Namibia coercively sterilised HIV+ women

High Court finds women did not give informed consent

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

July 30th, 2012

In a landmark judgment, the High Court in Windhoek found today that the Namibian government had coercively sterilised three HIV positive women in violation of their basic rights.

“This decision is a significant victory for HIV positive women in Namibia,” said Nicole Fritz, the Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “This ruling affirms not only the rights of HIV positive women but also of all women to access their sexual and reproductive rights.”

The case, H.N. and Others v Government of the Republic of Namibia involved three HIV positive women who sought to access pre-natal services at public hospitals in Namibia. The three women ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-40s when they were sterilised. All three were sterilised without their informed consent while accessing such services.

Ruling in the women’s favour, the High Court held that obtaining consent from women when they were in severe pain or in labour did not constitute informed consent. The Court further found that failure to obtain the three women’s informed consent violated the women’s rights under common law to the security of the person.

The women will be awarded damages, although the amount is still to be decided.

“These three cases represent only the tip of the iceberg because numerous HIV positive women have come forward alleging they were similarly subjected to coerced sterilization at public hospitals in Namibia,” said Fritz.

Dozens of other cases have been documented throughout Namibia of HIV positive women being subjected to coerced sterilization. However, despite significant evidence of the widespread practice throughout Namibia, little action has been taken to address this problem.

“This decision is the first step in ensuring that no other women will be coercively sterilized in public hospitals in Namibia,” said Priti Patel, SALC Deputy Director. “Now the government must meaningfully investigate all the other cases to ensure justice for every woman who has been coercively sterilized.”

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