First Court Victory in Central Europe on Coercive Sterilisation of Romani Women
01 February 2006
In its second hearing in the matter, the District Court in Ostrava indicated on November 11, 2005, that it would find violations of law concerning the coercive sterilisation of Ms. Helena Ferencikova by Czech medical practitioners in 2001. Once issued in writing, the decision will be the first finding by any court in Central and Eastern Europe of violations of law concerning the coercive sterilisation of Romani women.
On October 10, 2001, Ms. Ferencikova gave birth in the Vitkovicka hospital in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava to her second child, a son named Jan. The child was born at 4:45 AM, by caesarean section birth. Ms. Ferencikova's first child had also been born via caesarean section. At the time of her second birth, Ms. Ferencikova was also sterilised by tubal ligation. Although her files indicate that "the patient requests to be sterilised", procedures set out under Czech and international law to ensure that, for the extremely invasive and in most cases irreversible sterilisation procedure, consent must meet the standard of full and informed, were not followed by doctors at the Vitkovicka hospital. Although it had been foreseen well in advance of labour that she would give birth by caesarean section, Ms. Ferencikova's "consent" to the sterilisation was apparently secured by doctors several minutes before the operation, and when she was already deep in labour. As a result, Ms. Ferencikova emerged from her second birth traumatised and irrevocably harmed by the doctors to whom she had entrusted herself for care.
The humiliating treatment Ms. Ferencikova suffered is similar to that of countless other Romani women in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Central Europe, where as a result of fundamental contempt for Romani women and their ability to make informed choices about matters related to their own bodies, doctors and social workers have, for at least the past three decades, routinely and regularly overriden their free will as individuals and subjected them to debasing bodily invasion, with irrevocable consequences. These specific practices targeting Romani women are made possible by a general culture of paternalism among medical practitioners in the region, resulting in threats of abuses of fundamental human rights to any persons entering medical care.
Because she was unwilling to submit to this humiliation, Ms. Ferencikova first joined complaints to the Czech Public Defender of Rights ("Ombudsman") facilitated by the organisations European Roma Rights Centre, League of Human Rights and Life Together. In March 2005, represented by human rights advocate Michaela Tomisova retained by the ERRC and the League of Human Rights, Ms. Ferencikova brought suit at the District Court in Ostrava, alleging that her fundamental rights to dignity and bodily integrity had been violated. In the same month, Ms. Ferencikova was elected spokesperson of a victim group of approximately 25 Romani women in the Ostrava area who have been subjected to coercive sterilisation by Czech doctors.
Ruling on November 11, the District Court in Ostrava for the first time anywhere in Central Europe recognised the validity of their claims for justice. Written decision in the case is pending.
Further information on actions to secure justice for victims of coercive sterilisation is available at: http://www.errc.org.
(ERRC, League of Human Rights, Life Together)