Czech Constitutional Court refuses compensation to Romani woman sterilized against her will
The Czech Constitutional Court has rejected a complaint lodged by Helena Ferenčíková, the Romani woman who successfully sued Vítkovice Hospital for sterilizing her against her will and received an apology but no financial compensation. The lower courts ruled that her right to compensation is subject to a statute of limitations which has expired. ČTK reports that the Czech Constitutional Court has now upheld the lower court verdicts. In 2005 the case was the first ever brought to court by an involuntarily sterilized Romani woman in the Czech Republic.
The Regional Court in Ostrava and the High Court in Olomouc have both ruled that physicians committed an illegal action when they performed sterilization without proper consent on Ms Ferenčíková, who was 19 years old at the time. Their actions violated both her physical integrity and her privacy. However, the courts said that her right to financial compensation is subject to a general three-year statute of limitations, which expired in October 2004. Ferenčíková‘s complaint was not filed with the Regional Court until 2005.
In the constitutional complaint, Ferenčíková‘s attorney pointed out the gravity of the human rights violation concerned, claiming that “the application of the general statute of limitations has deprived the plaintiff of protection for her fundamental rights and dignity.” The complaint argues that it is a violation of good morals to deny compensation on the grounds that the statute of limitations has expired in this case. The attorney also reminded the court that over time, verdicts concerning such limitations have been gradually shifting towards more flexibility.
The judges, however, found Ferenčíková‘s objections to be unsubstantiated. "The Constitutional Court finds that the adjudicating courts decided the case correctly, dispassionately, and fully in accordance with the law,” reporting Justice Vlasta Formánková of the Fourth Senate stated in the ruling. Justice Formánková also noted that in 2008 the variations in previous verdicts involving similar statutory issues were unified by the Czech Supreme Court’s Grand Chamber so as to bring them into line with the previous decisions in the Ferenčíková case.
Doctors sterilized Ferenčíková during the birth of her second child. They claimed to be proceeding in her interest because it was her second Caesarian-section delivery. The hospital claimed she agreed to the surgery, was instructed as to its meaning, and her signature is on the documentation. However, Ferenčíková said she did not precisely understand what she was signing because she was in labor at the time. She did not want to be sterilized, but wanted to have more children.
Human rights activists say dozens of Romani woman have been similarly sterilized in the Ostrava region under similar circumstances. The problem began to be discussed in the Czech Republic at the start of autumn 2004 when the European Roma Rights Center publicized its suspicions that forced sterilizations were occurring. In March of this year the Czech Constitutional Court also rejected a complaint filed by yet another Romani victim of such treatment, Iveta Červeňáková, who was bringing suit over the fact that criminal charges against the two doctors who sterilized her against her will were dropped.
According to human rights activists, the most recent case of a Romani woman being sterilized against her will in the Czech Republic occurred in 2007. This year, Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb brought the matter to the attention of the Fischer cabinet, stating that the issue of the unwanted sterilizations of Romani women must be reopened.
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