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Czech President signs law to compensate the victims of illegal sterilizations

3.8.2021 14:53
Ten Romani women demonstrated on 11 September 2020 in Ostrava calling for the adoption of a bill to compensate the victims of forced sterilizations in the Czech Republic and former Czechoslovakia. (PHOTO:  Kumar Vishwanathan)
Ten Romani women demonstrated on 11 September 2020 in Ostrava calling for the adoption of a bill to compensate the victims of forced sterilizations in the Czech Republic and former Czechoslovakia. (PHOTO: Kumar Vishwanathan)

Czech President Miloš Zeman today signed into law the bill passed by the Czech Senate on 22 July 2021 regarding the provision of a one-time payment to persons who have been sterilized unlawfully on Czech territory. The news was published on the website of the Office of the President.

The battle to achieve compensation for the victims of illegal sterilizations is finally over after many years. Suspicions that primarily Romani women were still being subjected to forced sterilization in the Czech Republic were raised in 2004 by the European Roma Rights Centre. 

Dozens of Romani women then applied to the Public Defender of Rights for relief, while others turned to the courts.

"This is an historic and joyful day. The women who became the victims of these illegal sterilizations have been meeting for 18 years, and now they have finally seen justice and satisfaction. During this fight the women have had to overcome a great deal of stigmatization and trauma. We also remember those who did not live to see this moment," Kumar Vishwanathan, director of the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) organization, told news server Romea.cz.  

"This day is also of great importance with respect to coming to terms with the dark past of the totalitarian regime. We would like to thank the President for signing the bill into law. We would also like to thank the MPs from across the political spectrum, the senators, the members of the Government, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, many NGOs, European institutions, international institutions and figures, who all accompanied us on this long journey," Vishwanathan said, adding that currently the next steps for implementing the law are being prepared together with Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková and Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková.

The opportunity to apply for compensation in the amount of CZK 300 000 [EUR 11 775] will now be open to all who were sterilized on Czech territory without their informed consent between 1 July 1966 and 31 March 2012, i.e., the time during which the applicable legislation did not sufficiently guard against sterilizations being coerced or forced. According to the explanatory memorandum to the legislation, many people did not make the decision to undergo sterilization freely, but were persuaded by third parties to do so or were threatened that if they did not do so, their existing children would be institutionalized should they conceive again, or their welfare benefits would be stopped.

Men and women who were illegally sterilized will have three years in which to apply from the time the law takes effect. The Czech Health Ministry will assess the applications.

"We are planning, at the beginning of September 2021, to meet at the Health Ministry about the next steps, including the question of participation in staffing the commission that will assess the applications for compensation," Vishwanathan told Romea.cz, adding that on Friday in Ostrava there will be celebrations held about the adoption of the law.

"We will do our best to connect online with all the other women and the supporters of our common fight these many years. At the same time we believe this successful fight for the victims of the illegal sterilizations in the Czech Republic and the positive stance on this issue by constitutional officers will inspire similar developments in Slovakia and elsewhere in the world. We stand in solidarity with all victims of forced sterilizations worldwide," Vishwanathan told Romea.cz.

Compensation could be awarded to as many as 400 people, according to those who introduced the bill in the lower house. The state, therefore, could disburse as much as CZK 120 million [EUR 4.7 million] in compensation. 

The Czech Government Committee against Torture first recommended introducing compensation for forced sterilizations in 2006. In 2009 the Czech Government expressed regret for the illegal procedures.

A similar bill to compensate the forcibly sterilized had been previously drafted in 2015 during the Sobotka administration by then-Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD). The Government decided not to submit it to the lower house for consideration.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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forced sterilization, Miloš Zeman, odškodnění, women



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