Today, a woman diagnosed with HIV filed a complaint against Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an international human rights body, charging that the government failed to protect her from being forcibly sterilized at a state hospital immediately after she gave birth. In a petition submitted by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Chilean-based HIV/AIDS service organization VIVO POSITIVO on her behalf, the 27-year-old Chilean woman F.S. argues that the hospital staff operated on her because of her HIV status, without ever discussing the possibility of performing a surgical sterilization nor asking for her consent.
“Forced sterilization is a violation of a woman’s most basic human rights and is all too often committed against members of vulnerable groups, which deserve special protection, such as women living with HIV,” said Luisa Cabal, director of the international program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time that the Chilean government respect the human rights of all its citizens and take concrete action to guarantee that a woman living with HIV receives quality reproductive health services and has the ability to make decisions about her own life.”
F.S., who wishes to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 soon after learning that she was pregnant. She was referred to Curicó Hospital for HIV treatment during pregnancy. At no time during her admittance did she request sterilization, and she and her husband had plans to have more children. Her case represents a country-wide problem within Chile, according to a 2004 study conducted by VIVO POSITIVO. The study found that, of the women living with HIV who were interviewed who had been sterilized, 29% of them had been pressured by medical staff to do so and 12.9% did not consent to the procedure at all. In addition, the study found that the majority of women had received biased counseling promoting the idea that women with HIV should not become pregnant, irrespective of the fact that, with the appropriate interventions, the risk of transmitting the virus to newborns can be reduced to less than two percent.
“Despite proof to the contrary, neither the Ministry of Health nor the Chilean Courts found that the facts of this case amounted to a violation of F.S.’s human rights. This denial of justice clearly demonstrates the discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS continue to suffer in Chile,” said Vasili Deliyanis, executive director of VIVO POSITIVO. “The presentation of this case to an international tribunal provides a prime opportunity to reinvigorate the discussion on the rights of HIV-positive women in our country. It also provides an opportunity for the Chilean State to reestablish the rule of law.”
In the complaint, the Center and VIVO POSITIVO argue that the Chilean government has violated F.S.’s right to be free from discrimination, as well as her right to decide the number and spacing of her children, the right to be free from violence, and the right to have access to justice. These rights are guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. The Inter-American Commission, based in Washington, D.C., monitors state members’ compliance with the Convention. The Center and VIVO POSITIVO are asking that the Commission recommend Chile acknowledge the human rights violation; undo the harm done to F.S. and provide her with monetary compensation; and adopt policies that guarantee women living with HIV the freedom to make reproductive health decisions without coercion.