Prague, Czech Republic – The lower house of the Czech Parliament approved a bill to financially compensate Roma women victims of forced sterilisation.
“Undesirably high birth rate”
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Roma women are estimated to have suffered from forced sterilisation in Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. Although most of the cases were reported in the 1970s and 1980s, individual cases continued to be documented in the 1990s and early 2000s.
According to the bill approved by Czech lawmakers, women who were forcibly sterilised between June 1966 and March 2012 would receive a one-time payment of 300,000 Kc (around €12,000).
A 2005 report by the office of the Czech ombudsman highlighted that “the Czechoslovak government systematically sterilized Roma women [from 1970 to 1990] to reduce the minority’s undesirably high birth rate.”
While the Czech government officially expressed “regret” over the practice in 2009, human rights activists have for years called on lawmakers to take concrete action to compensate the victims and offer some kind of reparation.
Long overdue justice for Czech Roma women forcibly sterilised
“Although the harm inflicted on the victims, both physically and mentally, can never be undone, establishing a compensation mechanism would provide these women with a measure of justice that has eluded them for such a long time,” the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said in a letter sent to Czech lawmakers last year.
There are about 250,000 Roma people living in the Czech Republic, many of whom live in poverty and continue to face discrimination in terms of access to education, employment, healthcare services and housing.
According to activists and based on the testimonies of several victims, some Roma women were offered financial compensation in exchange for being sterilised. Others are believed to have been sterilised under threat or blackmail, or duped into believing the procedure was only a temporary form of contraception.
The last known case of such a procedure in the Czech Republic dates back to 2007.
Under the draft law, women who were forcibly sterilised will have to prove their claim to a Health Ministry Commission. Helena Valkova, the Czech Republic’s Commissioner for Human Rights and a former Justice Minister, said that about 400 women would possibly be entitled to being compensated.
To come into force, the bill still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Milos Zeman.
Cases of forced sterilisation of Roma women have been documented in other European countries throughout the years, including in Slovakia, Hungary, Sweden, Norway and Germany.