Some time ago Helena Ferencikova, a Romany woman, claimed she had been forced to undergo sterilization. Her case set off many more complaints from Romany mothers who said they'd received similar treatment. Many of them wrote to the Ombudsman Otakar Motejl for help and several have since taken their case to court.
Helena Ferencikova and her husband Jan always wanted to have a girl. But the young Roma couple's simple dream may never be realised, for in October 2001 -- when she was just nineteen years old -- Mrs Ferencikova was sterilised against her wishes, after giving birth to her second son. On Friday, the regional court of Ostrava stopped short of awarding damages but ruled that the hospital which performed the sterilisation owes Mrs Ferencikova an apology. The court's decision, once finalised in writing, would be the first finding in any Czech or Eastern
A regional court in Ostrava has ordered a local hospital to apologise to woman who was sterilised without her consent, the news agency AFP reported. The decision Friday was the first to deal with around 80 complaints by Roma women. A judge ruled that the complainant, a 22-year-old Helena Ferencikova, had not given her qualified consent from the procedure -- a violation of her personal rights. Hospital doctors said the sterilisation was carried out for health reasons and that noted that she signed a letter agreeing to the procedure. Ms Ferencikova said she was in the throes of birth pains at the time and was unaware of the letter's contents. An investigation by the Czech ombudsman's office has found no proof of a campaign of "systematic sterilisation" against the minority group.
The Ombudsman Otakar Motejl says that he does not have evidence to suggest that the former communist regime ordered enforced sterilization of Romany women. Close to eighty Romany women have written to the Ombudsman complaining that they were sterilized after giving birth without authorizing the procedure. The cases go back over a 30 year period and the Ombudsman told journalists that, serious as the matter was, closer investigation suggested that the cases were isolated incidents rather than an ordained practice. They allegedly happened in different hospitals and at different times and could not be linked to a given person or institution. The Human Rights League, which has also been monitoring the problem, does not agree, claiming that the former communist regime ordered the practice and that Romany women were bribed with money to agree to be sterilized.
The office of the Czech ombudsman says it has evidence of 40 new cases of alleged coercive sterilisation of Roma women - more than a third of them performed before 1989. The office is now gathering documentation which will be handed over to the Health Ministry. The first reports of alleged cases of coercive sterilisation appeared in September. The ombudsman Otakar Motejl appointed an expert commission to look into the matter. It is now to assess whether the cases of sterilisation were in accordance with Czech law and medical ethics.
After talks with state ombudsman Otakar Motejl, Health Minister Milada Emmerova has agreed to establish a special commission to investigate fresh allegations that Romani women were sterilised without their consent in the past decade. The birth rate among the Roma is significantly higher than the general population and documented evidence shows that from 1959 to 1990 the former Czechoslovakia encouraged Romani women to undergo sterilisation by giving them cash payments, and in some cases doctors performed the operation without the women's consent. The practice was condemned by international human rights groups as racist and halted as official policy. Charges that sterilizations continued in recent years have been brought forth by the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre, along with two Czech civil society groups which are representing the legal interests of about 10 Romani women.