The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has, for the first time, addressed the all-too-common practice of sterilizing women without their informed consent. In its judgment concerning I.V. v. Bolivia, released on December 22, 2016, the court determined that forced sterilization generally violates a core set of human rights, including the right to dignity, and may also constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and violate the right to judicial protection (as it found to be the case here). Its decision was a positive conclusion to I.V.’s 16-year fight for justice and puts in motion significant advances toward providing her with some measure of reparation and ensuring that Bolivia’s health care system recognizes and respects the human rights of women, including their right to exercise full, free, prior, and informed consent to any medical procedure. The International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University and the International Justice Resource Center intervened before the Inter-American Court as amici curiae in the case with the support of 22 law professors, experts, and organizations (other amicus curiae briefs submitted in the case are also available online). We write here to outline the analysis presented in our brief and share the court’s conclusions, particularly because the judgment is only available in Spanish.
In our capacity as amici, we argued that the court should adopt a rights-based definition of forced sterilization and treat it as an autonomous complex human rights violation that affects the rights to dignity, private and family life, personal integrity and humane treatment, freedom of expression, protection of the family, and to be free from discrimination and from acts of violence against women. We argued that a framework that recognizes the indivisibility and interrelatedness of the human rights violations associated with forced sterilization better reflects its complex nature and will assist other bodies tasked with analyzing cases of forced sterilization as a human rights violation. This approach would be in line with the court’s conceptualization of other complex human rights violations that are not specifically mentioned in the American Convention on Human Rights. Such was the case of enforced disappearances, where the court’s characterization as an autonomous and complex violation was instrumental for the development of a more appropriate normative framework. Continue reading