(PRESS RELEASE) More than a decade after a Chilean woman was forcibly sterilized because she is living with HIV, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced that it will hear her case—the first-ever forced sterilization case for a person living with HIV in Latin America to be decided by an international human rights body.
This week, the Commission declared F.S. v. Chile—a case submitted by the Center for Reproductive Rights to the human rights body—admissible and the Commission will review the case on its merits around the violation to the rights to personal integrity, due process, privacy and family life, equality, judicial protection and right to be free from violence.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Every woman across the globe has a fundamental right to control her reproductive life, no matter who she is, what her HIV status may be, and whether she decides to build a family or not.
“The unconscionable actions of the doctor who took it upon himself to forcibly sterilize a young woman because she was living with HIV were a gross violation of her human rights, robbing her of her basic reproductive decision-making and future.
“The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights is making history in taking her case and must send a clear message that no country can ever ignore human rights violations or allow discrimination as horrific as forced sterilization to occur.”
F.S. is a Chilean woman living with HIV who gave birth in November 2002 via cesarean. Aware of her HIV status, the surgeon operating on F.S. surgically sterilized her during the delivery without her knowledge or consent—despite the fact that Chilean law requires written consent from a woman before any sterilization procedure. F.S. later filed a criminal complaint against the surgeon in March 2007, but due to a substandard police investigation, the Chilean judiciary dismissed the case, falsely claiming F.S. had given verbal consent to sterilization. She continues to suffer physical and psychological harms today.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Chilean-based HIV/AIDS NGO Vivo Positivo brought the F.S. v Chile case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2009. The petition argues that the forced sterilization of F.S. violated her rights to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, to privacy, to be free from discrimination and to an effective judicial remedy. The petition calls for compensation to F.S. for the harm that she suffered, criminal sanctions for those responsible for violating her rights, and guarantees against coercive or forced sterilizations of HIV-positive women in the future. The petition also seeks the legislative and policy changes necessary to fully protect the sexual and reproductive rights of individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
“For the last decade, the Chilean government has continually failed to address the appalling injustices this young woman has endured,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Now, we look to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take this important opportunity to hold accountable those responsible for violating this woman’s fundamental human rights.”
“Women living with HIV and AIDS have a right to make their own medical decisions, including those about their fertility,” said Sara Araya Executive Director at Vivo Positivo. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must demand that the Chilean government create and implement health policies to protect the rights of women living with HIV and AIDS—punishing anyone who discriminates and denies women quality health care.”
In 2010, the Center and Vivo Positivo collaborated on the report Dignity Denied: Violations of the Rights of HIV-Positive Women in Chilean Health Facilities. The report uncovered that abuse against women living with HIV/AIDS in Chile by medical professionals is widespread, including sterilizing them without their knowledge or consent during other procedures. It notes that Chile has failed to protect the human rights of women living with HIV in the country by fostering an environment in which healthcare workers willfully discriminate against them.