September 30, 2014 / 9:45 PM / 5 years ago

Rights body mulls forced sterilization of HIV-positive woman

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will consider its first case of forced sterilization of a person living with HIV in Latin America, a rights group has said.

The U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the case of a Chilean woman before the main human rights body in the Americas, says she was forcibly sterilized because of her HIV-positive status by a doctor, without her consent or knowledge, during the delivery of her baby by Caesarean section in 2002.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has taken up cases of people being forced to undergo sterilization in the past but this is the first time the rights body is looking into the forced sterilization of a man or woman living with HIV in the region.

“The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights is making history in taking her case and must send a clear message that no country can ever ignore human rights violations or allow discrimination as horrific as forced sterilization to occur,” Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

“The unconscionable actions of the doctor who took it upon himself to forcibly sterilize a young woman because she was living with HIV were a gross violation of her human rights, robbing her of her basic reproductive decision-making and future,” she said.

In March 2007, the woman known as F.S. filed a criminal complaint against doctors in Chile. But the public prosecutor carried out a ‘substandard police investigation’ and the case was dismissed on the grounds that she had given verbal consent to undergo sterilization, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The group, together with the HIV/AIDS rights group Vivo Positivo in Chile, then took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2009. Their petition calls for the Chilean government to give financial compensation to F.S. and impose criminal sanctions against those responsible for violating her rights.

It also seeks guarantees against future coercive or forced sterilizations of HIV-positive women in Chile and changes to the country’s law to better protect the sexual and reproductive rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and tackle the discrimination and stigma they can face by healthcare workers.

“We feel very positive and optimistic that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will give a favorable ruling to the petitioner in this case,” Lilian Sepulveda, head of the global legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

CASE MAY NOT BE HEARD FOR SEVERAL YEARS

She added it could take several years for the F.S. v. Chile case to get heard by the rights commission based in Washington.

The rights body could issue non-binding recommendations to the Chilean government and it could act as an intermediary if the government decides to negotiate a friendly settlement out-of-court, Sepulveda said.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has ruled on cases of forced sterilizations in the past. 

The commission told Peru in 2010 to investigate and punish those responsible for the death of Mamerita Mestanza, a woman who activists said was coerced into a tube-tying operation that killed her and who became an emblematic case for thousands of other indigenous women who underwent forced sterilizations.

In 2014, Peru closed an inquiry into whether former president Alberto Fujimori and his cabinet members forcibly sterilized indigenous women as part of a 1990s birth control campaign that targeted the rural poor.

Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Lisa Anderson

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