Coercive sterilisation of Roma women, segregation of Roma children

On the occasion of the International Human Rights day,
FIDH and LIGA call for concrete steps to end abuse and discrimination

December 2007 At the outset of 2007 the Czech government proclaimed its commitment to “the respect of liberties, protection of human and minority rights” and declared that, “the aim is that fundamental rights and freedoms will be effectively protected in practice…” (1). As the end of the year approaches, the government faces an important test of the strength of its commitment to minority rights: how to address two of the most serious and long-term human rights violations in the Czech Republic, coercive sterilisation of Roma women and segregation of Roma children in special schools.

At the occasion of the International Human Rights day,
FIDH and LIGA call for concrete steps to end abuse and discrimination

December 2007 At the outset of 2007 the Czech government proclaimed its commitment to "the respect of liberties, protection of human and minority rights" and declared that, "the aim is that fundamental rights and freedoms will be effectively protected in practice…" [1]. As the end of the year approaches, the government faces an important test of the strength of its commitment to minority rights: how to address two of the most serious and long-term human rights violations in the Czech Republic, coercive sterilisation of Roma women and segregation of Roma children in special schools.

Justice for victims of coercive sterilisation

On 13 December, new members of the Czech Human Rights Council will vote on whether to grant a public apology and financial compensation to Roma women, victims of coercive sterilisation, both under the former communist Czechoslovakia and since the establishment of the democratic Czech Republic. If the Human Rights Council votes in favour of the proposal, which has been presented by the Governmental Committee on Biomedicine and Human Rights, the document will be submitted to the Czech government for a final decision.

This is the third attempt to obtain governmental approval for reparation to be granted to the victims. In July 2006, the Czech Human Rights Council voted against the proposal. In February 2007, the Council on Roma Affairs, another governmental advisory body, approved this proposal, yet the current Human Rights Minister and Head of the Czech Human Rights Council, Ms Džamila Stehlíková of the Green Party, failed to submit the proposal to the government, without providing any valid reasons. Ms Džamila Stehlíková and the Human Rights Council now have a vital opportunity to ensure that the victims finally receive some measure of justice.

This proposal is all the more important in view of the obstacles to victims seeking justice before the Czech courts. In one exceptional case, a victim of coercive sterilisation, Ms. Cervenakova, represented by LIGA and supported by the European Roma Rights Center, was awarded compensation of 500 000 Czech crowns by the Ostrava Regional Court. However, this decision has been appealed and it is clear that the prospects of justice even for the few victims who have been lucky enough to find legal representation are very uncertain.

Indeed, it is anticipated that the Supreme Court in Brno, in violation of victims’ legitimate expectations and contrary to well-established case law, will follow the opinion of the High Court in Olomouc, which ruled that a claim for immaterial damages, which occurred more than three years ago is time-barred. This would mean that it would be almost impossible for victims of coercive sterilisation to obtain compensation before Czech courts.

Should the compensation scheme fail to receive approval by the Czech Governments, victims will be forced to turn to the European Court for Human Rights for any chance of justice.

Ending segregation of Roma children
FIDH and LIGA hope that the appointment this week of a new Minister of Education, Mr Ondrej Liska of the Green Party, will mark a publicly visible change in government policy towards education of Roma children in mainstream schools and call upon him to take immediate measures to implement the binding judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of D.H. and others v. Czech Republic [2].

In November 2007, the Grand Chamber of the European Court concluded that the Czech government had violated the prohibition against discrimination with regards to the schooling of Roma children. Reiterating the arguments presented by FIDH in an amicus submission [3], the Court held that, "Roma parents were faced with a dilemma: a choice between ordinary schools that were ill-equipped to cater for their children’s social and cultural differences and in which their children risked isolation and ostracism, and special schools where the majority of the pupils were Roma." [4]
Roma parents could not be considered to have "waived their right not to be racially discriminated against" in placing their children in special schools or segregated classes.

FIDH and LIGA emphasise that this problem remains one of the main obstacles to the successful desegregation of the Czech educational system, despite new education legislation in force since January 2005, and although already 8 years have passed since the D.H. case was filed before the domestic courts. Continuous communication fostering mutual trust has to be established between Roma parents, communities and school authorities, under the leadership of the new Minister, in all the regions of the Czech Republic. A long term and thorough information campaign aimed at all stakeholders in the Czech educational system is necessary to ensure that Roma parents have a genuine choice on the schooling of their children, that will allow them to attend higher education without ostracism and discrimination while attending mainstream classes with children from the Czech majority.

On the eve of International Human Rights day, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation in the Czech Republic, the League of Human Rights (LIGA), stress that human rights are universal and call upon the Czech government to demonstrate to victims, Czech society and the international community that it is genuinely committed to ensuring the "effective protection" of minority rights.

Press contacts:

Karine Appy, + 33 1 43 55 14 12 / + 33 1 43 55 25 18,
Jiri Kopal, Deputy Secretary General, FIDH and Chair, LIGA + 420 776 234 446

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