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Sterilization victims still denied justice in the Czech Republic

Geneva, Budapest , 12.10.2010 11:23, (ROMEA)

Romani women who were victims of coercive sterilization have been denied due compensation from the Czech government years after the cases were brought to light. As a matter of government policy, Romani women were routinely sterilized in the former Czechoslovakia during the 1970s. Though the policy no longer exists, cases of sterilization have been reported as recently as 2007.

Yesterday, in a press release from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) it was noted that the Czech Prime Minister has expressed regret for the practice, yet the Czech government, has to date, taken no significant steps to compensate those affected.

The ERRC submitted a report on coercive sterilization to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women at the Committee’s 47th session in Geneva. In a written statement to the committee, the ERRC raised concern about coercive sterilization cases from 1989 to 2007. Most victims of the practice lack an effective remedy as they discovered they had been sterilized years after and sought legal assistance at a time when any claims against the perpetrators or the State had become time-barred.

The ERRC reminded the UN that the Czech government has failed to take adequate steps from preventing forced sterilizations from occurring, as the law on informed consent has not been changed.

“In the 20 cases which have recently come to light and which occurred between 1989 and 2007, free and informed consent to the sterilizations seems to have been lacking. Most of the women signed their consent to surgery without having been properly informed beforehand of its consequences. Some of the women signed under duress, while others have no memory of signing anything. One of the women was completely illiterate. Some of the women say they were never asked to sign their consent," reads the ERRC report. The ERRC has been systematically investigating these cases together with the Ostrava-based association Life Together.

There currently exists no effective remedy for most of the women whose rights have been violated. According to Kateřina Červená, a lawyer with the League of Human Rights, only two women have been awarded compensation by the courts so far. One reason is that many of the women never even learned they had been sterilized until several years after the operation. By the time they sought legal aid, the statute of limitations with respect to their right to compensation from the perpetrators or the state had expired.

"The Czech Republic should follow the example of countries such as Sweden, which has instituted its own compensation procedure for victims of forced sterilization. Since the statute of limitations has expired for most of the cases, the Czech Republic should develop a separate compensation procedure. Addressing the forced sterilization of Roma women is part of coming to terms with the past," Gwendolyn Albert, who presented the ERRC report in Geneva, told news server Romea.cz.

Robert Kushen, the executive director of ERRC, agrees: “The Czech Government needs to overcome the existing barriers to accessing justice experienced by sterilized Romani women and establish a mechanism which would ensure that all women affected by this abhorrent practice are compensated. The Czech Government has the opportunity to provide much-needed leadership to other countries where Romani women have been coercively sterilized ”

In addition to the ERRC, the League of Human Rights also presented a report on the protection of women in the Czech Republic and their various problems. In addition to the forced sterilizations, the League criticized the Czech Republic's performance to date on domestic violence, as well as the barriers to women freely choosing whether to give birth at home or in hospitals. Among other matters, the Czech Women's Lobby presented on the fact that there are no women in the current cabinet.

Nathalia Odwin
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