Reports of the sterilization of Romany women stretch back to the 1970s. Experts suspect that there could be up to 2000 women in the Czech Republic, who have been sterilized against their will. Since 1991 at least 85 women and one man have lodged complaints with the Czech ombudsman, claiming to have been sterilized involuntarily. The Vybor pro lidska prava a biomedecinu (the Commission for biomedicine and human rights), a government advisory committee, this week suggested that the state should create a fund to compensate these women. The suggested pay-out is around CZK 200,000, or USD 10,000, per victim. But the minister responsible has rejected this idea, while Romany rights groups have deemed the measures insufficient. Kumar Vishvanathan is a Romany rights worker in Ostrava:
"In this country, the sterilization of Romany women went on in the '70s and '80s, under the Communist regime. During this period, it was a state-initiated activity, like it was in Sweden, under the guise that it was the women themselves who wanted to be sterilized. The women often were given some 'gift', like a bag of coal, or a washing machine etc. I think it was quite a good alibi, really, that these women had no choice then to say 'no, I don't want your bag of coal, I want to have children instead!' There was not the freedom to say this under the totalitarian regime. Unfortunately, this practice is still going on. We know of cases as recent as three years ago."
The state can no longer offer "rewards" to women who go through with this, so what incentives do they offer women today to have this operation?
"Post 1991, the state has washed its hands of all responsibility. From our point of view the state is still responsible, because it hasn't taken any steps to make sure that the medical community receives the proper training not to work in a state of inertia. Right now it continues to work the way it did in the past. There have been no proactive steps on the part of the state to tighten controls on informed consent."
What do you think about the recent proposals of the Vybor pro Biomedicinu, that either the state should have a fund to compensate these women, or at least that the hospitals themselves should?
"We think that the state should take responsibility. We welcome the idea that the state should set up a fund to compensate these women. Our only point is that the compensation should not be limited to those cases which took place before 1991. There is also a further problem, which is that some women's medical records were then destroyed by the hospitals that performed these operations. Now, it is very difficult for these women to prove that their cases are real."
The proposed compensation that this Vybor has suggested is 200,000 Crowns, in your view, is that enough?
"Here I can just say my personal opinion, but eventually the Roma women will have to decide what is acceptable. In my view, it is an inadequate sum, but the final word lies with the Roma women."