Today, on April 27, the Minister of Public Health, Gabriel Wikström (Social Democrat), announced the decision of the Swedish Government to enact a law that will make it possible to compensate people who were forcibly sterilised resulting from the previous Gender Recognition Act.
– We are very happy about this initiative from the government and are now hoping that the process will be as quick as possible and not encounter any resistance, states Ulrika Westerlund, President of RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights.
Since January 2013, forced sterilisations are no longer permitted in Sweden. The previous requirement was ruled as discriminatory and in breach of the Swedish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the Administrative Court of Appeals in Stockholm in its verdict of December 2012. Until then, the forced sterilisation of people who wanted to change legal gender had been the practice since 1972.
In mid-2013, the legal requirement that people who wanted to change legal gender ”had to be lacking the ability to procreate” was removed. Following this, about 160 individuals who had been forcibly sterilised submitted a claim for compensation to the Swedish Attorney General. RFSL, together with RFSL Ungdom, the Swedish Trans Association – FPES, KIM, and the Anti-Discrimination Bureau in Uppsala, supported this claim that was prepared by the lawyer, Kerstin Burman, on behalf of RFSL. The Attorney General rejected the compensation claim and argued, contrary to the Administrative Court of Appeals’ judgment, that the sterilisations had not been forced.
After this formal rejection, the organisations decided to initiate legal proceedings and sue the State, in case that the government would not voluntarily compensate for these human rights violations. Political engagement has continued, with RFSL meeting Gabriel Wikström during 2015 to press the demand for compensation, and the communication has been ongoing. As the political process has been lengthy without guarantee of a positive outcome, during this time Kerstin Burman has worked to prepare eight test cases as part the lawsuit to sue the State.
– That the government now has chosen to take political responsibility for the forced sterilisations is very positive. Now we are expecting that the level of compensation will be appropriate and fair. In our application, we requested 300 000 SEK (around €32,700) per person, based on Swedish standards for financial compensation, and the fact that the State has violated the personal integrity of the individuals in contravention of the Swedish Constitution and the European Convention. If the government proposes a significantly lower amount, then we will return to the courts, states Kerstin Burman.
Monetary reparations cannot completely compensate for the violations of forced sterilisation, but financial redress initiated by the government is an official acknowledgement that these actions were wrong and that the State should not have treated its citizens in this way. During the 1970s, other Swedish laws that facilitated forced sterilisations were overturned and, in 2000, the government apologised and financially compensated people who were forcibly sterilised under those laws.
– Now we get the same recognition as the other forcibly sterilised people, that feels like an incredible acknowledgement by the government that the State made a mistake. When I have the money in my hand, I am going to celebrate, says Maria Sundin, member of the RFSL Board and one of the claimants for compensation.