MINELRES: Czech Republic: Romani Women Coercively Sterilised Establish a Victim Advocacy Group

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Apr 25 08:03:40 2005

Original sender: European Roma Rights Centre <errc@errc.org>

Victim Advocacy Group Established to Press for Justice

Budapest, Prague, 7 April 2005.

On the eve of International Roma Day - April 8 - the ERRC and partner
organisations take the opportunity to raise again the issue of justice
for the victims of coercive sterilisation in the Czech Republic. Earlier
this year, twenty-five Romani women coercively sterilised by Czech
medical officials established a victim advocacy group called the Group
of Women Harmed by Sterilisation to press authorities to press for
justice.  On the occasion of the establishment of the group,
spokesperson Helena Ferencikova said, "We want public recognition by the
Czech government of our suffering. We are owed legal remedy because our
fundamental rights have been systemically violated by Czech doctors and
other officials. We have decided that we will not be silent anymore."

Seventy-six victims of coercive sterilisation - all but one of them
women and the overwhelming majority of them Romani - have to date
submitted complaints to the Czech Public Defender of Rights ("the
Ombudsman"). Following discussions in late 2004, the Czech Ministry of
Health established a panel to review files of alleged victims and
provide answers to questions submitted by the Ombudsman. Although the
panel has thus far met twice, it has not made public its findings, and
to date none of the victims have yet seen justice.

In September and November 2004, the ERRC and local partners sent two
letters to the Czech Minister of Health, urging that independent experts
in informed consent issues be included in the Ministry panel. To date
however, the Ministry has not responded to either letter.

On 4 March 2005, the first in a series of civil complaints in the matter
was filed in an Ostrava court, on behalf of Helena Ferencikova,
coercively sterilised by doctors in an Ostrava hospital in 2001. Human
Rights Advocate Michaela Tomisova, Ms Ferencikova's legal representative
said, "Following first news of this action, we have been swamped with
calls from other Romani women from all over the Czech Republic. The
lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Ferencikova is only a first step. The Czech
government needs to provide basic recognition that this problem exists
and that there are many victims awaiting redress. It must make available
easily accessible procedures with all due privacy guarantees such that
all victims can come forward with dignity. The Czech government also
needs to take the lead in providing a full and complete public account
of the dimensions of the problem."

Following their decision to come forward publicly, members of the Group
of Women Harmed by Sterilisation - thus far an informal network of
victims in the greater Ostrava area - were in recent weeks photographed
by Andreea Anca-Strauss. These photographs, which for the first time
bring the faces of victims of these practices to the public, are
available at: 

Commenting on the process of documenting the members of the Group of
Women Harmed by Sterilisation, Ms. Anca-Strauss said, "My portfolio
comprises portraits of Roma women in the Ostrava region who were
sterilized without their informed consent. This issue unites them, but I
hope the portraits also offer a glimpse of what makes each woman and her
life unique: some still have husbands to support them, while others were
abandoned when their partners found out that they had been sterilized.
Many of the women are still very fragile from their experience, others
have become hard. Some despair of ever receiving compensation or an
apology, while others are inspired by the fight for  recognition of the
injustice that the Roma suffered as a community.  The photographs
capture moments in the lives of these women, often at home, sometimes
alone and sometimes with their children or their men. I hope the
intimate pictures convey a sense of both the women's loss and their
strength of character in carrying on and making the best of their

On these matters, the ERRC has worked closely with local partners Life
Together, League of Human Rights and IQ Roma Service. Life Together has
taken the lead on facilitating the establishment of the Group of Women
Harmed by Sterilisation. The ERRC has provided expertise and funding
support to Attorney Tomisova, based with local partner IQ Roma Service,
as well as to Ms Anca-Strauss. The League of Human Rights has also
provided legal expertise and has designed local media action. All
partners have undertaken extensive field research throughout 2004 and
2005, following initial ERRC field research into the issue in 2003.
Further legal action will follow in the coming period.

Further information:
Michaela Tomisova (IQ Roma Service): ++ 420 73 795 13 23
Helena Ferencikova (via Kumar Vishwanathan, Life Together): 
++ 420 77 77 60 191
Jiri Kopal (League of Human Rights): ++ 420 60 87 19 535
Claude Cahn (ERRC): ++ 36 20 98 36 445

Photographs presented here are jointly owned by Andreea Anca-Strauss and
the European Roma Rights Centre. For information on securing rights to
reprint, please contact Andreea Anca-Strauss at: 
ancandrea@hotmail.com, ++ 36 30 49 39 542.


The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC
website at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel.: ++ (36 1) 413 2200
Fax: ++ (36 1) 413 2201
E-mail: office@errc.org

The League of Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation providing
free legal and psychological assistance to victims of gross human rights
violations, in particular to members of the Roma minority, victims of
domestic violence and children. Its mission is to create a future in
which the Czech state actively protects the human rights of its
citizenry and respects both the spirit and the letter of the
international human rights conventions to which it is signatory.

League of Human Rights
Bratislavska 31
602 00 Brno
Czech Republic
Tel.: + 420 545 210 446
Fax: + 420 545 240 012

Life Together is a Czech Romani organisation fighting social exclusion
and marginalisation in the Ostrava region of the Czech Republic, as well
as strengthening Czech-Roma mutual confidence and co-operation.

Life Together
30. Dubna 3
Ostrava 70200
Czech Republic
Tel: ++ 420 77 77 60 191
E-mail: vzajemne.souziti@tiscali.cz

IQ Roma Service, based in Brno, Czech Republic, is a non-profit,
non-governmental organisation active in socially excluded Roma
communities. IQ Roma service provides community and social field work,
free counseling and law services together with employment support for
Roma clients. It also initiates social inclusion strategies for Roma and
minority communities on a local level.

IQ Roma Service
602 00 Brno
Czech Republic
Tel.: ++ 420 5 492 41 250