The United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) has welcomed Kenya’s High Court judgment recognizing that coerced sterilization of women living with HIV is a violation of human rights.
The judgment follows a 2014 case brought forward by a Kenyan woman living with HIV, who was coerced by professionals at a health facility to undergo tubal ligation.
Justice Antony Mrima in the judgment delivered on December 16, 2022, ruled that the performance of the operation without consent amounted to a violation of her rights to non-discrimination, to dignity, to health and to family.
The judge awarded the petitioner Sh3 million as damages to be borne by the first and second respondents, Marura Maternity and Nursing Home and the County Government of Nairobi, on a ratio of 70-30.
The landmark judgment is the first case of its kind in the country.
The UNAids Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in a statement termed the judgment an important step in protecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women living with HIV.
“UNAids stands ready to work with all governments to ensure such practices are eliminated completely and that women living with HIV are able to access health services without stigma or discrimination,” said Ms Byanyima.
UNAids Country Director for Kenya, Medhin Tsehaiu, noted the case was an important moment for reproductive justice and the feminist movement.
“It is only through a human rights approach that we will end HIV/Aids as a public health threat,” said Ms Tsehaiu.
The plaintiff in the case stated the case was not about the money.
“I wanted to fight for justice for myself, and all women who have had this experience, and to ensure this does not happen to other women living with HIV, who need access to reproductive health services,” she said.
The Kenyan Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV/Aids (Kelin) and the African Gender and Media Initiatives Trust (Gem) were also petitioners in this case.
“We welcome the court’s decision and although it took a long time, we are happy the court found the client’s rights had been violated, and particularly the finding of discrimination on the basis of sex and HIV status,” said Allan Maleche, Executive Director, Kelin.
UNAids intervened in this case with an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief that informed the Kenyan High Court on the health guidelines and human rights standards that each country must follow to respect, protect and guarantee the human rights of people living with HIV, and the impact that such involuntary practices can have on the HIV response.
The UN agency noted HIV-related stigma and discrimination has a significant impact on the health, lives and wellbeing of people living with or at risk of HIV.
Stigma and discrimination hinders the HIV response by limiting access to broader sexual and reproductive health and other health services.
In the press statement, the organisation indicated it will ensure governments invest in preventing and responding to violations linked to the forms of intersectional discrimination to which people living with HIV have been subjected.
In a bid to eliminate gender inequalities in the HIV/Aids war, UNAids is implementing the Global Aids Strategy 2021-2026: End Aids, which includes a central role for the promotion of human rights, gender equality and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination for all people living with and affected by HIV.
The project seeks to end gender inequalities and realize human rights, including the right to health, calling on all partners and stakeholders in the HIV response in all countries to transform unequal gender norms and end stigma and discrimination.