Three applicants of Roma ethnic origin were sterilized without full and informed consent in a public hospital during childbirth.
The first applicant, I.G., was sterilized in 2000 during her second childbirth via Caesarian section. After the childbirth, a doctor asked her to sign a document that all women who had Caesarean sections had to sign. I.G. learned about the sterilization a few years later during an investigation into her case. She submitted that her sterilization had been contrary to Slovak law, as at the relevant time she was 16 years old and her legal guardians had not consented to the procedure. She was living in constant fear that her partner would leave her because she cannot bear him anymore children.
The second applicant, M.K., was sterilized in 1999 during her second childbirth via Cesarean section. She was 17 years old and neither she nor her legal guardians signed any document consenting to sterilization. She learned about the sterilization a few years later during a criminal investigation into her case. Due to M.K.’s inability to have more children, her partner left her and her social status in her community fell and, as a result, it was very difficult for her to find a new partner. M.K. suffered serious medical side-effects from her sterilization.
The third applicant, R.H., was told she would have to deliver her twins by Caesarean section. She was given a pre-medication injection which made her dizzy. She was then asked to sign a paper because she was going to have a Caesarean section. R.H. died eight years later, from causes unstated in the case. The third applicant’s children pursued the application.
All three applicants also claimed they received inferior treatment in the hospital because of racial prejudices. In particular, the applicants stated that they had been accommodated separately from non-Roma women in the so called “Gypsy rooms”. They had been prevented from using the same bathrooms and toilets as non-Roma women, and could not enter the dining room, where there was a television set.
A long process of criminal and civil proceedings was instituted which ended in the General Prosecutor’s Office finding that contrary to what the prosecuting authorities at the lower level had held, the applicants could not be considered injured parties for the purpose of the criminal proceedings, as they had suffered no harm to their health, nor any other damage, and their rights had not been infringed. As for civil proceedings, the first applicant was not entitled to compensation since she had undergone a hysterectomy several days after her sterilization. The second applicant was compensated 1,593.3 euros. The third applicant’s proceedings were discontinued by the court because under the relevant law the right claimed had been extinguished upon her death. The applicants also lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court which ultimately said it lacked jurisdiction since the applicants had exclusively challenged the decision of the regional prosecutor’s office, and since the Constitutional Court was bound by the way in which they had specified the subject matter of their complaint.
The applicants then filed a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights, alleging violations of their right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), right to respect for private and family life (Article 8), right to found a family (Article 12), right to an effective remedy (Article 13), and freedom from discrimination (Article 14) read in conjunction with Articles 3, 8, and 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights first examined whether the children of the third applicant, R.H., had standing to pursue the application originally lodged by R.H., who died in the course of the proceedings. The Court held that the children of the third applicant did not have standing to pursue the application in their mother’s stead because the complaints concerned Articles 3, 8, 12 and 14 of the Convention which, in view of their factual background, were closely linked to the person of the original applicant and thus they were not transferable. The Court decided to strike the application of the third applicant out of its list of cases. As for the first and second applicants, the Court held that their right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) had been violated as a result of their sterilization without their and their representatives’ full and informed consent. Reiterating that their sterilization was not a life-saving intervention, and that neither the applicants nor their legal guardians gave prior informed consent to the procedure, the Court held that the sterilization did not respect the applicants’ human freedom and dignity, and attained a level of severity bringing such treatment within the scope of Article 3.
In addition, the Court held that there was a procedural violation of Article 3 as well because the investigations by the domestic authorities were prolonged significantly and were not compatible with the requirement of promptness and reasonable expedition.
The Court also found a violation of the first and second applicants’ right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) because in both cases the sterilization was carried out contrary to the requirements of Slovak law, as the domestic courts acknowledged. The Court held that the State “failed to comply with its positive obligation under Article 8 to secure through its legal system the rights guaranteed by that Article, by putting in place effective legal safeguards to protect the reproductive health of, in particular, women of Roma origin.”
Given the Court’s finding of violation of Article 8, the Court held that it was not necessary to examine the complaint separately under Article 12 and Article 14. The Court held there was no violation of Article 13, taken together with Articles 3, 8, and 12.
The Court awarded the first applicant 28,500 euros, the second applicant 27,000 euros, and 4,000 euros each for costs and expenses.