Romani Women Coercively Sterilised in the Czech Republic Come Forward
07 April 2005
Victim Advocacy Group Established to Press for Justice
On the eve of International Roma Day -- April 8 -- the ERRC and partner organisations take the opportunity to raise again the issue of justice for the victims of coercive sterilisation in the Czech Republic. Earlier this year, twenty-five Romani women coercively sterilised by Czech medical officials established a victim advocacy group called the Group of Women Harmed by Sterilisation to press authorities to press for justice. On the occasion of the establishment of the group, spokesperson Helena Ferencikova said, "We want public recognition by the Czech government of our suffering. We are owed legal remedy because our fundamental rights have been systemically violated by Czech doctors and other officials. We have decided that we will not be silent anymore."
Seventy-six victims of coercive sterilisation -- all but one of them women and the overwhelming majority of them Romani -- have to date submitted complaints to the Czech Public Defender of Rights ("the Ombudsman"). Following discussions in late 2004, the Czech Ministry of Health established a panel to review files of alleged victims and provide answers to questions submitted by the Ombudsman. Although the panel has thus far met twice, it has not made public its findings, and to date none of the victims have yet seen justice.
In September and November 2004, the ERRC and local partners sent two letters to the Czech Minister of Health, urging that independent experts in informed consent issues be included in the Ministry panel. To date however, the Ministry has not responded to either letter.
On 4 March 2005, the first in a series of civil complaints in the matter was filed in an Ostrava court, on behalf of Helena Ferencikova, coercively sterilised by doctors in an Ostrava hospital in 2001. Human Rights Advocate Michaela Tomisova, Ms Ferencikova's legal representative said, "Following first news of this action, we have been swamped with calls from other Romani women from all over the Czech Republic. The lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Ferencikova is only a first step. The Czech government needs to provide basic recognition that this problem exists and that there are many victims awaiting redress. It must make available easily accessible procedures with all due privacy guarantees such that all victims can come forward with dignity. The Czech government also needs to take the lead in providing a full and complete public account of the dimensions of the problem."
Following their decision to come forward publicly, members of the Group of Women Harmed by Sterilisation -- thus far an informal network of victims in the greater Ostrava area -- were in recent weeks photographed by Andreea Anca-Strauss. These photographs, which for the first time bring the faces of victims of these practices to the public, are available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2228.
Commenting on the process of documenting the members of the Group of Women Harmed by Sterilisation, Ms. Anca-Strauss said, "My portfolio comprises portraits of Roma women in the Ostrava region who were sterilized without their informed consent. This issue unites them, but I hope the portraits also offer a glimpse of what makes each woman and her life unique: some still have husbands to support them, while others were abandoned when their partners found out that they had been sterilized. Many of the women are still very fragile from their experience, others have become hard. Some despair of ever receiving compensation or an apology, while others are inspired by the fight for recognition of the injustice that the Roma suffered as a community. The photographs capture moments in the lives of these women, often at home, sometimes alone and sometimes with their children or their men. I hope the intimate pictures convey a sense of both the women's loss and their strength of character in carrying on and making the best of their lives."
On these matters, the ERRC has worked closely with local partners Life Together, League of Human Rights and IQ Roma Service. Life Together has taken the lead on facilitating the establishment of the Group of Women Harmed by Sterilisation. The ERRC has provided expertise and funding support to Attorney Tomisova, based with local partner IQ Roma Service, as well as to Ms Anca-Strauss. The League of Human Rights has also provided legal expertise and has designed local media action. All partners have undertaken extensive field research throughout 2004 and 2005, following initial ERRC field research into the issue in 2003. Further legal action will follow in the coming period.
Michaela Tomisova (IQ Roma Service): ++ 420 73 795 13 23
Helena Ferencikova (via Kumar Vishwanathan, Life Together): ++ 420 77 77 60 191
Jiri Kopal (League of Human Rights): ++ 420 60 87 19 535
Claude Cahn (ERRC): ++ 36 20 98 36 445
Photographs presented here are jointly owned by Andreea Anca-Strauss and the European Roma Rights Centre. For information on securing rights to reprint, please contact Andreea Anca-Strauss at: firstname.lastname@example.org, ++ 36 30 49 39 542.
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC website at http://www.errc.org.
European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel.: ++ (36 1) 413 2200
Fax: ++ (36 1) 413 2201
The League of Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation providing free legal and psychological assistance to victims of gross human rights violations, in particular to members of the Roma minority, victims of domestic violence and children. Its mission is to create a future in which the Czech state actively protects the human rights of its citizenry and respects both the spirit and the letter of the international human rights conventions to which it is signatory.
League of Human Rights
602 00 Brno
Tel.: + 420 545 210 446
Fax: + 420 545 240 012
Life Together is a Czech Romani organisation fighting social exclusion and marginalisation in the Ostrava region of the Czech Republic, as well as strengthening Czech-Roma mutual confidence and co-operation.
30. Dubna 3
Tel: ++ 420 77 77 60 191
IQ Roma Service, based in Brno, Czech Republic, is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation active in socially excluded Roma communities. IQ Roma service provides community and social field work, free counseling and law services together with employment support for Roma clients. It also initiates social inclusion strategies for Roma and minority communities on a local level.
IQ Roma Service
602 00 Brno
Tel.: ++ 420 5 492 41 250