Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Czech regret over sterilisation

Elena Gorolova
Elena Gorolova (right) told the BBC the operation was not explained to her

The Czech government has expressed regret over the illegal sterilisation of Roma women.

Measures were being introduced to stop the practice being repeated, said Human Rights Minister Michael Kocab.

Coercive sterilisation was allegedly used to curb the traditionally high fertility rate among the Roma.

The practice officially ended with the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1990, but rights groups say the last recorded case was as recent as 2003.

Mr Kocab said health facilities should make sure women gave their informed consent before they were sterilised.

The Czech Human Rights League said that the government expression of regret was insufficient, and demanded financial compensation for those women affected.

But government human rights commissioner Jan Litomisky said: "The government does not apologise to the women because it refuses to shoulder responsibility for individual mistakes that it by no means initiated."

He said the responsibility lay with individual doctors who performed the sterilisations, the Czech news agency CTK reported.

'Problem exists'

The Czech Republic does not keep statistics on the number of women sterilised, but in the eastern town of Ostrava alone, some 80 Roma women said they had been sterilised without their consent in the Czech health system.

Complaints about the practice prompted an official inquiry, and the Czech ombudsman issued a report in 2005 accepting the problem existed and recommending state compensation for women affected between 1973 and 1991.

The communist authorities had practised an assimilation policy towards Roma which "included efforts by social services to control the birth rate in the Romani community," said the ombudsman, Public Defender of Rights Otakar Motejl.

Many were offered money, though that was not official policy. Some signed a consent form without realising what the operation entailed, while others simply did not understand what the word "sterilisation" meant.

Rights groups at the time said sterilisation had been used as a means of birth control, but doctors at Ostrava hospital said sterilisation had been conducted on "purely medical grounds".

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