Illegally sterilised Czech women to be offered compensation

Women sterilised without their consent are to be offered compensation in the Czech Republic after President Miloš Zeman signed a bill into law this week.

The women, most of whom were Roma, will be awarded 300,000 Czech crowns (£10,000) from the government as compensation.

Gwendolyn Albert, a human rights activist who was one of those campaigning for the change, said: “This means the wrongdoing committed against all who have been sterilised without their informed consent is acknowledged and can be redressed.”

Social workers used incentives and threats to force women to undergo the procedure from 1966 until 2012. No one knows how many women were affected, but campaigners believe there were several hundred victims.

The incentive programme ended with the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, but women in labour continued to be misled into unwittingly signing consent forms before caesarean births – or in some cases were not told that they had been sterilised after the delivery. Others were misled into believing it had been a “life-saving” procedure. It was not until 2012 that Czech law was changed to require a cooling-off period between a patient requesting sterilisation and it being carried out.

The Czech Republic’s first-ever public defender of rights, or ombudsman, collected more than 80 testimonies regarding sterilisations for which the consent had been invalid. In 2005 the ombudsman’s final statement was published; assessing the health ministry’s response to the cases, it recommended that compensation be awarded.

The Czech health ministry will administer the compensation claims, although it has yet to announce when the process will begin. Victims who can demonstrate that they received benefits during the pre-1990 era for undergoing the procedure will be eligible for compensation on that basis. Those sterilised after 1990 will be asked to describe what happened to them and to support their claims as best they can.

For Elena Gorolová , 51, a social worker from Ostrava who was sterilised at the age of 21, the move marks a historic win.

“We fought long and hard to win this battle; some of the women are now old, while others have passed away. I am glad they will get to see the light of justice,” she told the Guardian.

Barbora Cernusakova, from Amnesty International, said the compensation was a crucial step towards ensuring the right to redress for those who suffered.

“We hope that the adoption of the compensation bill will send a message to other countries in the region, in particular Slovakia, which has yet to adopt a similar compensation mechanism,” said Cernusakova.

She warned that compensation should not end the discussion of racism towards Roma people in the Czech Republic, noting that Roma children faced discrimination in education and were often segregated into special schools with a more limited curriculum. Roma also faced discrimination in employment and housing, she said.

“Addressing these forms of human rights violations would require a strong commitment on the level of the central government and the local authorities, and an acknowledgment that Roma are equal citizens whose rights must be protected,” said Cernusakova.

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