While the world's attention centres upon the Chinese government's treatment of its Uighur communities, less known is what has been described as the attempted genocide of the Roma people in Europe.
The Roma are the largest minority in the Czech Republic, with an estimated population of 250,000. They suffered a government-led eugenics agenda from the early 1970s until it was officially abolished in 1993. The European Roma Rights Centre says hundreds of women were systematically sterilised throughout the 1990s with the last-known case as recently as 2007. No one knows how many women were affected.
Little has been done to bring justice and the Czech government’s inaction has been condemned by the UN, the European commission against racism and intolerance, and, last September, by Dunja Mijatović, the EU human rights commissioner, who urged the adoption of a bill to help women who had been affected.
“The Czech state is 100% responsible, as they enabled licensing for doctors who sterilised women without their consent,” says Gwendolyn Albert, an American human rights activist. “This attempted genocide of the Roma wasn’t a one-size-fits-all procedure,” she adds. Some women were promised them monetary rewards by their social workers, while others were told their children would be taken away if they did not comply. It was often explained as a form of birth control.
Sterilisation was part of a wider social campaign to “discriminate, seclude and eradicate” the Roma population. “The systematic racism within education, housing and the job market continues to affect the Romani population and there is little political will to implement change,” says Albert.