Court confirms – and increases - historic first compensation for sterilization victims

On Thursday, the High Court in Prague awarded compensation to two women, one of them a Romany sterilized without her knowledge in 2003, the other a non-Romany whose fallopian tubes were removed without her consent in 2006. The ruling confirmed a previous verdict – the first of its kind – and raised the amount originally awarded. Gwendolyn Albert, a human rights activist and expert on the issue, discusses the verdict.

“It should definitely send a message, the message should be that when hospitals permit violations of this kind they have to compensate victims financially, that an apology is not enough and that hopefully doctors and hospital management will begin to realize that they are going to be held accountable for their errors.”

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Does sterilization against women’s will or without their knowledge still happen to women in the Czech Republic today and would you say that predominantly, this affects Roma women?

“This case that was just litigated, the case occurred after the year 2000, in other words, this is a present day, modern problem. With respect to whom this is happening, cases that are in the current era, as far as I am aware, mostly Romany women have come forward.”

Is there any significance to the fact this verdict has been handed down at this particular time?

“What I do find interesting, and I think a lot of other human rights observers also find it interesting, is that this upper court verdict has come down in the aftermath of the Czech government finally officially acknowledging that these abuses have been occurring. This is a very different verdict from the kinds of verdicts that have been coming down in the past. There are other cases in which lower level courts awarded compensation but the hospitals appealed, and then the higher level courts overturned that on appeal. This is the first time that at the end of a court procedure, a person t whom this has happened knows with certainty that she is going to get a remedy that is more than just a letter from a hospital, and that she is going to get money, which represents in some small way atonement, a burden on those who perpetrated this against her.”

Gwendolyn Albert
These women received hundreds of thousands of crowns, which is in the area of around 10000 dollars – is that a fair amount, do you think?

“One woman has received a 200,000 crown award; the other woman has received 150,000 crowns. Now, the damages that were sought were much higher, they were on the order of a million or half a million crowns, which is really the kind of award that would wake up hospital management to the idea that they better make sure they get it right always, otherwise they are going to have to pay. The money of course cannot return the reproductive abilities to these women, but It’s extremely important that some sort of disincentive be set up. The hospitals cannot be allowed to do this with impunity, which is what the situation has been to date.”