Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Report: Czechs, Others Sterilize Gypsies ; A New Draft UN Report and Rights Activists Say a Soviet-Era Campaign to Sterilize Romany Women Continues

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Report: Czechs, Others Sterilize Gypsies ; A New Draft UN Report and Rights Activists Say a Soviet-Era Campaign to Sterilize Romany Women Continues

Article excerpt

It is only after a male visitor leaves the room that Helena Gorolova, standing next to her husband, lowers her voice and says, "as a woman I feel worthless."

Ms. Gorolova cannot have any more children. Sixteen years ago, she says, doctors at a hospital here sterilized her while she gave birth to her second son by caesarean section. In the throes of labor they had her sign a form authorizing the sterilization, but did not explain what it was.

"They said, 'You have to sign this or you will die,' " says Gorolova. "At that time I would have signed my own death sentence, I was in such pain. I had no idea what the word [sterilization] meant. I signed something, but I didn't know what it was."

Gorolova says doctors sterilized her not because her life was danger, but because she is Romany, or a Gypsy. Human rights activists say that the fall of communism here 16 years ago did not put an end to a Soviet-era practice that targeted Romany women for sterilizations - sometimes offering money in exchange for consent - as a means of population control.

Now, a UN committee is poised to agree with them. A draft report from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, expected to be finalized and released this week, says the Czech government failed to fully answer to the charges of more than 80 Romany women who have come forward since 2004 and said they were sterilized without informed consent.

These cases, which date from 1986 to 2004, formed the basis for a sweeping Czech public defender report released in December after a yearlong investigation. That report concluded that the cases had merit, and urged the government to change legislation involving sterilizations and compensating victims. The UN committee is now demanding the same thing.

"There really is no way the government can spin this as a good report card on protecting human rights for women in the Czech Republic," says Gwendolyn Albert, director of the Human Rights League in Prague.

The Health Ministry says it is investigating the cases in the public defender's report. A Health Ministry spokesperson calls charges of forced sterilization in recent years "misleading and without merit," and denies Romany women were specifically targeted.

Activists say the sterilization of Romany women was regionwide. Slovakia, for example, is said to have more cases, and the practice also has been reported in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

But researching allegations is difficult, largely because doctors and hospitals balk at releasing information, says Dimitrina Petrova, the director of the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. "There are many obstacles. There is an enormous amount of difficulty getting facts. …

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