Human Rights Day: Time for Justice for Victims of Coercive Sterilisation in the Czech Republic
10 December 2004
Public Call for Accountability by Czech Authorities
Human Rights Day
December 10, 2004: Budapest, Hungary; Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic. This year, more than fifty persons have come forward in the Czech Republic to press claims for justice because they have been coercively sterilised by Czech doctors. Sterilisation of individuals, undertaken without their full and informed consent, is a serious breach of international human rights standards ratified by the Czech Republic and binding law in that country.
The victims of these practices -- nearly all of them women and nearly all of them Romani -- have overcome the barriers of shame and humiliation -- as well as pressure by the wider society to remain silent -- to demand that Czech authorities recognise finally the following:
- That under Communism, Czechoslovak authorities by policy coercively sterilised Romani women;
- That following 1989, due to an outbreak of racism in the post-Communist era and because no serious efforts have ever been made to change a rigid and paternalistic culture of patient exclusion from decision-making, these practices have continued;
- That as a result, women who enter the Czech system of ob-gyn care remain at risk of a doctor sterilising them without their informed consent;
- That these harms require public recognition and redress.
The victims of these practices have brought their complaints to the Czech Public Defender of Rights -- "the Ombudsman" -- who has in turn begun consultations with the Czech Ministry of Health to review the files of the persons at issue. However:
Although the Ministry has established a commission to review files and provide answers to questions submitted by the Ombudsman, this body has apparently not yet convened a single meeting.
Although these matters raise fundamental questions about the conduct of public authorities and the safety, dignity and autonomy of all individuals in the Czech Republic, the names of members of the Ministry commission have not yet been made public.
Although all individuals have the right of access to their medical files and the information contained in them, it is not at all clear that the Ministry yet recognises this principle, or that it has any intention of conducting proceedings with the transparency due the victims, and indeed owed to the public.
The task at hand for the Czech government is manifold:
- To provide justice to all victims of coercive sterilisations in the Czech Republic;
- To recognise that although both Romani and non-Romani women have fallen victim to practices of coercive sterilisation, race has played a very significant role in the perpetration of these acts;
- To ensure that all persons are guaranteed the right of full and informed consent in matters related to all relevant medical procedures, as well as to ensure that all individuals have full rights of access in practice to their medical files;
- To foster a culture of patients rights among the Czech medical community;
- To promote responsible public debate on these matters.
The organisations listed below join in urging members of civil society, the media, and the public to impress upon Czech authorities the urgency of these matters. Communication should be directed to:
Dr. Milada Emmerova
Minister of Health of the Czech Republic
Palackeho Namesti 4
Prague 2, 128 01
Fax: 420 2 24 97 21 11
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