MINELRES: United Nations: Hungary Coercively Sterilised Romani Woman

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Sat Sep 2 10:11:23 2006

Original sender: European Roma Rights Centre <errc@errc.org>

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 
to compensation.

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 (anita.danka@errc.org), (36 1) 41 32 200, or dr. Bea Bodrogi at 
NEKI (bbodrogi@yahoo.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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