The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently heard its second reproductive rights case, IV v. Bolivia. This case deals with the sterilization of a migrant Bolivian woman who did not give prior informed consent to the doctors who performed her sterilization. The judgment will be released in the coming months, and is expected to be the first Inter-American Court case to apply the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“Convention of Belém do Pará”) to a woman’s reproductive rights case. This is especially exciting because the Court’s first reproductive rights case, Artavia Murillo et al. (“In vitro fertilization”) v. Costa Rica failed to examine women’s reproductive rights violations through the Convention of Belém do Pará, which ultimately resulted in reparations that were gender-free. The IV v. Bolivia case presents an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to connect gender stereotyping to forced sterilization. It also provides a forum for the Court to expand upon its gender-based analysis in previous women’s rights cases in order to frame reproductive violations within a violence against women framework.
Ciara O’Connell (University of Sussex) and representatives from Dejusticia, Diana Guarnizo-Peralta and César Rodríguez Garavito, submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case in order to emphasize the need to repair gender-based harm in reproductive rights cases. The amicus reviews the Inter-American Court’s jurisprudence in relation to gender stereotyping, and in doing so highlights the advancements and shortcomings in how the Court defines the role of women in society. The amicus suggests that the sterilization of “IV” was not an individual violation, but rather, this case is emblematic and represents a culture of gender-based discrimination and “paternalistic control” within the Bolivian medical sector. The final elements of the amicus suggest specific reparation measures designed to address gender discrimination and stereotyping, and the need to comply with international standards on informed consent.
If you’re interested, the amicus can be downloaded here in both English and Spanish. And, the public hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights can be viewed here.
In the Inter-American region, and in many other parts of the world, women’s reproductive rights are under attack. Just last month a ten-year old Paraguayan girl
was denied an abortion after she was raped by her stepfather and subsequently became pregnant. In 2013, Beatriz
was denied an abortion in El Salvador, despite carrying an anencephalic fetus and also suffering from lupus. In Costa Rica, AN and “Aurora”
were denied therapeutic abortion procedures after learning their fetuses would not be viable outside of the womb. And, in 2002, a Chilean woman
with HIV was sterilized without her knowledge after giving birth to her son. These examples represent some of the most extreme women’s reproductive rights violations in Latin America, where draconian laws reinforce and perpetuate discrimination and violence against women. In response to violations such as the examples noted above, international human rights treaty monitoring bodies have increasingly proven to be forums for the advancement of women’s reproductive rights. One such entity, the Inter-American System of Human Rights, has issued recommendations and judgements on cases involving violations such as forced sterilization, denial of abortion in the case of rape, and prohibition of in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.
In the summer of 2014, fieldwork research was conducted as part of a doctoral thesis entitled, “Strengthening Women’s Reproductive Rights in the Inter-American Human Rights System: Gender, Reparations and Reproductive Justice.” Upon completion of interviews with actors engaged in work on reproductive rights in the Inter-American System, a report entitled, “Women’s Reproductive Rights in the Inter-American System of Human Rights: Conclusions from the Field, June-September 2014
,” was distributed to interview participants. The objectives of the report were (1) to examine the María Mamerita Mestanza Chávez v. Peru
(2003), Paulina del Carmen Jacinto Ramírez v. Mexico
(2007), and Artavia Murillo et al. v. Costa Rica
(2012) cases, in order to understand how reproductive rights cases develop, and the subsequent challenges and advancements; (2) and to learn from these cases in order to suggest recommendations for how actors can make better use of the Inter-American System as one of several avenues for fulfilling women’s reproductive rights. The report identifies three main challenges to the implementation and enjoyment of women’s reproductive rights: (1) limited understanding and institutionalization of ‘gender’; (2) ineffective or nonexistent collaboration between actors; and (3) inadequate development, implementation, and compliance-monitoring of reparation measures. The report also recommends strategies in order to achieve a more efficient Inter-American System when dealing with reproductive rights: (1) creating a tradition of gender-based reparations; (2) using the Convention of Belém do Pará
consistently and constantly in litigation efforts; and (3) institutionalizing gender training in the Inter-American System.
As human rights law is increasingly utilized as a tool in the advancement of women’s reproductive rights, it is essential for actors to engage in every opportunity to reflect on advancements and missed opportunities. The intention of this report is to play a small role in that process of reflection.
Report in both English and Spanish. The author welcomes any questions, comments, and additional information @ c.o-connell [at] sussex.ac.uk.
Image credit: Cristy C. Road