Blog: At the Hospital There Are No Human Rights
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November 3, 2014
Posted by Mindy Roseman
In a long-awaited decision today, Namibia’s Supreme Court found that the government forcibly sterilized women living with HIV/AIDS. The ruling upholds the 2012 High Court’s decision in Government of the Republic of Namibia v LM and Others.
Below, we’ve re-posted a press release from the Namibian Women’s Health Network (one of the International Human Rights Clinic’s partners) and the South Africa Litigation Centre, one of the legal partners on the case. While there may be much to cheer about in the decision, the Supreme Court’s affirmation that no evidence of discriminatory animus on the basis of HIV status still disappoints.
In 2010, the Clinic teamed up with the Namibian Women’s Health Network and Northeastern University School of Law to document the full range of discriminatory treatment that women living with HIV/AIDS face in seeking and receiving health care. Forcible sterilization was one of the many human rights violations HIV positive women suffered. Our report, “At the Hospital There Are No Human Rights,” was issued in July 2012.
Namibia’s Highest Court Finds Government Forcibly Sterilised HIV-Positive Women
(Windhoek, Namibia, Nov. 3, 2014) – Today the Namibian Supreme Court affirmed that HIV-positive women have been forcibly sterilised in public hospitals in Namibia.
“This decision by the country’s highest court is a victory for all HIV-positive women as it makes clear that public hospitals in Namibia have been coercively sterilising HIV-positive women without their consent,” stated Jennifer Gatsi Mallet, Director of Namibian Women’s Health Network (NWHN). “However, these three women are only the tip of the iceberg. We have documented dozens of cases of other HIV-positive women who have been forcibly sterilised. The government needs to take active steps to ensure all women subjected to this unlawful practice get redress,” added Gatsi Mallet.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Government of the Republic of Namibia v LM and Others affirmed the High Court’s July 2012 order finding that the government had subjected women to coercive sterilisation. The case was brought by three HIV-positive women who were subjected to sterilisation without their informed consent in public hospitals. The High Court found in favour of the women and held that the practice of coerced sterilisation violated the women’s legal rights.
“This decision has far-reaching consequences not only for HIV-positive women in Namibia but for the dozens of HIV-positive women throughout Africa who have been forcibly sterilised,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “This decision sends a clear message that governments throughout Africa must take concrete actions to end this practice,” said Patel.
NWHN first began documenting cases of forced sterilisation in 2007. Since then, dozens of HIV-positive women in Namibia and in other countries in Africa have come forward describing similar experiences at public hospitals. Despite numerous requests to the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services in Namibia, very little action has been taken to address this practice.
The three women at the centre of the case were represented by lawyers from the Legal Assistance Centre and supported by the Namibian Women’s Health Network and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
For more information:
Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, Director, NWHN: +264 (81) 129 6940 (m); email@example.com
Veronica Kalambi, NWHN: +264 (81) 787 8326 (m); firstname.lastname@example.org
Priti Patel, Deputy Director, SALC: +27 (0) 76 808 0505 (m); email@example.com
Nyasha Chingore-Munazvo, Project Lawyer, SALC: +27 10 596 8538 (o); +27 72 563 5855 (m); firstname.lastname@example.org
July 31, 2012
Posted by Mindy Roseman
Yesterday the Namibian High Court issued its ruling in LM&MI&NH vs. The Government of the Republic of Namibia, finding that the three plaintiffs had been coercively sterilized. Shortly after Judge Elton Hoff read his decision from the bench, women’s rights advocates praised the outcome, which they said could herald a settlement in many more cases of forcible sterilization.
Certainly the ruling is a welcome result; however, the judge denied the plaintiffs’ contention that they had been sterilized because of their HIV-positive status. He found no evidence supporting that claim.
And yet, in a report we released at the International AIDS Conference last week, “At the Hospital There Are No Human Rights,” our International Human Rights Clinic, the Namibian Women’s Health Network, and Northeastern University School of Law detail widespread instances of discrimination against women living with HIV in Namibia: segregation in health facilities, neglect during labor and delivery, inadequate counseling about HIV testing, and coerced consent to sterilization procedures. In meetings and interviews in Namibia, we were told both by public health care providers and former patients that a government protocol authorized the sterilization of women living with HIV.
It was clear from our research that forced and coerced sterilizations arose out of a larger context of discrimination against women living with HIV. Unless and until this discrimination is recognized by the Namibian executive, the legislature, and the courts, the necessary policy and programmatic steps to address it will fall short.
Our report offers a range of recommendations to the Government of Namibia, donors, and civil society to address the sexual and reproductive rights violations of women living with HIV. Specifically, we:
– Urge the Government of Namibia to act immediately to stop ongoing forced and coerced sterilization, including holding accountable those who have committed such acts and issuing guidelines to ensure informed consent is obtained before the performance of any sexual and reproductive health care test or treatment.
– Call on donors to provide financial and technical support to grassroots efforts, especially organizations of women living with HIV, in advocating for and monitoring legal, policy, and programmatic reforms.
– Encourage civil society to build capacity to document discrimination against women living with HIV in Namibia, with a particular focus on recognizing and investigating violations of sexual and reproductive rights, especially forced and coerced sterilization.
The Namibian court’s decision opens a new and encouraging chapter in the struggle to protect the sexual and reproductive rights of women living with HIV. Yet there remain many challenges ahead—not only in ensuring that the judgment makes the three plaintiffs whole, but also in addressing the ongoing stigma, discrimination, and other rights violations facing women living with HIV. There are many pages to turn before this chapter is closed.
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