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European Court pressuring Czech Govt to compensate Romani women sterilized without their consent

Prague, 13.3.2014 21:10, (ROMEA)
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The Czech daily Právo reports that five years ago, the Fischer cabinet expressed regret on behalf of the Czech Government for what has happened to women who have been sterilized without their consent, but the women do not consider that sort of moral satisfaction sufficient and are asking for financial compensation as well. Those who have not succeeded in the Czech courts have turned to the European Court for Human Rights.

"It can be anticipated that compensation will be awarded as a result of the court procedure against the Czech Republic," admitted Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) yesterday. The minister told the Czech daily Právo that the Government has decided to forestall the expected judgment by drafting a law on compensation.  

"When someone suffers a wrong, it must be evaluated and satisfaction must be provided," the minister said. It is not yet clear what the law will look like.  

"First we will draft the explanatory report for the law, where we flesh out our ideas. For the time being I don't want to discuss the basic parameters, I haven't clarified them," Dienstbier said when pressed for details. 

Compensation could be half a million crowns

The law could affect dozens and perhaps hundreds of women. It could be based on two bills, one drafted by the Czech Helsinki Committee and one drafted by the Czech Government's Committee against Torture.

Those bills call for compensating women who were sterilized without their informed consent after 1972. The suggested compensation amounts range from CZK 250 000 to CZK 450 000.

Czech ombud Anna Šabatová, who reviewed the sterilization cases 10 years ago as deputy to the country's first-ever ombud, Otakar Motejl, is already familiar with them. "At that time 80 women contacted the ombudsman's office. In 50 of those cases there was evidence that their sterilizations had not been performed in accordance with the law," she told the daily Právo yesterday.

The ombud said those findings were based on medical records which were missing for the other 30 cases. "I believe that the fact that their medical records are no longer available should not pose a further hardship for these women. The law should somehow unequivocally state this. The testimonies of the women themselves will be important. Everything should be evaluated by a specialized commission," she said. 

Šabatová is convinced that a new law should also address the three-year statute of limitations that currently applies to such cases. Practices begun during the previous regime with respect to sterilizations were continued after 1989. 

Iveta Červeňáková, for example, had her tubes tied by doctors in the Ostrava Municipal Hospital in 1997 without her consent, but a court did not rule on her case until almost a decade later. She was first awarded half a million crowns, but the High Court overturned that decision on appeal.

"The state should compensate these women even if the statue of limitations on their cases has expired. For other categories of compensation, such statutes of limitations have never not been disputed, and the cases of women sterilized [without their consent] should be no different. What should be conclusive is what actually did or did not take place," Šabatová said.   

In Červeňáková's case, doctors decided to sterilize her because they believed that should she conceive again, there was a danger that serious complications might arise. Professor Aleš Roztočil, the head physician in the ob-gyn department of the hospital in Jihlava, says that in the past the practice was to consider two Caesarian-section deliveres as constituting a danger for a third birth, so women who had undergone two C-sections were sterilized.    

"The institution of informed consent did not exist back then, that wasn't codified until the Law on Specific Medical Services was adopted in 2012. The woman never signed anything. She was told, though, she knew what she was undergoing," he told Právo yesterday.  

"It's possible that it was done in haste - during the move to the operating theater it was explained to her that she has two children, that she gave birth to both by C-section, and that a third birth would be dangerous. Back then it was considered that the woman should not get pregnant again," Roztočil said.

The professor does not believe that the doctors broke the law by performing such sterilizations. In his view, such procedures were facilitated by a paragraph on sterilization in the Law on the People's Health Care from 1966.

However, he also believes that in most cases, the medical records will merely show that the patient was informed of the procedure and agreed to it. "I doubt that these women would have somehow been confused and that it would have been done without their awareness. Given that primarily Romani women are now calling for compensation, I can definitely say this was not racially motivated," Roztočil said in response to criticism that doctors were involved in restricting the birth rate for members of that ethnicity. 

The professor assumes these women have sensed an opportunity to get some money. "They've taken it to court. It's a trend in society, and this seemed an appropriate opportunity to them," Roztočil said. 

čon, Novinky.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Jiří Dienstbier, Roma, Romské ženy, sterilizace



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