MINELRES: United Nations: Hungary Coercively Sterilised Romani Woman
Sat Sep 2 10:11:23 2006
Original sender: European Roma Rights Centre <email@example.com>
UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Condemns Hungary for Violations of International Law
Budapest, 31 August 2006. In a decision communicated this week, the
UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW) condemned Hungary for violating the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in
connection with the sterilisation of a Romani woman without her
consent in January 2001.
On 2 January 2001, a Romani woman (Ms. S.) was sterilised by doctors
at the Fehergyarmat hospital. While being operated on in connection
with a miscarriage, she was asked to sign forms giving her consent to
this and other operations, without a full explanation about the
intervention, its nature, possible risks, or what the consequences of
being sterilised would be. She was not told about other forms of
birth control either. It was only after the operation that she learnt
that she could not become pregnant again.
On 15 October 2001, Ms. S and her attorney filed a civil claim for
damages against the hospital. They requested finding the hospital in
violation of the plaintiff's civil rights and that it had acted
negligently in its professional duty of care with regard to the
sterilisation of Ms. S in the absence of her full and informed
consent. The claim was turned down on 22 November 2002.
On appeal, the Szabolcs-Szatmar-Bereg County Court held that the
hospital doctors had indeed acted negligently in failing to provide
Ms. S with the relevant information about the sterilisation and
stressed that "the information given to the plaintiff concerning her
sterilisation was not detailed ... [and that she] ... was not
informed of the exact method of the operation, of the risks of its
performance, and of the possible alternative procedures and methods".
Nevertheless, the same Court concluded that sterilisations as such
are fully reversible operations and that since Ms. S. had provided no
proof that she had suffered a lasting detriment, she was not entitled
Since Hungarian courts failed to provide adequate remedy for Ms. S.
on 12 February 2004, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the
Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI)
jointly filed a complaint against Hungary with CEDAW relating to the
illegal sterilization. The complaint asserted that Hungary, as a
State Party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women, is in violation of a number of
provisions of the Convention, as a result of (1) failures to provide
adequate information on contraceptive measures and family planning,
(2) the lack of informed consent on the part of Ms. S. as a violation
of her right to appropriate health care services, and (3)
interference with Ms. S.'s ability to have children in the future.
In its decision communicated, the Committee stated that it was
convinced by the ERRC/NEKI arguments that sterilization is intended
to be irreversible, that the success rate of surgery to reverse
sterilization is low and depends on many factors, and that reversal
surgery is risky. With respect to the claim that Hungary violated the
Convention by failing to provide information and advice on family
planning the Committee stated that the applicant "has a right
protected by article 10(h) of the Convention to specific information
on sterilization and alternative procedures for family planning in
order to guard against such an intervention being carried out without
her having made a fully informed choice."
In connection with the sterilization surgery without an informed
consent the Committee reiterated that according under article 12 of
the Convention, States parties shall "ensure to women appropriate
services in connection with pregnancy, confinement, and the
post-natal period". According to its General Recommendation 24,
"Acceptable [health care] services are those that are delivered in a
way that ensures that a woman gives her fully informed consent,
respects her dignity, guarantees her needs and perspectives. States
parties should not permit forms of coercion, such as non-consensual
The Committee also recalled its general recommendation 19 in which it
states that "Compulsory sterilization...adversely affects women's
physical and mental health, and infringes the right of women to
decide on the number and spacing of their children." The Committee
found that the sterilization surgery was performed on Ms. S. without
her full and informed consent and must be considered to have
permanently deprived her of her natural reproductive capacity,
therefore her right to decide freely and responsibly on the number
and spacing of her children was also violated.
In conclusion, the Committee holds that appropriate compensation
should be paid to Ms. S. commensurate with the gravity of the
violation of her rights. The Hungarian government should also ensure
that the relevant provisions of the Convention and the pertinent
paragraphs of the Committee's general recommendations in relation to
women's reproductive health and rights are known and adhered to by
all relevant personnel in public and private health centres,
including hospitals and clinics.
The decision further states that the government should review
domestic legislation on the principle of informed consent in cases of
sterilization and ensure its conformity with international human
rights and medical standards. It should also repeal provisions
allowing physicians "to deliver the sterilization without the
information procedure generally specified when it seems to be
appropriate in given circumstances". Public and private health
centres which perform sterilization procedures, including hospitals
and clinics, should be monitored so as to ensure that fully informed
consent is being given by the patient before any sterilization
procedure is carried out, with appropriate sanctions in place in the
event of a breach.
This is the second time that the Committee has found Hungary in
breach of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women.
The decision is among important moves by domestic and international
tribunals to provide redress to victims of coercive sterilisation in
a number of countries of Central and Eastern Europe. These efforts
have not yet been matched by governments: as yet there have been few
if any acknowledgements of the systemic nature of race-based
infringements of the right to informed consent in sterilisation
matters, and the subsequent extreme human rights abuses inflicted on
many Romani women.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights provided additional
legal analysis supporting the arguments of ERRC/NEKI.
For further details on this case, please contact dr. Anita Danka at
ERRC (firstname.lastname@example.org), (36 1) 41 32 200, or dr. Bea Bodrogi at
NEKI (email@example.com), (36 1) 303 89 73 or (36 1) 31 3144 998.
Further information on regional efforts to challenge the coercive
sterilisation of Romani women is also available by contacting the
offices of ERRC.
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC
website at http://www.errc.org.
The Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities provides
legal assistance to members of national and ethnic minorities who
live in Hungary, as defined in the act on the rights of national and
ethnic minorities, and have suffered discrimination due to their
national or ethnic origin. For more information about the Legal
Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities, visit the NEKI
website at http://www.neki.hu.
European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Phone:+36 1 4132200
Fax:+36 1 4132201
Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities
1537 Budapest 114
P.O. Box 453/269
Phone/Fax: +36 1 3038973 and +36 1
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