Czech researcher at Romani genocide commemoration: Compensate the victims of illegal sterilizations
Ruben Pellar, a commentator, researcher and translator, emphasized the need to compensate the Romani women who have been illegally sterilized in the former Czechoslovakia and its successor state of the Czech Republic during his speech to those assembled for the commemorative ceremony honoring the Romani victims of the Holocaust at the site of the former camp at Lety u Písku on 13 May. Despite the efforts of many NGOs, direct compensation for the victims of these abuses has yet to be approved by the Czech Government, and it is necessary to remember these crimes.
"The illegal sterilizations began in the distant past of the socialist state and culminated in the nineties, definitely continuing even after the end of the socialist period after 1989. Since then, 27 years have passed and the Czech state is still not able to cope with this painful past. The Czech state now has a unique opportunity to remedy one of the worst injustices of the past, perpetrated not only against Czech citizens, but especially against Romani women," Pellar said.
Čeněk Růžička, the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, echoed Mr Pellar's remarks to those assembled, who included Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman and Czech Human Rights Minister Jan Chvojka. An analysis of the research done on this issue in the 1980s by Mr Pellar and his colleague, Zbyněk Andrš, was published last year in Czech and English by the Romani women's association Manushe in cooperation with the Slovo 21 NGO; news server Romea.cz publishes Mr Pellar's speech in full translation below.
Speech by Ruben Pellar at Lety, 13 May 2017
So much has already been said about the case of Lety that I shall limit myself to only one remark: The camp in Lety is said to be the place of the suffering of Czech Roma and Sinti. I would like to emphasize that this was, first of all, a group of Czech or Czechoslovak citizens whom the authorities gave the negative label of "Gypsy", criminalized, and eventually classified as racially inferior and determined that they would be exterminated. I stress this Czech citizenship, although the residents of the camp at Lety probably considered themselves in most cases to be Roma or Sinti.
Today I want to talk about another case which, like the case of Lety, has distressed us all for many long years. This is the case of the sterilizations of Czechoslovak and Czech citizens which have been happening since the 1970s in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, including after that state ceased to exist in 1989. As in the case of Lety, this is also a violation of the law, especially against Romani women. You certainly all know about the situation, so I will not describe it now.
Non-governmental organizations and the victims have been seeking compensation for these abuses, more or less unsuccessfully. The most recent turn of events is that Czech Minister for Human Rights Jiří Dienstbier submitted a proposal to the Czech Government for the victims to be compensated, but it was then more or less clearly rejected.
There is, however, serious international criticism of this approach of the Czech state. One of the critical voices is the recommendation of the UN Committee for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women of 7 March 2016. I have decided, along with others, to join this critical voice and inform you about the challenge we are addressing to the Czech Government.
"Point 29. In accordance with its previous concluding observations (CEDAW/C/CZE/CO/3, para. 24 and CEDAW/C/CZE/CO/5, para 35), its general recommendations Nos. 19 (1992) on Violence against women and 24 (1999) on Article 12 – Women and health, and the recommendations in the final statement dated 23 December 2005 of the Ombudsman in the matter of sterilizations performed in contravention of the law and proposed remedial measures, the Committee reiterates its call for the State party to: (A) Review the three-year time limit in the statute of limitations for bringing compensation claims in cases of coercive or non-consensual sterilizations with a view to extending 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; (B) Establish an ex gratia compensation procedure for victims of coercive or non-consensual sterilizations; (C) Provide all victims with assistance to access their medical records; (D) Prosecute and adequately punish perpetrator [sic] of the illegal past practices of coercive or non- consensual sterilizations; and, (E) Appoint an independent committee to conduct research into the full extent of harm caused by the practice of involuntary sterilisation, and support ongoing outreach to all potential applicants for compensation."
We join this challenge of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and ask at the same time that the competent authorities of the Czech state urgently develop or finalize work on the law to compensate illegally sterilized people (which Minister Dienstbier was supposedly entrusted with undertaking), to adopt it, and to began to apply it as soon as possible. The illegal sterilizations began in the distant past of the socialist state and culminated in the nineties, definitely continuing even after the end of the socialist period after 1989. Since then, 27 years have passed and the Czech State is still not able to cope with this painful past. The Czech state now has a unique opportunity to remedy one of the worst injustices of the past, perpetrated not just against Czech citizens, but especially against Romani women. If the Czech state does not take advantage of this opportunity, it will remain in a status that can only be described as scandalous and shameful.
There is a good word in the Romanes language: ladž. In translation it means shame, or disgrace.
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