MINELRES: ERRC: Coercive Sterilisations in the Czech Republic

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Wed Sep 22 15:43:58 2004

Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org> 

September 16, 2004

Press Release

European Roma Rights Center
League of Human Rights
Life Together
IQ Roma Service

Clarifying Positions: Coercive Sterilisations of Romani Women in the
Czech Republic

Recent days have seen an outbreak of interest on the part of media in
the Czech Republic about the theme of coercive sterilisations of Romani
women in the Czech Republic. The organisations named above therefore
issue herewith public comment on the problem of coercive sterilisations
of Romani women in the Czech Republic, and on measures taken by public
authorities to date to act on the issue, with the intent of clarifying

>From the 1970s until 1990, the Czechoslovak government sterilised Romani
women programmatically, as part of policies aimed at reducing the "high,
unhealthy" birth rate of Romani women. This policy was decried by the
Czechoslovak dissident initiative Charter 77, and documented extensively
in the late 1980s by dissidents Zbynek Andrs and Ruben Pellar. Human
Rights Watch addressed the issue in a comprehensive report published in
1992 on the situation of Roma in Czechoslovakia, concluding that the
practice had ended in mid-1990. A number of cases of coercive
sterilisations taking place in 1990 or before then in the Czech part of
the former Czechoslovakia have also been recently documented by the
ERRC. Criminal complaints filed with Czech and Slovak prosecutors on
behalf of sterilised Romani women in each republic were dismissed in
1992 and 1993. No Romani woman sterilised by Czechoslovak authorities
has ever received justice or even public recognition of the injustices
to which they were systematically subjected under Communism.

During 2003 and 2004, the ERRC and partner organisations in the Czech
Republic have undertaken a number of field missions to the Czech
Republic to determine whether practices of coercive sterilisation have
continued after 1990, and if they were ongoing to the present. The
conclusions of this research indicate that there is significant cause
for concern that to the present day, Romani women in the Czech Republic
have been subjected to coercive sterilisations, and that Romani women
are at risk in the Czech Republic of being subjected to sterilisation
absent fully informed consent.

During the course of research, researchers found that Romani women have
been coercively sterilised in recent years in the Czech Republic. Cases
documented include:
* Cases in which consent has reportedly not been provided at all, in
either oral or written form, prior to the operation;
* Cases in which consent was secured during delivery or shortly before
delivery, during advanced stages of labour, i.e. in circumstances in
which the mother is in great pain and/or under intense stress;
* Cases in which consent appears to have been provided (i) on a mistaken
understanding of terminology used, (ii) after the provision of
apparently manipulative information and/or (iii) absent explanations of
consequences and/or possible side effects of sterilisation, or adequate
information on alternative methods of contraception;
* Cases in which officials put pressure on Romani women to undergo
sterilisation, including through the use of financial incentives or
threats to withhold social benefits;
* Cases in which explicit racial motive appears to have played a role
during doctor-patient consultations.

Officials in the Czech Republic have acknowledged privately (although
not yet publicly) to the ERRC that there is a serious problem of a lack
of patients rights culture in the Czech medical community.

Coercive sterilisation is a very serious form of human rights abuse.
Coercive sterilisation is a violation of the bodily integrity of the
victim and can cause severe psychological and emotional harm. In
addition, coercive sterilisation restricts or nullifies the ability of a
woman to bear children, and does so without her having been able to
participate fully in a decision of such evident import, the consequences
of which are in many cases irreversible. In June 2004, the UN Committee
Against Torture recommended to the Czech government that it "investigate
claims of involuntary sterilisations, using medical and personnel
records, and urge the complainants, to the extent possible, to assist in
substantiating the allegations".

The ERRC has presented concerns related to the coercive sterilisation of
Romani women in the Czech Republic to public authorities on a number of
occasions. Most recently, complaints filed on behalf ten victims of the
practice were filed with the Office of the Public Defender of Rights
("Ombudsman") last week by the ERRC and local counsel, acting with very
significant support by the League of Human Rights and the organisation
Life Together. The ten case filed are not the only cases of coercive
sterilization of Romani women in the Czech Republic of which we are
aware. They are rather ten cases in which a convergence of factors
including but not limited to the willingness of the victim to pursue
legal measures under present conditions, our independent assessment of
the victim's ability to endure difficult legal proceedings, as well as a
number of other factors, have converged to make formal complaints

The ten cases presented to the Ombudsman require remedy without delay.
In order for justice to be done and to be seen to be done for all
victims of these practices however, we believe the nature of the issue
is such that it will ultimately require a law establishing (i)
recognition that practices of coercive sterilization have been prevalent
in the Czech Republic; (ii) procedures (including all relevant
safeguards for the safety and privacy of the complainant) specific to
the issue of coercive sterilization, under which victims of such
practices may come forward and claim due compensation. The organisations
named above urge the Czech government to undertake the following:

* Establish an independent commission of inquiry investigating the
allegations and complaints of coercive sterilisations. Thoroughly
investigate reported cases of coercive sterilisations, and make
available - and widely publicised procedures - for women who believe
they may have been abusively sterilised to report the issue. These
procedures should ensure privacy rights, as well as rights related to
effective remedy. Provide justice to all victims of coercive
sterilisations, including those coercively sterilised under Communism.
Conduct ex officio investigations to ascertain the full extent of
coercive sterilisations in the post-Communist period.

* Review the domestic legal order in the Czech Republic to ensure that
it is in harmony with international standards in the field of
reproductive rights and provides all necessary guarantees that the right
of the patient to full and informed consent to procedures undertaken by
medical practitioners is respected in all cases.

* Promote a culture of seeking full and informed consent for all
relevant medical procedures by providing extensive training to medical
professionals and other relevant stakeholders, as well as by conducting
information campaigns in relevant media.

* Undertake regular monitoring to ensure that all medical practitioners
seek to attain the highest possible standards of consent when
undertaking sterilisations and other invasive procedures.

For further information on the issues raised above, please contact:
Claude Cahn (ERRC): (++36 20) 98 36 445
Jiri Kopal (League for Human Rights): (++ 420) 60 87 19 535
Kumar Vishwanathan (Life Together): (++ 420) 77 77 60 191
Katarina Klamkova: (IQ Roma Sevice): (++ 420) 60 88 20 637

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC
website at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel.: ++ (36 1) 413 2200
Fax: ++ (36 1) 413 2201
E-mail: office@errc.org

The League of Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation providing
free legal and psychological assistance to victims of gross human rights
violations, in particular to members of the Roma minority, victims of
domestic violence and children. Its mission is to create a future in
which the Czech state actively protects the human rights of its
citizenry and respects both the spirit and the letter of the
international human rights conventions to which it is signatory.

League of Human Rights
Bratislavska 31
602 00 Brno
Czech Republic
Tel.: + 420 545 210 446
Fax: + 420 545 240 012

Life Together is a Czech Romani organisation fighting social exclusion
and marginalisation in the Ostrava region of the Czech Republic, as well
as strengthening Czech-Roma mutual confidence and co-operation.

Life Together
30. Dubna 3
Ostrava 70200
Czech Republic
Tel: ++ 420 77 77 60 191
E-mail: vzajemne.souziti@tiscali.cz

IQ Roma Service, based in Brno, Czech Republic, is a non-profit,
non-governmental organisation active in socially excluded Roma
IQ Roma service provides community and social field work, free
counseling and law services together with employment support for Roma
clients. It also initiates social inclusion strategies for Roma and
minority communities on a local level.

IQ Roma Service
602 00 Brno
Czech Republic
Tel.: ++ 420 5 492 41 250