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Friday, August 1, 2014
- The Czech government has defied calls from international human rights groups to stop the “degrading” practice of surgically castrating sex offenders.
Announcing a raft of new health care legislation earlier this month, Prime Minister Petr Necas said the government would not be putting an end to the controversial practice, defending castration as an efficient method of stopping recidivism among sexual offenders.
But rights groups have questioned the move and even the government’s own human rights commissioner has said the practice is a throwback to out of date thinking on criminal punishments and leaves the Czech Republic out of step with the rest of Europe.
“Other methods of treatment are given preference all over Europe. We consider it normal to castrate an offender and then it’s dealt with. But that is going back in time, like an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
“If an offender is free, they can happily undergo castration, but it should not be part of treatment,” Monika Simunkova, the Czech Commissioner for Human Rights, told local media.
The Czech Republic is one of the few European countries which retains the practice of surgical castration for sex offenders. The process involves the removal of tissue in the testes which produces testosterone.
According to official figures, 85 people underwent surgical castration in the Czech Republic between 2000 and 2011.
The practice has previously drawn strong criticism from rights groups, most notably from the Council of Europe.
It has claimed that although Czech law states that written consent is needed from an offender confirming that they are undergoing the procedure voluntarily, some prisoners had given consent without being aware of what they were agreeing to or because they were afraid of receiving longer sentences if they did not.
In reports in 2009 and 2010 the Council described surgical castration as “degrading”, “medically unnecessary”, “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” and that the reluctance of the Czech authorities to replace the practice “by other forms of intervention is disappointing and disturbing.”
It called for a moratorium on surgical castrations pending their final abolition.
When contacted by IPS, Patrick Muller, a spokesman for the Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, reiterated that the Council still wanted it ended, but that it was powerless to force the Czech government to do so.
Meanwhile, human rights groups in the Czech Republic have also attacked the retention of surgical castration.
Head of the Czech Helsinki Committee, Anna Sabatova, said after the government’s decision that the Czech Republic should do as the Council of Europe asks and that other, equally or even more effective, methods of treatment were available, including medicines and psychotherapy.
Czech rights groups have, like the Council of Europe, also raised concerns over the ‘voluntary’ aspect of the practice.
They say that sex offenders in secure psychiatric facilities agree to castration simply because they are desperate to be granted a full release or treatment on an outpatient basis, meaning that the consent is not ‘voluntary’ at all.
Zuzana Durajova, a lawyer with the Czech Human Rights League, told IPS: “Our concern is that it is very difficult to ensure that the person is really giving their consent voluntarily. They may agree to be castrated so that they can get out (of the psychiatric facility) and that raises the question of whether or not consent is voluntary.”
Czech authorities have defended the controversial practice, saying it is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism among offenders.
Czech sexologists who treat sex offenders have also backed the procedure.
Prof. Petr Weiss, a prominent Czech sexologist, told local media: “The chances of someone re-offending after surgical castration are about 2 percent. Castration lowers their sexual impulses to a level where they are able to control them themselves.”
He added that the people who underwent such procedures were “sadists, sexual aggressors and paedophiles” who afterwards led a “normal life only with the restriction that their sexuality was reduced. But this sexuality has brought them many more problems than enjoyment and many spend their whole lives in prison or psychiatric treatment. I do not see that reducing this sexuality is a great misfortune.”
But critics say there is a lack of reliable studies to back up claims about the effectiveness of surgical castration.
Ales Butala, a human rights lawyer who was part of the Council of Europe’s original delegation to the Czech Republic which called on the country to end the practice, has said the Council found evidence of three cases where previously castrated Czech sex offenders went on to commit violent crimes, including paedophile offences.
Others say that studies on re-offending are unreliable because they involve self-reporting by offenders.
Doctors outside the Czech Republic have also questioned the effectiveness of surgical castration.
In the U.S. and the UK, where chemical castration is practised on some offenders, some doctors say that surgical castration provides no guarantee that a person will not re-offend as their compulsion to commit offences may be driven by mental disorders or alcohol or drug problems rather than being sexual in nature.
They add that non-invasive methods, such as chemical castration combined with psychiatric therapy are as effective as surgical castration which can also cause subsequent health problems, such as osteoarthritis, anaemia and obesity.
The Czech government’s decision to retain the practice comes just months after legislation allowing for the chemical castration of paedophiles was passed by lawmakers in Romania and Russia. Similar legislation was passed in Poland in 2009.
In all three cases the laws were drafted by politicians who said they wanted to take a hard line on perceived lenient punishments for sexual offenders, and dismissed human rights concerns over castration.
Liberal-democrat MP Alin Popoviciu, who drafted the Romanian law, told Romanian media that the legislation was designed to “stop these lunatics” and that critics of the practice should “forget about human rights hypocrisy.”
But rights groups say that people cannot be stripped of universal rights because they are sexual offenders.
“Human rights apply to everyone,” the Human Rights League’s Durajova told IPS.