Elena Gorolová welcomes Czech Govt review of compensation for forcibly sterilized women
The recommendation by the Czech Government Human Rights Council that the cabinet compensate women who have been wrongfully sterilized has been welcomed Elena Gorolová, a survivor of these practices. She is the spokesperson for the Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization, which came together under the non-governmental association Vzájemné soužití (Life Together) in Ostrava.
To this day, Gorolová has a bitter memory of the critical moment in the delivery room when health care workers gave her a paper to sign. "No one told me what it meant, I was young," says Gorolová. Doctors sterilized her in 1990 at the age of 21.
The doctors decided to sterilize her in the course of her second Cesarean delivery. Two or more Cesarean deliveries was the most frequent reason given for the sterilizations, as were a birthing woman's diseased heart or lungs.
However, the women harmed by these sterilizations say the problem is that they never gave their informed consent to the surgery. Gorolová says she was never given any information about sterilization, not even when she visited the maternity ward for checkups during her high-risk pregnancy.
Gorolová is one of 87 women who sent complaints of being forcibly sterilized to the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman). In December 2005, in his Final Statement on this issue, the ombudsman accepted that sterilizations performed on Romani women during the communist era had been of a eugenic nature. Both his report and cases litigated by the League of Human Rights now show that illegal sterilizations have continued up until today.
Elena Gorolová is one of the "post-November 1989" cases. Her Group, which brings the women who suffered this treatment together, was not founded several years ago with the vision of suing for money, but to create a platform for sharing their unpleasant experiences and for those who felt the need to do something to change such practices in maternity wards.
"We have already succeeded in achieving many things, for example, that the Government expressed regret for the forced sterilizations in 2009. I attended the recent session of the Government Human Rights Council as a guest, and I am really glad the Government will be reviewing this problem once more," says Gorolová, who sees the greatest omission in the area of preventing these abuses. She says work with young Romani girls is necessary to make sure they are informed of their options.
Gorolová recalled her work with a Vzájemné soužití project which once had that aim, but has now ended: "We traveled to schools to hold discussions and meetings with young women. The meetings were attended by experts, gynecologists, hospital personnel. The problem is that women do not know, for example, that they do not have to undergo sterilization, not even after a second Cesarean delivery. I had no inkling of these matters before, nor do many other women. When the time comes, they are unable to make a decision on the basis of knowing all the options. I think that thanks to the ombudsman and the discussion of forced sterilizations that has been ongoing for several years now, the situation in maternity wards has been changing."
"I have had the opportunity to speak with many doctors, particularly in the Moravian-Silesian Region. They all expressed similar opinions, they believe the women are not well-informed. Maybe once the Government reviews sterilization once again it will help for this matter to be spoken of once more and for doctors to give more information to their patients," Gorolová hopes.
The Czech Government Human Rights Council is recommending the cabinet compensate women who were wrongfully sterilized between 1972 - 1991 and said compensation should be provided irrespective of statutes of limitations. Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková informed the Czech Press Agency of the recommendations, which she says the Government should discuss in the coming months. A draft "compensation mechanism" should be on the table by the end of 2013. Czech daily Lidové noviny has reported that most cabinet ministers support compensation.
According to the Council's recommendation, all women who have ever been wrongfully sterilized should be compensated. Even women who were entitled to be rewarded monetarily for undergoing sterilization according to previously applicable regulations will be considered eligible. Until 1991, a decree was in effect that made it possible to pay women CZK 10 000 for terminating their fertility. The ombudsman's Final Statement reported that social workers convinced Romani women not to have more children by offering them the payment. The planned compensation would also be offered to women who have been unable to sue over what happened to them because of statutes of limitations.
The cabinet reviewed the forced sterilization of women last week when it discussed the concluding recommendations of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. That body has recommended the Czech Republic show its good will by compensating Romani women who were coercively or forcibly sterilized. "This mutilation was performed in state institutions, so the state is obliged to pay compensation," Czech Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) told LN.
Other ministers have also expressed agreement with that position. However, they say that whether the proposal is approved by the Government will depend on the precise form of the compensation system. "The procedure for proving that the sterilization was against the will of the woman requesting compensation must be clearly established," Czech Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra (ODS) told the daily. "I support compensation, but there is a need to discuss the precise amount on the basis of arguments made by experts," Czech Labor Minister Jaromír Drábek (TOP 09) told LN.
Šimůnková said she proposed to the cabinet that it give ministries various tasks with respect to the compensation. The Czech Justice Ministry is to develop an analysis to review existing statutes of limitations. The Czech Finance, Health and Labor Ministers, together with the Human Rights Commissioner, would have until the end of next year to propose how the compensation is to be undertaken. The head of the Health Ministry would have until the end of this June to make sure all medical records for female sterilization from 1971 are preserved. By the end of this September, the ministry would also develop instructions as to how doctors are to proceed with sterilizations in future.
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