WASHINGTON– Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), welcomed the decision issued by a Czech court last week, recognizing that a Czech Romani woman had been sterilized without informed consent in 1997.
“We have long urged Czech and Slovak officials to acknowledge — publicly and unequivocally — that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women were performed in those countries both before and after the fall of communism. The court’s decision provides vindication for at least one of the victims of this insidious practice,” said Hastings and Cardin. “We commend Ms. Cervenakova for her courage in pursuing justice.”
During the communist period, the Czechoslovak state targeted Romani women for sterilization. Post-communist Czech and Slovak governments failed to bring a definitive end to this practice and, as a result, some doctors — working at public health facilities in both the Czech and Slovak Republics — continued to sterilize Romani women without informed consent into the 1990s. On October 12, a regional court in Ostrava, the Czech Republic, awarded 500,000 Czech crowns to Iveta Cervenakova, now 30 years old. She was sterilized in 1997 without her knowledge after giving birth to her second child by caesarian section. In December 2006, Slovakia’s highest court ruled that the investigation of three sterilization cases have been so faulty that it violated both the Slovak Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Hastings and Cardin added, “In 2005, the Czech Ombudsman for Human Rights conduced an unflinching examination of sterilization cases, and reached one definitive conclusion: sterilizations without informed consent occurred both before and after 1990. We hope this case will spur the Czech government to embrace the Ombudsman’s report and fully implement his recommendations. Similarly, it is time for Slovakia to demonstrate compassion for the victims of this past abuse and acknowledge their suffering.”
Thirty-three states in the United States had state-run sterilization programs in the 20th century, generally ending in the early 1970s. In recent years, a number of state governors have apologized for these past abuses. A number of European countries had similar practices which, as in the United States and Czechoslovakia, were heavily influenced by the now discredited eugenics movement.