CEDAW: Czechs must report progress on forced sterilizations in two years
The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has released its most recent set of recommendations to the government of the Czech Republic. On the issue of the forced sterilizations of Roma women, the Committee is requiring the government to report back in two years instead of the customary five.
The Committee reiterated that the Czech government should waste no time in adopting the recommendations made on this issue by the Czech Ombudsman five years ago, and urged the government to adopt legislative changes clearly defining the requirements of free, prior and informed consent with regard to sterilizations, in accordance with relevant international standards. The Committee also called on the Czech state to include a period of at least seven days between such time as any patient is informed about the nature of sterilization, its permanent consequences, its potential risks and the available alternatives to such a procedure, and such time as the patient expresses her free, prior and informed consent to being sterilized.
The Committee also urged the Czech government to review the existing three-year time limit in the statute of limitations for bringing compensation claims in cases of coercive or non-consensual sterilizations "in order to extend it and, as a minimum, ensure that such time limit starts from the time of discovery of the real significance and all consequences of the sterilization by the victim rather than the time of injury." This recommendation reflects the reality that some of the women concerned never even learned they had been sterilized until years after the fact.
The Czech government expressed regret for the sterilizations last November but testified to the Committee in Geneva last week that there are no plans for ad hoc compensation of the victims. The Committee urged the government to "consider establishing an ex-gratia compensation procedure for victims of coercive or non-consensual sterilizations whose claims have lapsed" due to the three-year statute of limitations and to provide all of the victims with assistance to access their medical records. The Committee also called on the Czech authorities to "investigate and punish illegal past practices of coercive or non-consensual sterilizations."
The sterilization of women without their informed consent, in particular members of the Roma minority, began as part of state-sponsored policies under the communist regime of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and involved paying women to undergo the surgery. Victims were often misled as to its reversibility or otherwise coerced into undergoing the procedure. The program providing financial incentives stopped in 1990. Since then, Roma women from around the country have complained of having been sterilized without their informed consent, usually during Caesarian deliveries. The most recent complaint dates from 2007 and involves a Roma woman whose social worker threatened to institutionalize some of her children unless she agreed to undergo the procedure.
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