Hundreds of Czech women illegally sterilised in past decades can finally apply for compensation

Elena Gorolová

Hundreds of women coerced into or otherwise illegally subjected to sterilisation in decades past may now apply for compensation, in the form of a one-time payment of 300,000 crowns. The Czech state could pay out up to 120 million crowns to women – overwhelmingly of Romani ethnicity – who were sterilised without their informed consent between July 1966 and March 2012.

The compensation – a paltry sum in monetary terms, equivalent to just 12,000 euros – represents a moral victory for the victims, activists say, in that it recognises a great injustice, driven by racism.

Elena Gorolová, a Romani woman who was sterilised in 1990, after giving birth to her second son at the age of 21, called the passage of the compensation law – after decades of lobbying – among the biggest human rights victories since 1989.

“Women will also be compensated for having signed, under pressure from social workers, what they were told was consenting to a temporary contraceptive. They told the women that they could still get pregnant, and at the same time offered them money for food, or a new washing machine.

“The women had the procedure done with confidence in doctors, who told them they could have more children. It wasn’t until later that they found out that the procedure was irreversible. These women will be entitled to compensation if they have documentation that they were sterilised.”

Illustrative photo: Sharon McCutcheon,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

Elena Gorolová has been working on the issue formally since 2005, when should joined a non-profit group called Vzájemné soužití (Life Together), which demanded a public apology from the Czech state and compensation. She eventually became the group’s spokesperson, and among other things, testified at a Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg.

In many cases, she says, Romani women were pressured into signing consent forms while they were still in labour, or after having just had Caesarean sections. Some were threatened that their social benefits would be cut or their older children put into state institutions if they did not sign.

As of this January, such victims can apply for compensation at the Ministry of Health. Some 300 to 500 women may succeed, says Elena Gorolová, while noting that for many, the process may prove problematic.

“It will be difficult for older cases. In some hospitals, records are kept and archived for 40 years, but in others only for 10 years. Many will have trouble tracking down their records and are worried that they will not be compensated.

“A commission will investigate each case individually. We don’t know yet how the commission will work and who will be on it, whether it will be medical professionals or lawyers. But the women must receive compensation because they did not understand what was happening.”

In the past, victims of illegal sterilisation had few options to seek redress due to statutes of limitation and the difficulty of pursuing private lawsuits.

According to a European Roma Rights Centre report, as of 2015, there had only been three successful court cases involving Czech women, two that reached the European Court of Human Rights before being settled out of court and one where compensation was awarded by a Czech court. Those cases involved women sterilised in 1997, 2001 and 2003.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Rena Horvátová
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