Forced Sterilization of Romani Women

“I decided to come out with my story so that it doesn’t happen to other women, to our children, to our grandchildren. So that they never find themselves in the situation I am in today.”

Elena Gorolova, victim of forced sterilization, interview for Romedia’s I’m a Roma Woman campaign

Elena Gorolova

Between 1971 and 1991 in Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic and Slovakia, the “reduction of the Roma population” through surgical sterilization, performed without the knowledge of the women themselves, was a widespread governmental practice. The sterilization would be performed on Romani women without their knowledge during Caesarean sections or abortions. Some of the victims claim that they were made to sign documents without understanding their content. By signing these documents, they involuntarily authorized the hospital to sterilize them. In exchange, they sometimes were offered financial compensation or material benefits like furniture from Social Services – though it was not explicitly stated what this compensation was for. The justification for sterilization practices according to the stakeholders was “high, unhealthy” reproduction.

They sterilized thousands of Roma women in this way. The Czech ombudsman estimated that more than 90,000 women from former Czechoslovakia became infertile as a consequence of such interventions. If the evidence for such treatments performed in the past is not alarming enough, there seems to be proof that this practice was not only common during the Communist era: there are women reporting the same crime in post-Communist times as well, even after Czechoslovakia split into Czech Republic and Slovakia. In what is today Slovakia, 1000 Roma women and girls were sterilized annually in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the practice of forced sterilization in this region of Europe seems to persist to some extent, with cases emerging in other countries as well.

The European Roma Rights Centre pointed at two cases of Romani women who were sterilized in Hungary without their consent. One of them relates back to 2001, when a young woman, A.S. accused a hospital for sterilizing her without her knowledge. Following eight years of intensive lobbying, with several organizations started pressuring the government, in 2009 the Hungarian state compensated A.S. The court acknowledged that the surgery was performed without her knowledge, but it also claimed that the surgery did not harm A.S.’s reproductive capacity as the sterilization was purportedly “reversible”. The second case taken up by ERRC is still in process, as it was rejected in the first instance by the Hungarian Court.[1]

The victims of forced sterilization have begun to speak out against these crimes by creating a movement to stop forced sterilization and bring justice to the victims in the Czech Republic as well. Czech Romani activist Elena Gorolova was one of those who started the movement by founding Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. She is a victim too, sterilized while having her second child in 1990. Mrs Gorolova, like many other Romani women, was not able to file a civil lawsuit because the deadline for seeking legal action had already expired. Nevertheless, she tried to pursue legal justice with other women, moving her case from the local to the national and international level. They organized demonstrations, such as the one in Ostrava in front of the hospital infamous for sterilizing Romani women in large numbers. Elena is one of the eighty-seven women who sent their complaints to the Czech ombudsman, reporting forced sterilization. In December 2005, in his final statement on the issue, the ombudsman declared that sterilizations performed on Romani women are illegal.[2]

The story of Elena and the others is not the first policy of compulsory sterilization in history. The first was documented in the US in the beginning of the 20th century. African-American women were sterilized against their will, many of them without their knowledge, while they were in a hospital for other reasons or sometimes even while serving a prison sentence. More than 65,000 individuals were sterilized in 33 states in the framework of compulsory sterilization programs. This US policy was followed by several other countries, including Canada, Russia and Germany, that approved compulsory sterilization as a governmental practice.

In the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, many lawsuits ended with the victory of the victims of sterilization. However, most of the pursuers kept their identity secret or the outcome of the case was not made public for other reasons. Elena Ferencikova was the first Roma women to sue the Czech Health Authority in 2005 for the damages she suffered when they sterilized her at the age of only nineteen.[3] The court didn’t decide on financial compensation but the hospital where they performed the intervention apologized for sterilizing Elena without her agreement, damaging her future and her harming her status in her community. At the time of the intervention, she was a young bride, with the dream of having a big family.

