I would not have any more children."
A report last month by the United Nations Development Fund found that the living conditions of Europe's Roma population are "closer to levels in sub-Saharan Africa than those for other Europeans."
Nazi Germany targeted Europe's Roma, also known as Gypsies, for extermination during the Holocaust. Roma still face discrimination in health care, education, law enforcement and political representation. Under communism, Romani women were paid bribes to undergo sterilization.
After being interrogated by police, at least one Romani woman has recanted her story that she was sterilized without her co