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Helsinki Commissioners Seek Justice for Victims of Sterilization in Czech Republic and Slovakia

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) today welcomed the statement by Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer in which the Czech government acknowledged and expressed regret that some Romani women had been sterilized without informed consent.

“I commend Czech officials for the leadership they have shown today in confirming past practices of involuntary sterilization of Romani women,” Chairman Cardin said. “Work remains in the Czech Republic and certainly in neighboring Slovakia to have justice upheld for women who were forever deprived of the chance to have children.”

“The Czech government’s expression of regret for the irreversible crimes committed against these women is an important step,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “Now, Slovakia must address the issue as the Helsinki Commission urged for the better part of this decade. I regret that after all this time Slovakia has not clearly and unequivocally acknowledged that some Romani women there were sterilized without their informed consent.”

On Nov. 19, 2009, the U.N. Committee Against Torture recommended that Slovakia should “take urgent measures to investigate promptly, impartially, thoroughly and effectively all allegations of involuntary sterilizations of Roma women, prosecute and punish the perpetrators and provide victims with fair and adequate compensation.”

The Czechoslovak communist state targeted Romani women for sterilization based on now discredited theories of eugenics and was first reported in the 1970s. Although the sterilization policy ended with the fall of communism in 1990, the practice continued sporadically in both the Czech and Slovak Republics .

Last year, Sen. Cardin and Rep. Hastings led a Helsinki Commission delegation to Prague and met with former Minister of Justice and civil rights Ombudsman Otakar Motejl.  In 2006, the Ombudsman issued a breakthrough report confirming that some Romani women had been sterilized without informed consent.  To date victims of those past practices have been unable to get redress before the courts even in cases where courts confirmed the allegations.

In April 2009, eight Slovak Romani women, who were denied access to their own medical records for more than a decade, won a case against Slovakia before the European Court on Human Rights.  Nevertheless, the Slovak Government has not taken steps to re-open its investigation into the sterilization of Romani women. Slovakia ’s highest court ruled in December 2006 that the investigation into allegations of three Romani women had been so faulty that it violated the Slovak Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

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