Monday, November 14, 2011


Statement of Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, as published in the Congressional Record on November 10, 2011.

EUROPEAN COURT DECISION -- (Senate - November 10, 2011)
[Page: S7361]


Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I had the opportunity to visit Slovakia in 2009. It was a great opportunity for me to meet with representatives of a country that is a close ally of the United States. Slovakia and the United States share strong ties thanks to the heritage of many Americans whose parents, grandparents or great grandparents came from Slovakia. We are also bound by our common devotion to democracy and human rights. It is an important friendship.

My visit to Bratislava gave me a chance to strengthen those ties. It also provided me with an opportunity to share with my Slovak friends concerns I have about the practice of targeting Romani women for sterilization without informed consent--a practice that was documented and condemned by the Charter 77 human rights movement more than 30 years ago. Unfortunately, sterilizations without consent continued to be performed in State-run hospitals in the Czech and Slovak Republics--reportedly even in this century.
[Page: S7362]

This week there has been an important development on that front. On Tuesday, the European Court on Human Rights found that the sterilization without informed consent of a Romani woman had violated article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment, and article 8, the right to family life.

This is an incredibly important victory for a woman who was wrongfully sterilized at the time of the birth of her second child and who has since struggled for 11 years to vindicate this claim. I commend her for her bravery and tenaciousness in the face of numerous obstacles. At the same time, I am aware that the damages awarded by the court can never fully compensate for what was taken from her.

I regret that it has taken so long to achieve this single victory. Thus far, the Slovak Government has refused to acknowledge this past practice of targeting Romani women for sterilization. In the last decade, in the face of growing documentation of this abuse and increasing calls for the Slovak Government to acknowledge this grave human rights violation, Slovak authorities have, in turns, made threats against victims, denied the past abuse, and some voices even continue to call for making sterilization freely available to ``socially excluded communities''--a term that is almost synonymously used to describe Roma.

There are other countries where sterilization without consent also occurred in the last century, including Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and 33 States in the United States. But Slovakia has been singularly resistant to acknowledging that these abuses not only happened, but are indefensible by modern standards.

While I welcome this week's decision by the European court, it does not put an end to this issue. There are two other sterilization cases pending in Slovakia's domestic courts, and five other cases pending against Slovakia before the European court. I urge the Slovak Government not to force victims through the painful process of litigating each case--a process that has immeasurable costs for all sides--and to establish a less burdensome process for victims to have their claims recognized. It is long overdue for Slovak authorities to acknowledge that Romani women were targeted for sterilization without informed consent.


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