MINELRES: ERRC: Czech Prime Minister Apologises to Victims of Coercive Sterilisation

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Fri Nov 27 18:24:04 2009

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

Czech Prime Minister Apologises to Victims of Coercive Sterilisation
Budapest, Prague, 23 November 2009: During a press conference today the
Czech Prime Minister Mr Jan Fischer expressed his regret over instances
of coerced sterilisation which have occurred in the country. 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. Until recently the practice
continued, albeit sporadically.
The statement follows the adoption of a Motion by the Government of the
Czech Republic, initiated by the Minister for Human Rights Michal Kocab,
expressing regret for instances of illegal sterilisation which have
occurred. The Motion requires that, by 31 December 2009, the Ministry of
Health undertakes a series of measures to ensure that such violations do
not occur anymore.
Following the 2005 Final Statement by the Czech Ombudsman confirming the
illegality of the practice of coerced sterilisation and 6 years of
advocacy, awareness raising and litigation, the Group of Women Harmed by
Coercive Sterilisation, Life Together, Peacework Development Fund, the
European Roma Rights Centre, the League of Human Rights and the Center
for Reproductive Rights welcome the Czech government’s acknowledgement
of the very serious human rights violations inflicted upon Czech women,
overwhelmingly of Romani origin. Acknowledgement of the practice is a
crucial step in the process of providing redress.
Elena Gorolova, the spokesperson of the Group of Women Harmed by
Sterilisation stated: “The apology means a first step towards long
awaited justice although much remains to be done. Also we hope that this
apology will serve as an example to Slovakia, where the problem of
coercive sterilisation still has not been addressed.”
The Group of Women Harmed by Coercive Sterilisation, the European Roma
Rights Centre, the League of Human Rights, Peacework Development Fund,
Life Together and the Center for Reproductive Rights congratulate the
Czech government for this milestone and call on it to move quickly to
establish a mechanism to provide adequate compensation to women whose
reproductive capacities were destroyed without their informed consent.
Rob Kushen, Managing Director of the European Roma Rights Centre, noted
that “there are many hidden instances of coercive sterilisation. We urge
the Czech government to step up investigative actions to ensure that all
women who have suffered are identified and provided redress.” There are
20 outstanding complaints pending with the regional health authorities
for investigation, which the groups hope will now be addressed with
priority. The groups look forward to working together with the Czech
authorities to further the cause for redress and safeguard the health of
all women in the country.
For further information, contact:
Elena Gorolova, Group of Women Harmed by Sterilisation, lpt@souziti.cz,
+420.603.921.255, +420.775.76.11.94 (Czech, Romanes)
Gwendolyn Albert, Peacework Development Fund,
gwendolyn.albert@gmail.com, +420.774.89.5444 (Czech, English)
Ostalinda Maya, European Roma Rights Centre, ostalinda.maya@errc.org,
+36.30.500.1989 (English, Spanish)
Kumar Vishwanathan, Life Together, vzajemne.souziti@tiscali.cz,
+420.777.760.191 (Czech, English)
David Zahumensky, League of Human Rights, dzahumensky@llp.cz,
+420.608.719.535 (Czech, English)
Christina Zampas, Center for Reproductive Rights,
CZampas@reprorights.org, +46.70.745.2803
Background information
Onwards from the 1970s up until the regime change in 1990, the
Czechoslovak government sterilised Romani women programmatically,
allegedly to diminish their “high, unhealthy” birth rate. Research
conducted by the ERRC and partner organisations in 2003 and 2004 found a
number of cases of coercive sterilisations taking place in the former
Czechoslovakia as well as during post-communism up to 2007.[1]
>From 2004 through September 2005, 87 victims of coercive sterilisation –
all but one of them women and the overwhelming majority of them Romani –
submitted complaints to the Czech Public Defender of Rights (Ombudsman).
In early 2005, approximately 25 Romani women coercively sterilised by
Czech medical officials established a victim advocacy group called the
Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilisation to press authorities for
justice. Through this group the victims themselves have organised, come
out in public, and taken control of the process of pressing for change.
On the basis of these complaints in 2005, the Ombudsman issued a
report[2] which found that the submitted complaints of coerced
sterilisation were lacking in informed consent and constituted the
illegal performance of tubal ligation or related sterilising procedures.
The vast majority of the complaints were filed by Romani women. Some of
the cases occurred during the Communist era, but others have occurred
post-1989, including as recently as 2004. The report included
recommendations to the Czech government which were then echoed by other
advisory bodies to the Czech government as well as international
organizations. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination (CERD) and the Human Rights Committee (HRC), as well as
recommendations by the Human Rights Council in the framework of the 2008
Universal Periodic Review of the Czech Republic, urged the Czech
government to rectify these serious abuses or to improve legal and
administrative safeguards for individuals and effectively communicate
such safeguards to the public.
Litigation of individual cases has resulted in several verdicts finding
that the surgeries were in fact illegal. However, in most cases
compensation has been rejected due to the statute of limitations having
expired. All criminal charges have been shelved. Indeed, most cases
cannot even be brought before courts for reasons of statutes of
limitations, the destruction of hospital records, lack of legal aid, or
combinations of these reasons.[3]
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the wake of this silence, new cases of
apparently coerced sterilisation have taken place. Outreach by the Group
of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilisation indicates that in 2007, a Romani
woman in the town of Frydek-Mistek underwent sterilisation under
pressure by social workers. In 2008, another Romani mother from the town
of Karvina suspects she was sterilised without consent in the outpatient
department of Havirov hospital.


1. During the course of ERRC research in 2003 and 2004, researchers
found: a) Cases in which consent had not been provided at all, in either
oral or written form, prior to the operation; b) Cases in which consent
was secured during delivery or shortly before delivery, during advanced
stages of labor, i.e., in circumstances in which the mother is in great
pain and/or under intense stress; c) Cases in which consent appears to
have been provided (i) based 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; d) 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;
2. Ombudsman’s Final Statement:  
3. The documentary “Trial of a Child Denied”, broadcast on CNN
International in July and September 2008, includes interviews with the
plaintiffs, the Ombudsman and Czech government officials: 

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and
provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the
web at http://www.errc.org 

To support the ERRC, please visit this link:

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel: +36.1.413.2200

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