Until the most recent past, over 87 Romani women filed an official complaint against the Czech health authority The first action on the government’s behalf was an apology in 2009 during a press conference, followed by the report from the Czech Ombudsman about the illegality of the practice in 2005.[4]

Among the individual cases which ended in favor of the victims is that of Iveta Červeňáková who sued the Czech Republic for sterilizing her about fourteen years ago. Her case was in front of the Ostrava Regional Court for one million Czech crowns compensation, since she never requested the surgery. After losing the case, the hospital appealed to the High Court in Olomouc, claiming that her right for financial compensation expired and she can only win an apology. But their statement was not accepted and the Czech Supreme Court decided that Ms Červeňáková still has the right for financial compensation. The case was concluded with an out of court settlement between the hospital and the victim. The details are confidential between the two parties. [5]

The above case seems to be rather typical: the content of out of court settlements is not made public and the reason that women gained mere apologies from the hospitals is usually due to an allegedly expired right for financial compensation. On the other hand, there are cases whose outcome was made public, like one from 2012: the court made the decision that the government was at fault and the woman in question should receive a compensation of EUR 10,000.[6]

Looking at several cases of forced sterilization, a serious infringement of human rights is what should be emphasized, as reflected also by the recommendations from the NGOs’ side, the ERRC and the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, who all stress the need for developing a compensation mechanism for all victims of sterilization. A well-functioning mechanism is needed since not all victims are literate enough, have the financial sources, or the knowledge to ask for justice in court. Majority of Czech ministers agreed and a mechanism should be developed by the end of 2013, as part of the already existing legal framework. However, there is a concern that many of the affected women will still be excluded from the opportunity to gain justice.[7]

To add a personal perspective on the issues at stake, I see many reasons justify the need for the government to develop a compensation mechanism. For instance, trends show they are losing cases on the international level. Developing such a mechanism would mean that the cases would remain on the local or national level. Another reason could be financial: whatever compensation mechanism the government develops, the amount of compensation is not equivalent to the cases decided by the European Court of Human Rights. The third reason could be that authorities are trying to escape the negative backlash caused by not assuming responsibility and not criminalizing this governmental practice. In conclusion, the development of a compensation mechanism could keep “embarrassing” cases from reaching international publicity, which could lead to public ignorance if no one realizes how many actual victims there are and in what circumstances these crimes happened.

Of course, one could also argue that after years of injustice affecting hundreds of women, the fact that some women will receive justice might pave the way for others. Still, the question must be asked: is this enough? Is compensation enough? I am concerned that whatever compensation they eventually receive, the truly important development would be if governments themselves are seriously pushed to criminalize forced sterilization: only this could prevent these horrible stories from repeating themselves.

While human rights can be violated by individuals or by institutions, they can only be defended by institutions. The European Court of Human Rights does not deal with single individuals who have committed crimes. Rather, it focuses on why the government in question could not take action against what happened. But where are the doctors, politicians and all the people who personally contributed to or carried out such surgeries, and when they are going to take responsibility for their actions? In order to take action against this human rights violation, blaming the Communist regime is not enough. The practice continues today and forcibly sterilized Romani women are still a long way from receiving true justice.

Written by: Galya Stoyanova, Romani intern at Romedia Foundation

[1] Albert, Gwendolyn. “Forced Sterilization and Romani Women’s Resistance in Central Europe.” Forced Sterilization and Romani Women’s Resistance in Central Europe. N.p., 2011. <http://popdev.hampshire.edu/sites/popdev/files/uploads/u1149/DT_71_Albert.pdf&gt;.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Holt, Ed. Roma women reveal that forced sterilization remains. N.p., 12 Mar. 2005. Web. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)71063-1/fulltext&gt;.

[4] Decade of Roma Inclusion . Czech Prime Minister Apologizes to Victims of Coercive Sterilization. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.romadecade.org/czech_prime_minister_apologizes_to_victims_of_coercive_sterilization&gt;.

[5] Stop Torture in Healthcare. <http://www.stoptortureinhealthcare.org/news-and-resources/forced-sterilization/czech-hospital-pays-romani-woman-forcibly-sterilized-14-year&gt;

[6] ROMEA. Czech Gov. compensates another woman over illegal sterilization. N.p., 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.romea.cz/en/news/czech/czech-govt-compensates-another-woman-over-illegal-sterilization#&gt;.

