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Human Rights Groups Unite Against Forced Sterilisation of Five Women with Disabilities in France

A coalition of human rights groups is speaking out against the practice of forced sterilisation of women with mental disabilities in France.

On the 16 August, the Center for Reproductive Rights, European Disability Forum, Interights, International Disability Alliance and Mental Disability Advocacy Center, submitted written comments to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Gauer and Others v. France (Application no 61521/08) brought by five women with mental disabilities who were forcibly sterilised.

“A positive decision from the Court in this important case would have a tremendous impact on reinforcing the autonomy of women with disabilities with respect to their reproductive health,” said Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum who worked in collaboration with the other organizations to submit the brief. “The case also provides an opportunity for the Court to bring attention to the fact that States are under an obligation to take measures to prevent such violations and to investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent when they do occur.”

Applying international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the groups argue that forced sterilisation is a violation of the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment, to respect for private and family life, to found a family, and not least to the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender and disability. In addition, the French government failed to ensure that the five women –whose legal capacity has been restricted – were able to bring legal proceedings, in violation of their right of access to justice. In emphasizing that forced sterilisation is impermissible, the groups also highlighted that informed consent is fundamental to the exercise of individual rights.

Forced sterilisation represents a serious violation of multiple human rights and States should take strict and effective measures to protect individuals and prevent this harmful and destructive practice from taking place. Impunity for such violations perpetuates discrimination against women with disabilities by sending the message that that they are not entitled to the same legal protections accorded to others.