Forced sterilization of Roma women in Czechoslovakia: a eugenic crime passed under silence

This post is also available in: frFrançais (French)

01 October 2015 – The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (CSSD) announced that the government rejected the bill to compensate the victims of forced sterilisations between 1970 and 2009 (date of the last sterilisation), without giving details. The rejection of this proposal by the Czech Prime Minister is just the latest evidence that the Roma population continues to endure serious and unpunished discriminations in Europe.

The sterilisation of Roma women exists since the beginning of the 20th century in countries such as Norway and was continued during WWII in countries like Germany, Austria, Romania and Slovakia. After WWII the illegal sterilisation of Roma women was particularly practised in Eastern Europe. The majority of cases of non-consensual sterilisations took place in former Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Soviet empire in 1990. Although this policy was officially abolished after 1990, some doctors continued the program under their own command.

The total number of women who were victims of these medical practices is very difficult to estimate as only a thousand of them were able to file complaints with the assistance of nongovernmental organisations. The mediator of the Czech Republic considers, however, that thousands of women are concerned.

The difficulty of the criminalization process lies in the fact that doctors have managed to extort signatures to women about to give birth, explaining that sterilisation was necessary for their present or future survival. Since these women did not always understand Czech, they signed the paper in exhaustion and pain, without understanding what depended on it. Some girls as young as 19 were sterilised without their informed consent following the birth of their first child.

Alongside the non-consensual operations after childbirth or abortions, many women were paid in the form of family allowances or threatened to be expelled or their children given to social services for example, in exchange for sterilisation.

The negative consequences for these women are numerous: fear, shame and loss of the sense of femininity. Discriminations within their own community are to be expected as they can be abandoned by their husbands and marginalised as soon as their secret is known.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned the Czech government in several judgements for the violation of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights that forbids torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. The Czech Prime Minister made an apology in 2009 following the creation of the first complaints in 2004. But until now no doctor or hospital has been punished by law. And only two women received compensation in 2011 in Slovakia and in 2007 in the Czech Republic.

Despite criticism from civil society and human rights organisations, this serious violation of human rights remains unrepaired. The refusal of the Czech government to provide financial compensation to victims of involuntary sterilisation proves that there is still a long way to go before Roma rights are fully respected in Europe.



AEDH report, 2013 : « Roma people in Europe in the 21st century : violence, exclusion, insecurity»

ECHR, V.C v Slovakia, 8 November 2011

Romea, As many as 1 000 women could be compensated for wrongful sterilizations in Czech Republic, 22 February 2012

Romea, Czech Republic: Victims of illegal sterilizations could receive CZK 300 000 in compensation, 10 April 2015

Compte AEDH