UN Committee tells Czech Republic: Compensate victims of forced sterilization and punish those responsible
For the purpose of improving the position of women in the Czech Republic, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) issued its Concluding Observations to the Czech Republic on 7 March, based on the Czech Government's Sixth Periodic Report to the Committee on upholding the UN Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A delegation from the Czech Republic defended that report before the Committee in Geneva on 23 February.
The Committee is calling on the Czech Republic to take actions, for example, such as adopting an amendment to its electoral law introducing rules for the representation of women and men on candidate lists, or the introduction of measures to eliminate poverty among single mothers, or reducing disparities between the remuneration of women and men, as well as ensuring the availability of social services for victims of domestic violence, etc. In its report, the Committee also expressed its opinion of the illegal sterilizations of Romani women and is urging the Czech Government to adopt a mechanism for compensating these victims.
In accordance with the Committee's previous recommendations and with the recommendations made by the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the Ombudsman) in 2005, the Committee is once again urging the Czech Government to extend the current three-year time frame within which compensation for harms such as forced or involuntary sterilization can be sought. "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," the recommendations state.
The Czech Republic is also urged to "prosecute and adequately punish perpetrator[s] of the illegal past practices of coercive or non-consensual sterilizations." The Government should also "appoint an independent committee to conduct research into the full extent of harm caused by the practice of involuntary sterilization, and support ongoing outreach to all potential applicants for compensation."
During the next two years, the Czech Government must submit information to the Committee about what steps have been taken to implement these recommendations. The Committee itself is an independent monitoring body of the UN tasked with overseeing the fulfillment of the Convention and formulating recommendations to each of the member states about that fulfillment.
Czech state says victims' entitlement to financial compensation is barred
In October 2015 the Czech Government rejected a draft bill to compensate the victims of illegal sterilizations from previous decades that had been drawn up by the team of Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD). According to that bill, women identified as eligible would have received up to CZK 300 000 (EUR 11 000) in compensation.
According to some comments made by other cabinet members about that proposal, the victims have been able to turn to the courts for such compensation and it should have been enough for them that the state has already expressed its regret to them and changed the rules for how such surgeries are performed. According to Deputy Human Rights Minister Martina Štěpánková, however, entitlement to financial compensation is statute-barred for these victims.
Štěpánková also expressed doubt that those women who were forcibly sterilized during the communist regime would ever have been allowed to sue at the time. A Charter 77 document on the status of Gypsies/Roma in Czechoslovakia was sent to the communist Government on 13 December 1978 that pointed out that Romani women were being illegally sterilized.
"In some districts the sterilization of Romani women is being carried out as a planned administrative practice and the success of district employees is being assessed during internal meetings according to the number of Romani women whom they have managed to talk into consenting to sterilization. These circumstances cannot be considered to consitute anything like objectivity. Often consent to sterilization is demagogically obtained by exploiting the offer of a cash prize in exchange. This is how sterilization is becoming one of the practices of the majority population against the minority population, leading to the prevention of births in the minority ethnic group," that document said.
Suspicions of forced illegal sterilizations in the Czech Republic, primarily of Romani women, were raised again in 2004 by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Dozens of women then complained to the Public Defender of Rights (the Ombudsman) and some also sued in court.
Czech Ombudsman Otakar Motejl first systematically worked on the topic in 2005. The Czech Government Human Rights Council's Committee against Torture proposed instituting compensation for the victims in 2006.
In 2009 the cabinet expressed regret for the illegal surgeries. The Czech Republic has been criticized by international organizations for the fact that the state has violated the victims' human rights and has yet to compensate them all.
Last fall the Committee sent preliminary questions to the Czech Government about its Sixth Periodic Report which the Czech delegation answered in Geneva in February. "In its answers to the preliminary questions, the Government argues against establishing a special compensation mechanism by citing potential complications with evidence, especially evidence for older cases, but such complications with evidence are precisely why the Government should proactively compensate these persons through a separate procedure," Gwendolyn Albert, who has long been aiding the victims of illegal sterilizations, told news server Romea.cz. Albert says such issues were one reason the Public Defender of Rights recommended establishing such a special compensation mechanism in 2005.
"The Government also argues that the Czech Supreme Court has been able to suspend the statute of limitations in two cases and awarded compensation to unlawfully sterilized persons, but it does not explain that those were more recent, post-1990 cases where the evidentiary situation was comparatively strong. If anyone who was forcibly and unlawfully sterilized before 1990 has ever successfully sued, then that fact is not generally known. There is no guarantee that the courts will deliver justice in other cases of this kind, and the Government should take particular responsibility to compensate these persons, as their unlawful sterilizations are a result of Government policy before 1990 and a result of Government failure to explain its policy changes after 1990," Albert said.
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