High Court of Kenya to Address Forced Sterilization of HIV-Positive Women and Collection of Names of People Living With HIV

By Antonia Chan

The High Court of Kenya has begun reviewing two important cases on the human rights of people living with HIV. The first concerns the forced or coerced sterilization of HIV-positive women; the second challenges a directive from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to list the names of HIV-positive individuals, including children. KELIN, an NGO that promotes and advocates for HIV-related human rights in Eastern Africa, has helped spearhead the push for the Kenyan High Court to address these cases, which will be heard on July 29 and August 14, respectively.

The sterilization of HIV-positive Kenyan women without their consent first sparked outrage in 2012, when a report titled “Robbed of Choice” described the experiences of 40 women living with HIV who had been forcibly or coercively sterilized. Five of those women are now suing the Kenyan government for violations of their health and human rights. In a paper published in HHR’s June 2013 issue, Uberoi and de Bruyn noted that some of these women were even asked to sign consent forms for their sterilization while in labor. The authors concluded that punitive and restrictive laws related to pregnancy have numerous adverse consequences—both health-related and socioeconomic—for women, and urged human rights groups to work with government institutions to protect and fulfill women’s fundamental reproductive rights.

President Kenyatta’s directive to collect a list of HIV-positive individuals has also sparked protests that the information will be used for “naming and shaming.” KELIN warned that the directive would “roll back years of work on HIV” by discouraging people from seeking diagnosis and treatment out of concern for their privacy or negative social repercussions. This fear is well-founded: for example, in Mexico, pregnant women living with HIV have reported that after their diagnosis, they were misinformed about available treatments and discriminated against when they sought medical treatment. Forced sterilization without prior consent also occurred in some of these cases.

Protecting patients’ reproductive rights and health-related confidentiality are essential obligations not just for Kenya and Mexico, but for all nations. The Health and Human Rights Journal author Allan Maleche is a human rights lawyer and the Executive Director of KELIN. In the Journal’s December 2014 special issue on health rights litigation, he argued that “strategic litigation can be used to ensure that access to the right to health is realized,” specifically in the context of essential medicines. Now Maleche is helping KELIN and organizations such as UNAIDS take two other health rights issues to court: the reproductive and privacy rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

More HHR Papers on Reproductive and HIV-Related Rights:

Human rights versus legal control over women’s reproductive self-determination

Reproductive rights violations reported by Mexican women with HIV 

Farm labor, reproductive justice: Migrant women farmworkers in the US

The Framework Convention on Global Health: A tool for empowering the HIV/AIDS movements in Senegal and South Africa

Other Papers by Allan Maleche:

Right to Health Encompasses Right to Access Essential Generic Medicines: Challenging the 2008 Anti-Counterfeit Act in Kenya