[7] Open Society Foundations. Against her will – Forced and coerced sterilization of women worldwide.

<http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/against-her-will-20111003.pdf&gt;

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Eva Feder Kittay: 2014 Guggenheim Fellow

Eva Feder Kittay, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and Senior Fellow of the Stony Brook Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a book tentatively titled Disabled Minds and Things that Matter: Lessons for a Humbler Philosophy. The prestigious fellowship, which places Professor Kittay in the company of many illustrious names, which also includes a lengthy list of noble prize laureates (Czeslaw Milosz being a particular favourite of mine), was established in 1925 and is granted to individuals whose work makes substantial contributions to education, literature, art, and science. Professor Kittay’s work pushes philosophical discourse beyond the inadequate rationalistic framework that has traditionally been utilized to measure the worth of persons. She urges that actual relationships of care and love characterize who we are and why we are morally considerable. Equipped with both the argumentative and analytic tools of a philosopher and the personal experience of being a parent of a child with severe cognitive disabilities, Eva Kittay is in a unique position to play the part of a competent judge whose insights have great philosophical, and more saliently, educational value. Although Disabled Minds and Things that Matter: Lessons for a Humbler Philosophy will be a philosophically rigorous contemplation on the place of disability in philosophical discourse, it will nevertheless be aimed at the educated lay reader, meaning that it will not only shape future philosophical projects, but will also serve to educate the public.

Why is a focus on disability important to the future of philosophical research? Taking severe cognitive disabilities into account when formulating questions in philosophy will force us to reframe both traditional and contemporary inquiries. For example, the rationalistic model of personhood inherited from Aristotle and Kant as well as the numerous individualistic psychological accounts of diachronic personal identity that have been developed since Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding will have to give way to other, more inclusive models and accounts that better represent the relational nature of memory, personhood, and moral status of human beings. Relational personhood and an extended account of personal identity, which is the focus of my own research is indebted to such fundamental reframing of philosophical questions by placing the interests of individuals with severe cognitive disabilities at the centre of our philosophical contemplations regarding the moral status of persons. If placing disability at the centre of philosophical inquiry helps philosophy transcend its current theoretical bounds, then not only is Eva Kittay correct in suggesting that disability is at the frontier of philosophy itself, but Professor Kittay and those her research project inspires to work at the intersection of philosophy and disability studies are forging a new philosophical direction in the time honoured spirit of philosophical innovation and transformation.

We Were Children

If you missed the recent broadcast of We Were Children you can still watch the full movie online. It will be available for viewing until April 23.

We Were Children

We Were Children is a 2012 Canadian documentary film about the experiences of First Nations children in the Canadian Indian residential school system. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada. For over 130 years, Canada’s First Nations children were legally required to attend Government-funded schools run by various orders of the Christian faith. ‘We Were Children’ is based on the testimony of two survivors.

A 24 hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is posted at the beginning of the film offering assistant to anyone who is distressed by the broadcast: 1-866-925-4419

The film was shot in Manitoba, in Winnipeg, St-Pierre-Jolys and at the former Portage residential school, now the Rufus Prince building, in Portage la Prairie. It was produced by Kyle Irving for Eagle Vision, Loren Mawhinney for eOne Television, and produced and executive produced by David Christensen for the National Film Board of Canada. The executive producer for the Eagle Vision was Lisa Meeches, whose parents and older siblings were sent to residential schools.

Meeches, who spent over seven years travelling across Canada to collect residential school survivors’ stories for the Government of Canada, has stated that the idea for the film originated from a discussion she’d had at the Banff World Media Festival.[6] It was Meeches who approached director Wolochatiuk with the project. CBC Manitoba reporter Sheila North Wilson assisted the production by translating material in the script from English to Cree.
We Were Children premiered on October 2, 2012 at the Vancouver International Film Festival, followed by a screening at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto on October 18. It was broadcast on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in March 2013, followed by a DVD release from the National Film Board of Canada on April 12, 2013. (background information taken from the wikipedia article written on the film).

