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“The World As Seen By Victims of Coercive Sterilization” opens in Sweden

This weekend two members of the Group of Women Harmed by Sterilization are traveling to Sweden, where an exhibition of photographs taken by members of the Group entitled “The World As Seen By Victims of Sterilization” will open as part of the Romani Women’s Rights Conference taking place December 3 – 4 at Lejondals Castle in Stockholm under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the Swedish Ministry for Integration and Gender Equality, and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

In 2006 the exhibition was displayed at the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, at the City Library in Ostrava, and at the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic in Prague. In the spring of 2007 the exhibition traveled to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg; in September it was on display at the Roma Community Center of the Chánov housing estate as part of the first-ever meeting between coercive sterilization survivors from North Bohemia and North Moravia. Wherever it has been displayed, the exhibition has prompted a great deal of discussion and helped to keep the women’s cause both in the public eye and on the government’s agenda.

The purpose of the exhibition is to remind the public not only that the women who took the photographs are suing hospitals in the Czech Republic for having sterilized them without their informed consent, but that they are first and foremost ordinary people whose physical and mental integrity was violated by these illegal medical procedures. “A woman deprived of her ability to give birth without her consent feels completely differently from women who can choose to give birth freely,” said Elena Gorolová, spokesperson for the Group of Women Harmed by Sterilization.

The coercive sterilization complaints have been researched by the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), who in 2005 arrived at the conclusion that, in the cases under his review, the women’s rights had been violated and there were serious deficiencies as far as the informed consent of the patients to the operation was concerned. The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) issued its recommendations on the matter in August 2006. This year the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the UN Human Rights Committee also issued similar recommendations. All of these respected institutions called on the Czech government to urgently address the injustice committed against these women and to make sure such violations never occur again by upgrading existing legislation and compensating the victims. To date, the Czech government has not responded to any of these recommendations.

Two coercive sterilization cases were ruled on by the courts this year. At the start of 2007, the High Court in Olomouc confirmed the illegality of the sterilization performed on Ms Helena Ferenčíková of Ostrava and ordered the hospital to apologize; as far as compensation is concerned, Ms Ferenčíková is appealing to the Supreme Court. Another verdict was issued on 12 October 2007 by the Regional Court in Ostrava in the case of Ms Iveta Červeňáková. In this case the court not only found in favor of the victim, but ordered the hospital to pay damages of CZK 500 000; the hospital is appealing the ruling.

The conference in Stockholm is being attended by the spokesperson for the Group, Elena Gorolová, together with Group member Helena Balogová, where they will present the Group’s struggle for justice for the victims of coercive sterilization in the Czech Republic. They will be accompanied by Gwendolyn Albert of the Peacework Development Fund in Prague. Other representatives from both the Czech government and the NGO sector have also been invited to attend.

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