WINDHOEK - Three women who took the Ministry of Health and Social Services to court after they were sterilised against their will won a partial victory in the High Court yesterday after Judge Elton Hoff ruled that they were indeed sterilised without their consent.
On the other hand Judge Hoff shot down the claim by the three women that the Ministry of Health and Social Services sterilised them on the basis that they had tested HIV-positive. Yesterday in the High Court journalists were barred from taking photos and footage of the group of women and men who came to listen to the verdict.
The supporters who thronged the halls of justice crammed into the public gallery to hear the verdict and wore black t-shirts reading: “Non-negotiable”; “My Body; My Womb; My Rights”.
The women took the ministry to court in 2010 claiming that they were sterilised against their will. The second claim is that they were sterilized, because they had tested HIV positive. Judge Hoff dismissed the second claim. In the first claim, the women were asking for a combined payment of N$1 million, and in the second claim, the women were asking for N$200 000. While reading the judgment, the judge said that there was no proof that the women were sterilised because they were HIV-positive.
“The onus rest on them to prove this,” he said, adding that there was no credible evidence that the sterlisation was performed due to their HIV-positive status. Yesterday’s judgment focused mainly on the above claims, the issue of payment will be decided later. The women argued that as a result of the operations, they will never be able to bear children in future and found a family, on top of the fact that they lose marriage prospects. They claimed that they suffered and continue to suffer mental and emotional anguish and further argued that they endured and continue to endue shock, pain and suffering. According to the women, they also suffered and continue to suffer infringement of their rights to bodily and psychological integrity.
They also claim that they were subjected to torture or to cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and that they suffered and continue to suffer a violation of their dignity. Last week Thursday, Namibia’s Women’s Health Network called a media briefing at the Nice Restaurant, the main topic of discussion was involuntary sterilisation.
The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) Project Coordinator in the AIDS Law Unit Amon Ngavetene who spoke at the event said that the judgment was not about poor women wanting money from Government, as some media imply, but about restoring women’s dignity and basic human rights.
Two years ago, bus loads of women and men with their mouths gagged with cello-tape, marched from Katutura to the head office of the Ministry of Health and Social Services to hand over a petition to end what they termed “forced sterilisations”.
The demonstrators were in solidarity with the three women that are suing the Ministry of Health and Social Services for alleged violation of their right to dignity, non-discrimination, and the right to start a family. Advocate Natasha Bassingthwaighte represented the three women on the instructions of the public-interest law firm the LAC. Nelson Mutorwa represented the Ministry of Health and Social Services.