IFHHRO | Medical Human Rights Network promotes health-related human rights, including the right to health. Our focus is on the important role of health professionals.

We believe that there lies a huge potential in the health professions that could be mobilized for the promotion and protection of human rights.

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Slovak Republic: Maltreatment and hospital detention of Roma women in labour

An investigation by The Associated Press (AP) has found that women and their newborns in Slovakia are routinely, unjustifiably and illegally detained in hospitals. Especially Roma women, who are also more vulnerable to racist abuse and physical violence, are subject to this practice. In October, the AP reported that hospitals in more than 30 countries illegally hold patients when they cannot pay their bills, including in Kenya, Congo, India, the Philippines and Bolivia. While there are some differences, some experts say the situation in Slovakia — which also is seen to some extent in other eastern European countries like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic — amounts to hospital imprisonment.

“Detention in African hospitals is about money, but in Slovakia, it’s about power,” said Zuzana Kriskova, a maternal rights activist in an article in The Washington Post. “Women are having their fundamental human rights violated when they have no freedom of movement and cannot decide how their child is to be treated.”

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Canada: Sterilizing Indigenous women without consent is a form of torture

In a report released last week, the United Nations Committee Against Torture officially recognized that sterilizing Indigenous women without consent is a form of torture. The Committee calls on Canada to ensure that all allegations of forced or coerced sterilization are impartially investigated, that the persons responsible are held accountable, and that adequate redress is provided to the victims.

In October 2017, a class action lawsuit was proposed in Saskatchewan representing more than 60 Indigenous women who say they were sterilized without their consent. Most women reported being sterilized in the last 10-15 years, and as recently as 2017. Since then, women in other provinces have reported they too were sterilized without consent in recent years. How widespread this practice is across Canada is unknown.

“Today’s report from the UN affirmed that sterilizing women without consent is intentional, committed by state officials, causes serious harm, and is rooted in discrimination,” said Jackie Hansen, Gender Rights Campaigner with Amnesty International Canada, in a press release issued on 7 December. “This is the very definition of torture, one of the most egregious human rights violations, and it must be stopped now.”

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Yemen: Torture in rebel-controlled and government-controlled areas

Since the start of the civil war in Yemen, more than 18,000 people are believed to have been locked up by the Houthi fighters. Many of them have been tortured. But rights groups say that torture also takes place in prisons run by the Yemeni government and its Gulf allies, including the United Arab Emirates.

An article in the Independent (UK) describes the experiences of some of those tortured. One of them is Farouk Baakar, a Yemeni medic at al-Rashid hospital in north Yemen. Baakar was arrested by seven militiamen in 2016 after treating a man who had been tortured and shot by the Houthis. He was held for 18 months in Houthi-controlled prisons. In a makeshift prison in the city of Hodeidah, “he was stripped, whipped and his nails and hair were pulled out. He was later splashed with melted plastic, beaten and chained to a ceiling by his wrists for 50 days until his captors thought he was dead.”

Read more in the article ‘Just let him die’: Yemeni prisoners describe horrific torture in Houthi jails (The Independent, 8 December 2018)