Santiago, Chile, May 26, 2022 – Today, a Chilean woman named Francisca received a public apology from the Chilean government for having been sterilized without her authorization after giving birth in 2002. The government publicly apologized and acknowledged the violence perpetrated against Francisca as it also made a commitment to guarantee the reproductive autonomy of all persons so that what happened to her will not happen to anyone else. Francisca’s surname is being withheld for privacy reasons.
The President of Chile, Gabriel Boric, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Antonia Urrejola, delivered the public apology at an event attended by representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the organizations that have litigated the case since 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo, a Chilean-based HIV/AIDS service organization.
Francisca was diagnosed with HIV after she became pregnant in 2002. During the Cesarean section —and after giving birth to a healthy baby boy— doctors performed a surgical sterilization on her since they unjustly thought it was irresponsible for an HIV-positive woman to have more children.
The public hospital Francisca where this occurred did not provide her with any information. Chile’s international human rights obligations require that Francisca should have received adequate, complete, and accessible information for her to give free, prior, and informed consent. Instead, Francisca was discriminated against for living with HIV, and, while she was under anesthesia, a medical team decided to restrict her autonomy and take away her reproductive capacity.
In 2009, the case of Francisca was brought to the IACHR by the Center and Vivo Positivo after an earlier criminal complaint against the surgeon was dismissed by the Chilean justice system. After more than a decade of negotiations before the Commission, on August 3, 2021, the Chilean government entered a “Friendly Settlement Agreement” with Francisca, accepting its international responsibility for the human rights violations to which she was subjected.
“I receive the apology offered to me by the Chilean State as a commitment to me and to all the people who went through a similar story because of our HIV status. It must be clear that I was not the only one, and that we still face discrimination in the health system. I am happy to know that my case can serve to end stereotypes about people living with HIV, and to improve health care for other women,” said Francisca, who attended the event virtually to protect her identity.
During the event, the Chilean State admitted its responsibility for failing to guarantee Francisca her rights including personal integrity, judicial guarantees, as well as her right to be free from gender-based violence, among others. The State also recognized that these rights violations were caused by discrimination factors such as being a woman, living with HIV, and living in poverty and in a rural area.
“I am honored to accompany Francisca in her search for justice and reparations. She is one of many women living with HIV who have been discriminated against while seeking out health services. That is why I want reinforce that States have a profound obligation to guarantee and respect the rights of this population, including the duty to ensure free, prior, and informed consent,” said Enid Muthoni Ndiga, Chief Program Officer at the Center.
“This public apology event sets a precedent in Chile that there are human rights guarantees for everyone, including those living with HIV. We never again want to see a forced sterilization, never again see a woman with her rights violated behind the door of an operating room,” said Sara Araya, gender area coordinator of Vivo Positivo.
In addition to making full personal reparations to Francisca, the Chilean State has initiated a process of implementation of the Friendly Settlement Agreement. This includes actions to ensure that her case is not repeated using public policy measures to transform the structural inequality that led to Francisca’s sterilization without consent.
Some of these actions to guarantee reproductive rights are to:
- Disseminate guidelines for health services that provide female and male sterilization (Voluntary surgical contraception, or VSC).
- Disseminate the Bill on Women’s Right to a Life Free of Violence.
- Develop awareness campaigns for care and non-discrimination for people living with HIV, with an emphasis on their sexual and reproductive rights.
- Increase the number of delivery rooms with a comprehensive care model within the infrastructure of new hospitals.
- Implement training in sexual and reproductive rights with a gender perspective for health, judicial, and administrative personnel.
Representatives of The Center and Vivo Positivo said they are committed to ensuring the implementation of the agreement, so that Francisca and her son can rebuild their lives with the knowledge the rights violations she was subjected to will not happen again. The agreement guarantees a mechanism to monitor and make certain that the Chilean State continues to commit to the agreed-upon systemic remedies.
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