In the Name of Alyne: A Historic Human Rights Victory

Alyne da Silva Pimentel would have been 37 years old today if Brazil’s government had honored its responsibility to protect her fundamental human rights.

Instead, because she was poor and Afro-Brazilian, she died in 2002 after being denied basic medical care to address complications in her pregnancy. She was only 28 years old. And her death was completely preventable.

Although nothing can reverse Alyne’s fate, a groundbreaking decision handed down today by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women means that Alyne’s mother and daughter will finally see justice served—and women worldwide will benefit from the ruling issued in her name.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been fighting for Alyne and her family for more than eight years. The case we brought on their behalf is the first maternal death case to be decided by an international human rights body, and the import of this decision is tremendous—establishing that governments have a human rights obligation to guarantee that all women in their countries—regardless of income or racial background—have access to timely, non-discriminatory, and appropriate maternal health services.

The message to governments worldwide could not be more clear: Access to quality reproductive healthcare throughout pregnancy is a fundamental right—and governments that fail to protect this right will be held accountable.

Sadly, Alyne’s story is one of thousands in Brazil, and all around the world, in which women are denied, and in some cases refused, basic quality medical care to address common pregnancy complications. And the countless lives lost unnecessarily as a result mean that today’s victory can only be regarded as bittersweet.

But today marks the beginning of a new era. No longer can governments disregard the fundamental rights of women like Alyne without strict accountability.