Today, March 27, 2014 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada begins hearings at the Shaw Conference Centre. The hearings are open to the public and attendance is encouraged. As the TRC Mandate (1998) stated, it is not only the sincere “acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people” but also the community’s step for “continued healing” and “[paving] [of] the way for reconciliation” that is the overall aim of testimonies through the the context of the TRC.

The program for the TRC in Edmonton can be found here:http://www.trc.ca/websites/alberta/index.php?p=766

NO REGISTRATION NEEDED TO ATTEND.
Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

CAN’T COME? The Alberta National Event will be livestreamed at http://www.trc.ca.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission – Edmonton March 27 – 30, 2014

For 116 years, thousands of Aboriginal children in Alberta were sent to Indian Residential Schools funded by the federal government and run by the churches. They were taken from their families and communities in order to be stripped of language, cultural identity and traditions.

Canada’s attempt to wipe out Aboriginal cultures failed. But it left an urgent need for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

There were more Indian Residential Schools in Alberta than in any other province. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is holding its Alberta National Event in Edmonton this year.

Come and share your truth about the schools and their legacy. Witness and celebrate the resilience of Aboriginal cultures.
(excerpt from TRC.ca)

Alberta National Event – March 27 – 30, 2014 will be held in Edmonton at the Shaw Conference Centre 9797 Jasper Avenue. No registration needed to attend. Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

You can download the program click here

On Thursday March 20 from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm at the University of Alberta, Lister Centre, Maple Leaf Room
Understanding the TRC: Exploring Reconciliation, Intergenerational Trauma, and Indigenous Resistance featuring:

Commissioner Dr. Wilton Littlechild
Dr. Rebecca Sockbeson
Dr. Ian Mosby
James Daschuk
Dr. Keavy Martin
Tanya Kappo
Moderated by Jodi Stonehouse

Reception 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm – Tea, bannock and berries. Event is free.

Gala Reading featuring:
Marilyn Dumont
Daniel Heath Justice
Eden Robinson
Gregory Scofield
Anna Marie Sewell
Richard Van Camp

Friday, March 21 from 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm in Humanities Centre L-1 (111th Street and Saskatchewan Drive)
Giveaways. Books for sale. Free Admission

You find this information and links to campus maps here

What sorts on psychiatry

Here are a few What sorts posts on psychiatry

Does anyone remember “lobotomy”?

Is your dog on prozac?

Marcia Angell on Big Pharma

NYT on DSM-V

Defending Electroshock

What sorts of people?  Empathy deficit disorder–do you suffer from it?

Pride in maddness–the new visibility

Think Differently About Autism

From the National Autistic Society, in the UK, a short video on bullying, Asperger Syndrome, and what it’s like; h/t to Asperger Square 8. The video forms part of the NAS’s I Exist and Think Differently about Autism campaigns, which have been ongoing for the past year or so.

Description of video, partial transcript, and further information and links beneath the fold. Continue reading

Philosophy, Eugenics & Disability in Alberta and Places North – Dick Sobsey Parts 1 & 2

On October 25, 2008, the What Sorts Network hosted a public symposium to examine, well, philosophy, eugenics, and disability in Alberta and places north.  Four speakers were featured on the panel, Dick Sobsey, Simo Vehmas, Martin Tweedale, and Rob Wilson.  This event was video recorded and over the next month we will highlight these videos on this blog.  Videos will be featured on average twice a week, roughly every Saturday and Wednesday.

To download the full description of the symposium please click here.

We begin this series with the first two parts of the presentation by Dick Sobsey titled “Varieties of Eugenics Experience in the 21st Century.”  This presentation amounts to a summary of various kinds of eugenic motivations, justifications, and practices from the 19th century to today with a good collection of anecdotes and trivia. A transcript of both parts follows the fold.

Part 1

Highlights from part 1 include: shift from religious to scientific view of the world; quality of life; social Darwinism vs. biological capitalism.

Continue reading