PM expresses regret over Roma sterilization but activists say practice continues|
Human rights campaigners won an important moral victory on Monday when the
government of Jan Fischer expressed regret over the forced sterilization of
women, almost all of them members of the country’s Roma minority. No
reliable figures exist for the numbers of women sterilized, but what’s
alarming is that according to human rights groups, the practice continues
in isolated cases to this day.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer addressed a special news briefing on Monday in
which he offered a formal expression of regret for those women –
predominantly members of the Roma minority – who were sterilized either
against their will or without proper consent. There would be no financial
compensation, Mr Fischer added, explaining that such a move would be
inappropriate amidst the economic crisis.
Figures are extremely hard to come by, but as human rights and minorities
minister Michael Kocáb told journalists, a report into 80 such cases drawn
up by the Czech ombudsman’s office suggested local authorities in the
Communist period had embarked on what amounted to a programme of social
“To quote the ombudsman’s report – it would be a mistake to assume
that measures taken by the pre-1989 authorities towards the Roma minority
were implemented by chance as opposed to being coordinated. It’s true
there is no mention in state reports from the 1970s of the need to regulate
the birthrate among the Roma. However there are mentions of this in reports
drawn up by local or regional state bodies from the same period, and
they’re very interesting: for instance this, from Brno, 1970 – ‘we
recommend health education programmes to reduce the birth rate and
therefore restrict the unwanted growth of Roma families’.”
According to human rights groups Czechoslovak social services used a
carrot and stick approach to encourage Roma women to become infertile.
Either the authorities offered considerable financial incentives, or social
workers threatened to take their existing children into care.
The practice was abandoned as state policy in 1991, but by no means has it
disappeared. Helena Ferjenčíková says she was sterilized without proper
consent during a caesarean section in 2001.
“I was in such pain, that I just signed it – who wouldn’t? Nobody
explained to me – nobody told me – that I’d never be able to have
Rights groups are now trying to document all such cases. Gwendolyn Albert
is a U.S.-born human rights activist.
“We know for a fact it’s still happening. One of those twenty cases
that were discovered last year included allegations from the year 2007 and
2008. The case from 2007 was extremely disturbing, because it seemed to be
a revival of old practice, whereby a social worker told a Romani mother,
who already had three children and was living in a precarious situation,
that if she didn’t agree to undergo sterilization, two of her children
would be placed in state care. The woman tried to not undergo the
operation; she would claim to be sick when the appointment was made for her
and all of this sort of thing, but in the end, to keep her family together,
she agreed to undergo it.”
Human rights groups have welcomed the government’s expression of regret,
but say the state must now issue compensation to Romani women who were made
infertile against their will and also introduce legal measures to ensure it
never happens again.