Coercively Sterilized Romani Woman Will Receive Compensation

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska

After three years, the Hungarian government has finally decided to provide financial compensation to a Romani woman who was coercively sterilized in 2001.

After
three years, the Hungarian government has finally decided to provide financial
compensation to a Romani woman who was coercively sterilized in 2001. The case
was referred to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women, and in August 2006 it found the Hungarian government to be in violation
of the UN Convention that guarantees an end to discrimination against women.

 

In March 2008, the Hungarian
government declared the opposite. It would not provide any compensation to Ms.
A.S., a woman who was sterilized by Hungarian doctors without her consent. Now,
on February 24, 2009, after eight years of national and international legal
proceedings, there is hope that the victim, as recommended by CEDAW Committee,
"will be provided an appropriate compensation commensurate with the
gravity of the violations of her rights."

 

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Before
CEDAW, Ms A.S. was represented by the European
Roma Rights Center (ERRC)
and the Legal
Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities
(NEKI). She claimed that on January 2, 2001, she was subjected
to coerced sterilization by medical staff at one of the Hungarian hospitals,
where she had been taken after labor pains.

 

While examining her, the attending physician
found that the fetus had died in her womb and told her a caesarean section
needed to be performed immediately in order to remove the dead fetus. While on
the operating table, Ms.
A.S. was asked to sign forms giving her consent to this operation as well as to
her sterilization. However, the doctors did not explain the procedure, its
nature, possible risks or the consequences of being sterilized. Only after the
operation did Ms. A.S. learn that she had been sterilized. On October 15, 2001,
Ms. A.S. and her attorney filed a civil claim for damages against the hospital.
On appeal, the court held that the hospital doctors had indeed acted
negligently. Nevertheless, the same court concluded that since Ms. A.S. had
provided no proof that she had suffered a lasting detriment, she was not
entitled to compensation.

 

On February 12, 2004, the ERRC and NEKI
jointly filed a complaint with CEDAW relating to the illegal sterilization
under the CEDAW
optional protocol
. In support of the victim’s claims, a brief was
prepared by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center underlined that
consent and the right to information are critical components of any
sterilization procedure, and that human rights are violated when sterilization
is performed without the full and informed consent of the patient.

 

In
the case of Ms. A.S., by sterilizing a woman without her fully informed
consent, Hungary,
through the doctors at the public hospital, violated her right to decide on the
number and spacing of children. As a result of the non-consensual sterilization
that was performed, the woman no longer has, and will never have the freedom to
make decisions as to the number and spacing of children.

 

In August 2006, the Committee found
the Hungarian government to be in violation of the Convention. The Committee
recommended
the government provide appropriate compensation to Ms. A.S.,
review domestic legislation on the principle of informed consent in cases of
sterilization and ensure its conformity with international human rights and
medical standards. And in connection with that, consider amending the
provision in the Public Health Act, which allows a physician "to deliver the
sterilization without the information procedure generally specified when it
seems to be appropriate in given circumstances," and monitor public and private health centers including
hospitals and clinics that perform sterilization procedures to ensure that
fully informed consent is given before any sterilization procedure is carried
out, with
appropriate sanctions in place in the event of a breach.


The
Committee also requested the Hungarian government to submit to the Committee,
within six months, a written response, including any information on any action
taken in the light of the views and recommendations of the Committee. But still,
a year later, in 2007, in its concluding
comments
, the Committee expressed concern at the Hungarian government’s
failure to implement the recommendations and again urged the government to
"provide appropriate compensation to Ms. A.S."

 

Only in 2008, following the Committee
recommendations, the Hungarian Government amended the Public Health Act to
ensure that appropriate information be given to patients in the context of
sterilization procedures to ensure informed consent. And in February 2009, the
government declared its willingness to pay an adequate compensation to Ms. A.S.

 

The compensation means not only
justice to A.S., but the Hungarian Government’s recognition of its obligations
to all women under international law. It is an important step forward in
ensuring respect for the optional protocol of the CEDAW Convention. "We hope
that Hungary’s actions will serve as an example to other countries, like the
Czech Republic and Slovakia, where the problem of coercive sterilization still
has not been fully addressed," said Ostalinda Maya, ERRC’s Women’s
Rights Officer.

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