Czech Senate approves compensation for the victims of illegal sterilizations
The Czech Senate today, by a large majority, approved a bill to compensate all those who have been sterilized unlawfully - of the 68 senators present, 55 voted in favor and none voted against. Once signed into law, the opportunity to apply for compensation will be open to all who were sterilized without their informed consent between 1 July 1966 and 31 March 2012, which is when legislation did not feature sufficient safeguards against illegal procedures.
According to the explanatory memorandum, many women did not give their consent to the operation freely, but were coerced into doing so, including through threats that their other children would be taken into state care or that their welfare benefits would be stopped unless they could prove they would not have any more children. "I would very much like to thank the entire Parliament of the Czech Republic, its female and male members deserve credit for finally today approving compensation for women who have been illegally sterilized," Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková said in response to the vote.
"This shows that if a law is genuinely important, MPs and senators across the political spectrum can reach an agreement on it," said Válková, who was a co-sponsor of the bill in the lower house in her role as MP. Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková, who became involved with the bill when she began seeking support for it across the political spectrum in the Chamber of Deputies, told Seznam Zprávy that "It has been 16 years since former ombudsman Otakar Motejl issued the first official document with the stories of 81 women drawing attention to this problem."
"I myself have been working on this for 10 years," said Šimůnková, who is herself a former Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner. "Today is an unbelievable milestone for us and for all the women."
According to the bill that has now passed, once it is signed into law, men and women will have three years in which to apply for compensation and their applications will be assessed by the Health Ministry. As many as 400 people could be eligible for the compensation, according to those who drafted the bill.
The state could eventually pay out as much as CZK 120 million (EUR 4.7 million). Suspicions that forced sterilizations were ongoing in the Czech Republic, above all among Romani women, were published in 2004 by the European Roma Rights Centre.
Dozens of women then applied to the Public Defender of Rights for relief and some also sued in court. The Czech Government Committee against Torture proposed introducing compensation in 2006.
In the year 2009 the cabinet expressed regret for the illegal surgeries. A similar compensation proposal was drafted during the previous administration by then-Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD).
The Government refused to put that bill forward to the legislature, however. The bill will now come before Czech President Miloš Zeman to be signed into law.
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