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Czech Supreme Court - new hope for forcibly sterilized Romani women

Brno, 8.8.2011 16:24, (ROMEA)

The Czech Supreme Court has given new hope to Iveta Červeňáková, a Romani woman from Ostrava, that she may yet receive the compensation due her for the fact that she was sterilized without her informed consent 14 years ago in Ostrava Municipal Hospital. In 2008 the High Court in Olomouc ordered the hospital merely to apologize, as the statute of limitations was said to have expired on her right to compensation, but now a more recent Supreme Court verdict has ruled that the judges in Olomouc did not sufficiently take into account whether the established limitations in this specific case are ethical. The High Court will have to review the case once more.

The High Court originally was guided by the opinion that the right to financial compensation for a violation of personality rights is always subject to the statute of limitations and that Ms Červeňáková had filed suit for protection of her personality rights too late. However, on the basis of previous Constitutional Court findings, the Supreme Court reminded the High Court that in some individual cases such compensation may be awarded.

The Constitutional Court has said first-instance courts should be very sensitive in evaluating the question of whether to uphold statutes of limitations on the right to seek compensation for moral damages and should operate on a case by case basis, devoting more attention to the question of whether it is ethical to strictly enforce time limits. "The verdict of the High Court in Olomouc under consideration here was not fully based in clear-cut principles and cannot therefore be considered correct in this matter," presiding Supreme Court Justice Pavel Pavlík stated in his ruling. Put simply, this means that since Iveta Červeňáková was never told she would be sterilized and never consented to the operation, the High Court should not honor the three-year statute of limitations on her right to seek redress.

The Regional Court in Ostrava originally awarded Ms Červeňáková half a million Czech crowns, but the High Court in Olomouc ruled that the hospital only owed her an apology. The hospital has not yet made a statement on the new Supreme Court verdict, as it has not yet had a chance to read it. "We don't have a copy of the decision. We will find out what it contains and we will respect it," Jiří Maléř, the hospital spokesperson, told the Czech daily Lidové noviny.

This new chance for compensation evidently also applies to dozens of other predominantly Romani women who have complained about forced sterilization in the past. Forced sterilization survivor Helena, also from Ostrava, described what had happened in her case to Lidové noviny as follows: "Just before going to the operating room they had me sign a paper. I was in labor, I couldn't properly follow what it said." Helena's case is now waiting to be ruled on at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Doctors sterilized Ms Červeňáková on 7 July 1997. Her opportunity to sue for violation of her personality rights expired three years later. She claims she was never properly informed about the surgery and did not know what it entailed when she signed what she believed was her consent to a Cesarean delivery only in the operating room. She was giving birth to her second child and the delivery was her second by C-section. She alleges that she did not realize she was incapable of conceiving again until seven years after the operation. All that time she had been under the impression that she had been fitted with an IUD. When she visited the doctor to have it removed so she could have another child, she learned the truth about what had been done to her.

There are many such cases in the Czech Republic. The problem of Romani women being sterilized without their informed consent began to be discussed in the Czech Republic in the autumn of 2004, when the European Roma Rights Centre published its suspicions that Romani women were being forcibly sterilized here. According to European Romani activists, forced sterilization has also occurred in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia, but the largest number of cases are said to have occurred in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Jitka Votavová, voj, Czech Press Agency, Českénoviny.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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