Coercive and Cruel: Forced Sterilisation of Romani Women

Magda Matache, Guest Editor: Romani Global Diaspora: Implementation of the Right to Health, in Health and Human Rights, December 2017

The Health and Human Rights Journal is calling for papers for a special section on Romani Global Diaspora: Implementation of the Right to Health to be published in December 2017. The special section aims to examine the implementation of the right to health in the case of Romani populations across the globe.

In this context, we draw readers’ attention to a new report from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Titled “Coercive and Cruel”, the report details the appalling violation of Romani women’s health and human rights in the Czech Republic. It reveals that for 50 years Romani women have been subjected to sterilisation without their consent, and often without being informed that such an operation would be performed on them.

Involuntary sterilisations are a flagrant violation of human rights, human dignity, and of the physical and mental integrity of the human being. Yet, female sterilisation was a state policy in Czechoslovakia until 1993 when the Sterilisations Directive was abolished. Moreover, the ERRC report documents that the practice of sterilising Romani women and women with disabilities against their will continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s, with the last known cases documented in 2007, when the Czech Republic was already a Member State of the European Union.

“Coercive and Cruel” puts emphasis on Romani women’s call for justice: “Many of the interviewed women expressed a calling to fight for the justice. As they were sterilised unknowingly or forced to undergo the procedure, they need to stand for themselves, but also for other women not to be exposed to the same maltreatment.”

Twenty two women were interviewed by ERRC for this report. The women provided details about the many ways in which they were sterilized without their knowledge or consent. These included manipulation of consent forms and other medical documentation and their signatures forged; procedures were often performed at the same time as caesarean sections or they were presented with consent forms during labour or delivery. Some Romani women were threatened that their children would be taken away from them, or their social benefits withdrawn, if they did not accept sterilisation. On some cases doctors falsely presented sterilisation as a necessary life-saving intervention.

The ERRC says that the women’s testimonies provide poignant and emotive context to a regime of cruelty, deception, and intimidation. The women speak of their intimidation by social workers who deployed a range of coercive methods to force women to undergo sterilisation and subjected them to constant harassment. Women recalled social workers visiting their homes up to three times a day to check if they were taking proper care of their households and children.

The report examines coercive sterilisation as a human rights violation, and analyses the legal, political and other obstacles in reaching reparations for the victims. It includes updates on the legislative changes and court cases, compensation mechanism proposals, and recommendations for government action. The recommendations include granting reparations, including financial compensation “to all victims of coercive sterilisation in the Czech Republic irrespective of the date of sterilisation, ethnicity, nationality or age.”

Access the full report Coercive and Cruel: Sterilisation and its Consequences for Romani Women in the Czech Republic (1966-2016)