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As many as 1 000 women could be compensated for wrongful sterilizations in Czech Republic

Prague, 22.2.2012 2:58, (ROMEA)

As few as 59 and as many as 1 000 women could be entitled to compensation from the Czech state for illegal sterilizations. The Committee against Torture, which drafted the motion to compensate the women, includes those estimates in a report which the Czech Press Agency has reviewed.

The Czech Government's Human Rights Council has recommend the Government compensate women whose fertility was terminated illegally. The Committee against Torture is part of the Council. It is not yet clear when the cabinet will discuss the matter. Dozens of women, most of them Romani, have turned to the courts and the ombudsman in recent years to address their forced sterilization.

The Council has recommended the Ministers of Labor, Health, Finance and Justice work with the Human Rights Commissioner to propose a compensation model to the Government by the end of next year. The Committee proposed drafting legislation similar to that used to compensate the victims of Nazism or those persecuted for resisting communist rule. A special Government-appointed commission including a gynecologist, a psychologist, and representatives of various ministries would evaluate applications from women claiming to have been forcibly sterilized. Women who apply would permit the team to review their medical records. The commission would then decide whether to award compensation.

A similar approach was taken by Sweden, which subjected 63 000 people to forced sterilization between 1935 and 1975, 93 % of them women and 7 % of them men. In most of the cases, a doctor declared the person to be "mentally retarded". However, in reality these people's fertility was being curtailed for either eugenic or social reasons, i.e., in order to "improve the race". At least 10 000 of those cases were proven to have been dubious, and 2 067 victims applied for compensation.

The Committee based its estimates of the numbers of women to be compensated in the Czech Republic on the Swedish experience as well. They say that at a minimum, 59 women could be compensated. The Supreme State Prosecutor has already received 59 cases from the ombudsman for prosecution, but chose to shelve them, reportedly for lack of evidence. The Committee's motion states that the maximum number of victims could be as high as 1 000. For the time being the Committee has proposed amounts of between CZK 300 000 and 400 000 be awarded to the victims depending on the degree of harm caused to them and the degree to which existing regulations were violated. The Committee's report estimates that the state could pay out as much as CZK 400 million.

In 2006, the Committee proposed the victims be awarded CZK 175 000. "That amount now seems too low," the Committee's document now reads, referencing the fact that last year several forcibly sterilized women settled out of court with hospitals for CZK 500 000. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg recently awarded compensation of EUR 31 000 (the equivalent of about CZK 773 000) in a similar case in Slovakia.

The Committee has proposed that women who were subjected to forced sterilizations between January 1972 and May 1991 be entitled to compensation. Regulations then in effect permitted the surgery to be performed "in the interests of a healthy population" and the authorities motivated women to undergo sterilization by offering them as much as CZK 10 000. Women who were sterilized illegally after 1991 would also be entitled to compensation if they were unable to sue in civil court before the three-year statute of limitations expired. The Committee also proposed the state pay attorney's fees for any women for whom suing in court is still an option. Those fees could run from between CZK 50 000 and CZK 100 000 per case.

The European Roma Rights Center raised suspicions of the forced sterilizations, primarily of Romani women, in 2004. Two years later, the Committee proposed compensation. The Government Human Rights Council first discussed a motion on the issue in 2007. Two years later, the cabinet expressed regret for the forced sterilizations. The UN Committees for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, however, have advised the Czech Government that an apology is not enough.

The Committee says three more cases against the Czech Republic are pending before the European Court of Human Rights regarding forced sterilizations that took place in 1997, 2001 and 2003. The ERRC has documented 27 cases of forced sterilization which took place between 1989 and 2007.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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