Lower house approves bill to compensate victims of forced sterilization

A bill on providing compensation for people who were forcibly or otherwise illegally sterilised in the past was approved by the lower house of Parliament last Friday, June 4th. With this approval in the lower house, the bill is now set to go to the Senate for final consideration.

It was predominately women of the Romani ethnic minority who were subjected to coerced sterilisation during medical procedures in the Czech Republic and in former Czechoslovakia. This is the most progress that the issue of compensation for the victims has ever achieved. The cases first started to become publicly known about 15 years ago and activists have been pushing for compensation ever since, but previous efforts to get the Czech government to provide compensation all failed.

This time around, the lower house overwhelming approved the bill with 120 votes for and 1 vote against, while 29 Members of Parliament abstained.

Human rights activist Anna Šabatová, who was active on the sterilisation issue when she served as ombudswoman to the Czech Republic from 2014 to 2020, said the strong support in Parliament was unexpected.

Anna Šabatová | Photo: Adam Kebrt,  Czech Radio

“I am very pleasantly surprised by the result of the vote. I didn't believe the number in agreement would be so high,” Šabatová said. “I think the law was very well prepared by a group of activists and also very well supported. I am happy that women, who were at the beginning of the effort, that they finally have a victory.”

The bill had the support of the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková, who is also a member of parliament and a sponsor of the bill.

The compensation would total 300,000 CZK, which is almost 12,000 Euros, for each person who can document that they were sterilised illegally between the years 1966 to 2012.

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 in 2015, there were only three successful court cases where illegally sterilised Romani women from the Czech Republic received compensation, two that reached the European Court of Human Rights before being settled out of court and one where compensation was awarded by the Czech domestic courts. Those cases involved women sterilised in 1997, 2001 and 2003.

The effort for governmental compensation has a long history, including a previous compensation bill in 2015 drafted by the Human Rights Minister that the government then decided not to put forward for a parliamentary vote. If the current bill finally becomes law after going to the Senate, victims will be eligible for compensation from the Czech state without having to undergo court cases. Up to 400 people are likely to prove eligible for such compensation, according to the authors of the bill.

The Senate is expected to begin the process of considering the bill next month.