The Czech government expressed its regret on Monday that Roma women were
sterilised in the past without their full consent. A spokesman said the
move was not an apology since the government could not apologise for the
individual mistakes of certain doctors. Minister for Human Rights and
Minorities, Michael Kocáb, said that safeguards had been drawn up to make
sure such a step could not happen in the future.
The number of Roma women who were sterilised in the Czech Republic after 1990 is not clear. Around 80 women complained to the Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl. He found that women were not properly informed about the step they were taking and could not therefore be said to have given their full consent.
A week after Ottawa brought back visas for Czech citizens over the large numbers of Czech Romanies seeking asylum in Canada, the Czech government put out a report on the state of Romany communities in the Czech Republic for 2008. The report is bleak: Czech-Romany relations are bad, it says, and will be difficult to fix.
An Ostrava-based support group, the Group of Women Harmed by
Sterilization, said on Monday that the last case of a Romany woman
sterilized against her will in the Czech Republic took place in 2007.
Spokeswoman for the group Elena Goralová said that the woman was now 40
years old, lived in northern Moravia and had four children. A social worker
allegedly threatened to take her children away if she refused to undergo
sterilization. Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb
informed the government at its Monday session of the allegations.
It is generally assumed that coerced sterilization of Romany women took place in what is now the Czech Republic between 1959 and 2001. Several cases of forced sterilization have since been tried at courts but none of the victims have been compensated.
A court in Prague handed down an unusual verdict on Monday in the case of a woman who became pregnant despite having been sterilised. The Central Bohemia Regional court, which is located in Prague, ordered a hospital in Kutná Hora to pay 30,000 crowns – that’s about 1,500 U.S. dollars – to the woman, who became pregnant a year after being sterilised at Kutná Hora hospital four years ago.
Jehan Harney is a journalist and filmmaker of Egyptian-American extraction. Over the last year, she has lived in Prague and taught journalism at the city's New Anglo-American College. During her time in the Czech Republic, Mrs. Harney developed an interest in the issues surrounding the enforced sterilization of Romany women. Subsequently, she made a documentary on just that theme, titled 'Sterile Dreams'. Jehan Harney is now back in the United States, but I caught up with her just before she left to ask her why she decided to make such a film:
Stories about the sterilization of Romany women stretch back as far as the 1970s. Experts suspect that there could have been as many as 2000 women sterilized in what is now the Czech Republic against their will. Since the fall of Communism, this topic has repeatedly made headlines, especially when last year a United Nations commission advised the Czech government to compensate victims of involuntary sterilization.
Reports of the sterilization of Romany women stretch back to the 1970s. Experts suspect that there could be up to 2000 women in the Czech Republic, who have been sterilized against their will. Since 1991 at least 85 women and one man have lodged complaints with the Czech ombudsman, claiming to have been sterilized involuntarily. The Vybor pro lidska prava a biomedecinu (the Commission for biomedicine and human rights), a government advisory committee, this week suggested that the state should create a fund to compensate these women. The suggested
The AFP news agency has reported that a court in the region of Olomouc
has confirmed that a Czech hospital in the east of the country should
apologise to a 24-year-old Romany woman for having sterilized her
without her consent. At the same time, the court also ruled she is not
entitled to compensation. The landmark case is the first of around
eighty complaints submitted by Romany women who say they were
sterilized without permission. The latest ruling confirmed an earlier
decision in November against which both the hospital and the Romany
woman, Helena Ferencikova, appealed.
Mrs Ferencikova was sterilized in 2001 at a hospital without consent after giving birth to her second child. Hospital doctors said that it carried out in the interests of the patient's health and that she had signed a letter of agreement. But, Mrs Ferencikova has said she was only given the document to sign when she was already in the throes of birthing pains.
She had been asking for compensation of one million crowns, (the equivalent of around 45,000 US dollars). The court has sought guidance from the Supreme Court on whether or not she may entitled to financial compensation for moral damages suffered.
A United Nations committee on the elimination of discrimination against women is looking into claims of enforced sterilization of Romany women in a number of post communist states, the Czech Republic included. The practice is said to have started in the communist days as a means of "regulating" the Romany population, but human rights activists fear that the practice did not end with the fall of communism.
A Czech Roma woman, Elena Gorolova, has made her case of sterilization public at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Ms. Gorolova underwent a sterilization procedure in Vitkovice's hospital in 1990 after giving birth to her second child. She testified that while still under the influence of a sedative, doctors told her further pregnancies could threaten her life, and thus she signed the papers allowing sterilization. Ms. Gorolova told the U.N. Committee Against the Discrimination of Women that she wasn't properly informed of her rights, and that she believes the sterilization procedure was recommended because she is Roma. Ms. Gorolova's case is not the first of its kind in the Czech Republic.