Mariela Galeazzi

(translated from Spanish by Isaac Morales)

November 3, 2017


In the photo, the Commissioners Margarette May Macaulay and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño and Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, via Flickr, user: OAS / Inter-American Commission of Human Rights


Petitioners: Institute of bioethics anise; Center for reproductive rights; Yale Global Health Justice Partnership (University); International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere; IPAs; Promsex; Women’s Link Worldwide


Commissioners: Margarette May Macaulay, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño and Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva.

Special Rapporteur on economic, social, cultural and environmental: Soledad García Muñoz.


On October 25, 2017, at the 165th Session of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, a hearing took place in Montevideo (Uruguay) about the Zika virus and the rights of women and persons with disabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Zika is virus that a mosquito is contracted through and sexually transmitted or through a pregnant woman to the fetus. The virus generates neurological complications for the fetus, among other complications. To date, there are no treatments to prevent or cure, and instead, children with congenital Zika syndrome require medical care, support, and financial adjustments to achieve social inclusion. Hundreds of thousands of suspected cases of infection have been reported in Latin America and the Caribbean and, although there is no scientific evidence that the epidemic has ceased, in November 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the threat to public health had ended. Members States have done the same, suspending the few measures that had been taken to mitigate the consequences of the epidemic in some cases. Accordingly, the organizations asked the Commission that: i) request information for the evaluation of the approach to human rights in the States affected by Zika; II) include the subject matter of the Zika in future reports of the rapporteurs of women, disability, DESC and children, and  (iii) promote the human rights approach in the way States respond to future epidemics.


In Colombia, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), there a total 98,598 suspected cases. In Brazil, 220,000 cases were reported. In the Dominican Republic and El Salvador there are no statistics on the number of cases, and 402 suspected cases were recorded in Peru. In general, the deficiencies in the detection of the virus were compounded by the lack of access to information for prevention and treatment. In the few cases that information campaigns were carried out, they were limited or arrived late. This included serious barriers for access to contraceptive methods, and even the disposal thereof. In Peru, although the State approved two health policies, serious deficiencies were perceived in its implementation.


Regarding the possibility of terminating the pregnancy, the organizations emphasized that abortion is criminalized in Peru, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador, which meant that women exposed to Zika were forced to confront pregnancies that present a risk to their lives and their health. Moreover, even in Colombia, where the voluntary termination of pregnancy is permitted, the evidence indicated a widespread lack of knowledge among women of their right to voluntarily end their pregnancies.


All organizations stressed that the epidemic had a more serious impact on women and poorer areas. In Brazil, most of the women affected are black and indigenous teenagers between 14 and 19 years old who do not have basic education. In the Dominican Republic, something that stood out is that many of the affected women are immigrants from Haiti. This showed that State inaction had a discriminatory impact on segregated groups because of their gender, class, nationality, and race.


The representatives of the Commission and the Special Rapporteur DESC thanked the organizations for addressing the issue from a cross-sectoral perspective. In this line, the Special Rapporteur DESC noted that epidemics pose a test for public policies and prove the need to incorporate perspectives of human rights, gender and poverty in their design and implementation. Moreover, Commissioner Esmeralda de Troitiño reaffirmed the need to advance towards systems of guarantees for children that are clearly articulated and warned of the risk of institutionalization of the children affected by Zika. Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay emphasized the need for the WHO and PAHO, and she noted it is necessary to have scientific certainty before adopting measures that interrupt any programs that combat the virus.


Commissioner Luis Vargas Silva, in charge of the newly created Disability Unit, reaffirmed the necessity of decriminalizing the termination of a pregnancy in cases where there is “the possibility that the children [are born and grow] with a defect that would make them people with a degree of disability.” That position was then answered by the representative of one of the organizations. Although he claimed the right of women to the interruption of pregnancy, the organization stressed the importance that their decision be free and informed. This means that in cases of pregnancy in which there is chance that born a boy or girl with disabilities, women should be informed in an impartial and non-discriminatory about the services available for care and support to people with disabilities, as well as the measures that the State adopts and will adopt to reduce the social stigma which the Commissioner referred.


In closing, petitioners emphasized the value that a dialogue between the organizations is for protecting the rights of women and organizations of persons with disabilities, and noted the importance that of the Commission who also leads this dialogue among those movements.