Health and human rights violations in Amnesty International’s Annual Report

February 24, 2017

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A quick scan of Amnesty International’s latest annual report reveals a number of health-related human rights violations that have taken place all over the world.

Most infringements included in the report can be categorized into the following categories:

  • Gender-based violence, mainly against women and girls – e.g., violence against spouses in Afghanistan and sexual exploitation of girls in Madagascar.
  • Sexual and reproductive health and rights – e.g., lack of access to legal abortion in Argentina and Peru, and high rates of maternal and neonatal mortality in Madagascar and Zimbabwe.
  • Detention of migrants and refugees – e.g., in Naura (Australian detention centres) and Malaysia
  • Attacks on health services – e.g., in Libya, Syria and Mozambique
  • Lack of access to health care – e.g., of internally displaced persons in Afghanistan, undocumented migrants in Spain, prisoners in Libya and Belgium, transgenders in Puerto Rico, mental health patients in South Sudan, and sex workers in Kyrgyztan
  • Environmental pollution and corporate accountability – e.g., the Trafigura case in Côte d’Ivoire
  • Stigmatization and discrimination – e.g., of people with disabilities in Ghana

To give you an idea of the type of infringements listed in the report, five country-specific examples have been excerpted below.

Argentina: Legal abortion

In April, a woman from the Tucumán province was found guilty of “murder” and sentenced to eight years in prison after suffering a miscarriage in a hospital, according to her clinical record. She was reported to the police by hospital staff for purportedly inducing an abortion and held in pre-trial detention for over two years. She was first charged with undergoing an illegal abortion and then with aggravated murder for the premeditated killing of a close relative (a crime that carries prison sentences of up to 25 years). […] The Tucumán Supreme Court ultimately ordered the woman’s release in August 2016.

Australia: Detention of refugees

Australia maintained its abusive offshore immigration processing regime on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Australia’s transfer agreement with Nauru contravened international law and effectively trapped refugees and asylum-seekers in an open-air prison. Although not technically detained, these people could not leave and were isolated on the remote Pacific island of Nauru, even when officially recognized as refugees.

The Australian government’s policy of “processing” refugees and asylum-seekers on Nauru involved a deliberate and systematic regime of neglect and cruelty, designed to inflict suffering: the system amounted to torture under international law. It minimized protection and maximized harm and was constructed to prevent some of the world’s most vulnerable people from seeking safety in Australia.

Mental illness and self-harm among refugees and asylum-seekers in Nauru were commonplace. Omid Masoumali, an Iranian refugee, died after setting himself on fire. Others, including children, suffered inadequate health care, persistent verbal and physical attacks, pervasive hostility, and arbitrary arrests and detentions, with systematic impunity for these types of abuses.

Belgium: Access to health care in prisons

Conditions of detention remained poor due to overcrowding, dilapidated facilities and insufficient access to basic services, including to health care. In April, a three-month strike by prison staff further worsened prison conditions and access to health care for prisoners.

Despite the entry into force of positive legislative amendments in October, many mentally ill offenders remained detained in regular prisons with insufficient care and treatment. In September the European Court of Human Rights found in W.D. v Belgium that the detention of mentally ill offenders without access to adequate care remained a structural problem. The Court ordered the government to adopt structural reforms within two years.

Côte d’Ivoire: Toxic waste

In July, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) undertook an environmental audit of the lasting impact of the 2006 dumping of over 540,000 litres of toxic waste in Abidjan. The waste was produced by the multinational oil trading company Trafigura. The results were expected in early 2017. The authorities reported that there were 15 deaths while more than 100,000 people sought medical attention after the dumping including for serious health issues like respiratory problems. The authorities had still not assessed the long-term risks to individuals of exposure to the chemicals in the waste and had not monitored victims’ health. Many victims had not received any compensation payments and compensation claims against the company continued.

Puerto Rico: Access to health services for LGBTI people

Despite recent progress in ensuring the rights of LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] people, there were continued reports of violations of rights related to access to health services, particularly for transgender people. The policies of the Department of Health in relation to guaranteeing equal access to health services remained unchanged and, although the government allowed gender to be changed on state identity documents, there were continued reports of incidents of discrimination at the time of issue of identity documents.

Source: Amnesty International Report 2016/17. The State of the World’s Human Rights. Amnesty International, February 2017