The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and four other human rights organisations, concerned with the forced and coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV/AIDS in Namibia, have requested the UN Human Rights Committee to raise this with the government of Namibia. SALC, the Namibian Women’s Health Network (NWHN), International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), International Community of Women Living with HIV – Southern Africa (ICW-SA), and Her Rights Initiative, South Africa have submitted a report to the Committee raising concern that dozens of women in Namibia have been sterilised without their adequate and informed consent apparently on the basis of their HIV status.
“Although Namibian law requires consent to be obtained before any medical procedure is carried out, including sterilisation, we have documented cases in which consent was not adequately obtained because women were not fully informed of the their options and the consequences of the procedure; or were not in a position to give proper consent when asked.” Jennifer Gatsi of Namibia Women’s Health Network.
“Women living with HIV have the right to make autonomous decisions about their sexual and reproductive health including whether or not they want to have children, and must have sufficient time and access to comprehensive information to make those decisions, free of stigma, discrimination and coercion and including the right to full and informed consent for any testing, treatment or medical procedure. These rights must be recognised and realised.” said Rebecca Matheson, the Global Director of ICW.
In March 2016, the government of Namibia will have to go before the Human Rights Committee to give account of how it has ensured the promotion and protection of human rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Namibia. Prior to that, in July, the Human Rights Committee will decide what specific human rights concerns to raise with the government. The five organisations state that the forced and coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV/AIDS is a violation of the ICCPR and therefore should be included in the list of issues, despite the government not having raised the concern in its report to the Committee.
“The forced sterilisation of women living with HIV/AIDS is a violation of their right to equality and non-discrimination.” said Muluka Miti-Drummond, Regional Advocacy Director at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “Furthermore it constitutes a violation of the rights of these women to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; as well as the right to found a family; protection of the family; and not to have the family arbitrarily interfered with.” The organisations are looking to the Human Rights Committee to hold the government of Namibia accountable for these violations and for ensuring they do not occur again.
In 2012, the High Court in Namibia in LM and Others v Namibia, held that three HIV-positive women were sterilised without their informed consent in violation of their rights under Namibian law. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in November 2014. “While we acknowledge the positive decision with regard to the three women in that case, we remain concerned that other women subjected to forced and coerced sterilisation have been left without a legal remedy.” Miti-Drummond said
The organisations are also concerned that by failing to include this issue in their report to the Committee, as required, the government is failing to acknowledge it as a human rights violation.
The organisations ask the Human Rights Committee to enquire from the government, among other things, the measures that have been taken to prevent further sterilisation of women living with HIV/AIDS without their consent; as well as to investigate and provide redress and a pathway to justice for those women who have been subjected to forced or coerced sterilisation.