African Commission condemns coerced sterilisation of HIV+ women

By Richard Lee | November 06th, 2013

In a landmark pronouncement for women’s rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has condemned the coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV as a blatant violation of their fundamental rights, which are guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Following reports of coerced and forced sterilisation of women living with HIV in numerous African countries in recent years, including South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, the ACHPR’s resolution denouncing the practice has been warmly welcomed by activists and civil society groups across the continent.

“The Commission’s resolution sends a very clear message to African governments that they must take urgent measures to end the coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV in their countries,” said Nyasha Chingore, a lawyer from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which has long campaigned for an end to the practice. “It is time for the authorities to promote the sexual and reproductive rights of women rather than to sit idly by as they are violated.”

The Commission adopted the strongly worded Resolution on Involuntary Sterilisation and Protection of Human Rights in Access to HIV Services on November 4th during its 54th ordinary session in Banjul.

The resolution condemned all forms of stigma and discrimination in terms of access to, and provision of, health services in the context of HIV. It also made it clear that all forms of involuntary sterilisation violated women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination, dignity, liberty and security of the person, and freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as the right to the highest attainable physical and mental health as enshrined in regional and international human rights instruments.

“This resolution by one of Africa’s premier human rights bodies is a major step forward, which will give women living with HIV some confidence that their rights are also protected under the African human rights system,” said Gladys Kiio, Programme Manager of the African Gender and Media Initiative Trust (GEM), which has documented the stories of women subjected to coerced sterilisation in Kenya. “It will also help to focus attention on a shameful – but still widespread – practice that most people in Africa know nothing about.”

Currently, women in Kenya and Namibia, who were subjected to coerced sterilisation, are challenging the practice in court arguing that it violated their fundamental rights. The Commission’s resolution can only strengthen their legal attempts to bring an end to the involuntary sterilisation of women living with HIV and other marginalised women, including women with disabilities.

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