The Czech Constitutional Court (Ústavní soud - ÚS) has rejected a complaint filed by a woman from the Ústí Region who was awarded an apology and CZK 200 000 in compensation after she was sterilized without her consent during a Cesarian delivery. The woman complained that the amount of compensation was inadequate. She originally sought compensation of CZK 1 million (EUR 40 000). However, the ÚS found that the lower court’s decision did not violate the woman’s fundamental rights. The Czech Press Agency learned of the ruling when it was published in the ÚS database.
The sterilization was performed by doctors at a hospital in Ústí Region who did not properly inform the Romani woman ahead of time of what it would entail and failed to give her enough time to decide whether she even wanted the procedure. The case is just one of many similar incidents, most of which concern Romani women. The Czech Government is considering instituting blanket compensation for women who have been forcibly sterilized.
“The decision by the lower court regarding the amount of compensation awarded cannot be considered either arbitrary or in contravention of the Constitution. The courts took into consideration both the seriousness of the harms caused and the circumstances of the case,” reads the judges’ decision, as written by Justice Jiří Nykodým.
The Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem decided in 2008 that doctors had violated the woman’s right to health and privacy. The court awarded her an apology and compensation in the amount of CZK 50 000. The verdict took into consideration the fact that the woman had four children and that her marriage had fallen apart, which the Regional Court viewed as reducing the negative impact of the sterilization on her personal life. On appeal, the High Court in Prague increased the compensation by CZK 150 000, drawing attention, for example, to the fact that the hospital’s sterilization commission did not issue a formal decision about the surgery until after it had been performed.
According to Kateřina Červená, a lawyer with the League of Human Rights, the amount of compensation that has been awarded is insufficient, which is why the woman filed a constitutional complaint. “Compensation of CZK 50 000 to a woman who will never conceive again is ridiculous. Even CZK 200 000 is not an adequate amount,” Červená said.
The ombudsman has previously reviewed the cases of forcibly sterilized women, as have courts at all levels in the Czech Republic and the European Court of Human Rights. The government of Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer officially expressed regret over the forced sterilizations in 2009. In the Czech Republic most of the women involved have been Romani, dozens of them - according to some estimates, hundreds or even thousands. “These incidents do not exclusively concern Romani women,” Červená has pointed out. She says other women contacted the League of Human Rights after it was announced that blanket compensation might be provided to forced sterilization victims.
The European Court of Human Rights most recently ruled on the sterilizations of Romani women in Slovakia. Last year the court awarded EUR 31 000 (CZK 792 000) to a woman who signed her consent to the operation in the year 2000 but whom the judges ruled had been unable to realize the ramifications of that consent at the time. This month the court in Strasbourg issued a similar decision in favor of another female Slovak citizen of Romani origin.