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Czech Prime Minister Apologises to Victims of Coercive Sterilisation

23 November 2009

Budapest, Prague: 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 Kocáb, 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
(Czech, Romanes) lpt@souziti.cz, +420.603.921.255, +420.775.76.11.94

Gwendolyn Albert, Peacework Development Fund (Czech, English)
gwendolyn.albert@gmail.com, +420.774.89.5444

Ostalinda Maya, European Roma Rights Centre (English, Spanish)
ostalinda.maya@errc.org, +36.30.500.1989

Kumar Vishwanathan, Life Together (Czech, English)
vzajemne.souziti@tiscali.cz, +420.777.760.191

David Zahumensky, League of Human Rights (Czech, English)
dzahumensky@llp.cz, +420.608.719.535

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: Available Here;
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: Available Here;
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