Governments held to account – dying in childbirth is NOT acceptable


It is with great pleasure that we share this story with you.  SI’s Programme Director, Reilly Dempsey, worked on this case in 2006 while at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  For five years she has been watching this case with bated breath. 

Alyne da Silva Pimentel from Brazil died of pregnancy-related causes in 2002 – her case exposed grossly negligence, discriminatory practices, a shocking lack of access to health care, and a saddening lack of judicial action or protection.  She left behind a five year old daughter, a grieving mother, and a husband who is no longer able to care for his daughter.  With the help of the Center for Reproductive Rights, her case was submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2007, alleging that the government of Brazil had violated her rights to life, health, non-discrimination, and adequate judicial protection.  Although Brazil in their response denied these allegations, the Committee has found in Alyne’s favour.  The government is now legally obligated, by way of their ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol, to not only provide financial reparations to Alyne’s family, but also to take immediate action to address the failings of their health care system to provide acceptable protection for women in pregnancy.  All other State parties to CEDAW and the Optional Protocol (there are currently 102 parties to both the Convention and the Optional Protocol) will be legally bound by this decision.  This decision will also carry much weight in the general debate on the role of governments and government-sponsored health care in providing adequate levels of obstetric care.  

Soroptimist International’s 2011 President’s December 10th Appeal, Birthing in the Pacific, will work to increase the number of skilled birth attendants and the resources available to them in Papua New Guinea.  SI is working alongside the government of PNG to ensure sustainability and to ensure that the government fulfils their obligations.  Visit the project page in the coming weeks for more information.   


From the Center for Reproductive Rights:

 “Alyne da Silva Pimentel would have been 37 years old today if Brazil’s government had honored its responsibility to protect her fundamental human rights.

Instead, because she was poor and Afro-Brazilian, she died in 2002 after being denied basic medical care to address complications in her pregnancy. She was only 28 years old. And her death was completely preventable.

Although nothing can reverse Alyne’s fate, a groundbreaking decision handed down today by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women means that Alyne’s mother and daughter will finally see justice served—and women worldwide will benefit from the ruling issued in her name.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been fighting for Alyne and her family for more than eight years. The case we brought on their behalf is the first maternal death case to be decided by an international human rights body, and the import of this decision is tremendous—establishing that governments have a human rights obligation to guarantee that all women in their countries—regardless of income or racial background—have access to timely, non-discriminatory, and appropriate maternal health services.

The message to governments worldwide could not be more clear: Access to quality reproductive healthcare throughout pregnancy is a fundamental right—and governments that fail to protect this right will be held accountable.

Sadly, Alyne’s story is one of thousands in Brazil, and all around the world, in which women are denied, and in some cases refused, basic quality medical care to address common pregnancy complications. And the countless lives lost unnecessarily as a result mean that today’s victory can only be regarded as bittersweet.

But today marks the beginning of a new era. No longer can governments disregard the fundamental rights of women like Alyne without strict accountability.”

Alyne da Silva Pimentel v. Brazil (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women)

Decision: Alyne da Silva Pimentel v. Brazil

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