UN Committee Establishes States’ Obligation to Address Maternal Mortality
(Updated 3.18.21) In the first-ever maternal mortality case decided by an international human rights body, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) condemned Brazil for failing to provide timely, nondiscriminatory, and appropriate maternal health services to Alyne Da Silva. The Committee recognized that States have a human rights obligation to address and reduce maternal mortality, to ensure women’s rights to safe motherhood, and to provide affordable access to adequate emergency obstetric care, meeting the specific and distinctive health needs of women, particularly women from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and historically marginalized groups.
Alyne da Silva Pimentel, an impoverished 28-year-old Afro-Brazilian woman, died of complications resulting from pregnancy after her local health center misdiagnosed her symptoms and delayed providing her with emergency care.
On November 30, 2007, the Center and Brazilian partner Citizens’ Advocacy for Human Rights (ADVOCACI) filed a petition arguing that Brazil’s government violated Alyne’s rights to life, health, and legal redress, all of which are guaranteed by both Brazil’s constitution and international human rights treaties, including the CEDAW.
In 2011, nine years after Alyne’s death, the Committee issued a ruling finding the State responsible under the CEDAW for violating its obligations under international law by failing to guarantee Alyne quality maternal healthcare services without discrimination. It emphasized the Brazilian government’s obligation to take immediate action to implement the Committee’s recommendations in order to improve the quality of maternal health care, eliminate discrimination in health care, and consequently reduce the country’s maternal mortality rate.
The Brazilian government reaffirmed its commitment to fully comply with the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations on the case and indicated its intent to provide reparations to Alyne’s family; however, full implementation continues to be pending.
The case has worldwide significance because the Committee established that governments have a human rights obligation to guarantee all women in every country, regardless of income or racial background, access to timely, non-discriminatory, and appropriate maternal health services. Even when governments outsource health services to private institutions, they remain directly responsible for their actions and have a duty to regulate and monitor those institutions.
Filing date: 11/30/07
Plaintiff(s): Family of Alyne da Silva Pimentel
Center Attorney(s): Luisa Cabal, Lilian Sepúlveda, Mónica Arango Olaya
Partners: Citizens’ Advocacy for Human Rights (ADVOCACI), based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
UN Concluding Observations
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Center in the News
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Books & Reports