Live from the Court Room. Day 3

Natasha Bassingthwaighte, Dave Smuts and Linda Dumba-Chicalu are on the legal team representing the women.

Windhoek High Court.
03 June 2010

11h57 – There are more supporters in the room today than on any other day. The defense is currently cross-examining the second plaintiff.

12h030 – The defense is asking the plaintiff questions about her health passport. The plaintiff reports that on her visits to antenatal clinic she was not told about sterilisation.

12h47 – The defense argues that the passport indicates family planning information was given, but plaintiff argues this did not include sterilisation. Plaintiff claims: On Dec 6 she spoke to a doctor who told her that since her last baby was delivered by C-section and because the baby was in a bridge position she would be having a… C-section, and that because she was HIV positive she would also be sterilised. Plaintiff reports the doctor did not tell her that she would not be able to have children after the surgery. She reports that the doctor told her if she wanted to be booked for the C-section she must agree to be sterilised.

“I had to agree because the doctor told me if I did not he would not book me for the C-section.”

12h54 – The plaintiff said that at Katutura State Hospital patients do not have the right to question doctors or nurses. The judge asked the plaintiff why is this the case at Katutura Hospital and she reported, “If you dare ask nurse or doctor they shout at you amongst the people… You will be ashamed because they will be shouting at you amongst other patients.”

14h30 – The defense asked the plaintiff how the doctor was forceful with her. She replied, “Even if the person is not shouting, you understand when they are speaking in a rude manner.” Defense asked, “If someone is speaking in rude manner, you will just back down?” Plaintiff responded that she will not allow someone to be rude…

14h40 – Defense asked if the plaintiff told anyone that the doctor wanted to sterilise her, or if she asked to see a different doctor. She reported that she did not. “In public hospital a patient has no rights to ask for another doctor.”

16h00 – Second plaintiff steps leaves the witness box. The lawyers ask for more time for the case to be heard. The case is postponed until 01 September 2010-10 September 2010.

Cases, Solidarity Action Grabbing International Attention

Namibia HIV women sue over forced sterilisation
BBC – 01 June 2010
Three women in Namibia are suing the state for allegedly being sterilised without their informed consent after being diagnosed as HIV positive.

3 Namibian women with HIV say they were sterilized
The Associated Press – 02 June 2010
Supporters of three HIV-positive women in Namibia who say they were sterilized without their consent held protests to support the women’s decision to sue the government, a legal aid group said Wednesday.

Forced Sterilisation trial Begins in Namibia
RFI – 01 June 2010
Three landmark trials have begun in the Namibian capital Windhoek after a group of women said they were sterilised by the state without their consent.The women went in for Hiv tests in two public hospitals and, after testing positive, they were allegedly sterilised without their full and informed consent.

Sterilisation Causes Woman to Live in Shame

Report from the Sterilisation Court Case
Day 2 – 02 June 2010

As the sterilisation case continued in the High Court of Namibia today, one of the women suing the government for the alleged forced sterilisation said she now lives in shame as she cannot have children anymore.

The woman told the packed court room that people in her culture who cannot bare children while married feel bad and face extensive family pressure to have children with their husband.

“Because of the sterilisation I will have problems with my in-laws,” the woman told the court. “People will be waiting for me to have a child because I’m married…Most of my family members I did not tell them I was HIV positive. It will be difficult to tell my family that I am sterilised when I have not told them I’m HIV positive.”

The woman, whose identity is being protected through a court order, currently has three children. However, after her third child, she says the doctor sterilised her without her consent after she gave birth through a C-section.

“Did anyone discuss the sterilisation with you after the sterilisation was performed while you were still in the hospital?” asked defense counsel Dave Smuts.

“No.” the woman replied.

The woman then told the court that she only became aware that she was sterilised 6 weeks after she went for a follow-up to obtain family planning contraceptives.

“It was then the nurse informed me I would not need contraceptives because I was sterilised. It was the first time I came to learn I was sterilised,” the woman said.

The woman did admit she signed forms that consented to the doctor’s operation. However, the woman stated that the forms were not explained to her. The court also saw evidence that shows the doctor’s signature was not present on the forms of consent.

The case continues tomorrow with cross examination of the woman.

article contributed by Mark Nonkes, communication officer, Legal Assistance Centre & Lone Phineas, media studies student, University of Namibia

Hospital Sit-In Attracts Nurses’ Attention

A group of women who protested at the Katutura State Hospital Antenatal Clinic this morning were caught off-guard when they received support from nurses working at the clinic.

The protesters, who came to demonstrate against the alleged sterilization of HIV positive women in state hospitals, were surprised by the cooperation of the nurses at the clinic who listened to the message of patient’s rights and accepted piles of leaflets to distribute to patients.

The couple dozen women, who were demonstrating in solidarity with three women who were bringing their court case to the High Court of Namibia, also distributed information on the right to health to various patients seeking services at the Antenatal Clinic.

The women’s action was in solidarity with the ongoing court cases at the High Court of Namibia. At the court, three women have sued government for alleged forced or coercive sterilization without their consent.

The Katutura State Hospital sit-in also attracted a number of onlookers. A man in his late thirties whose wife just delivered a baby said that, “this is very wrong, it is a violation against women’ rights and it’s a shame to the nation.”

Some of the women who were demonstrated were interviewed.

Nangula Sheetekela Petrus a group leader of “Together we can make it” support group expressed her concerned.

“We are here at the antenatal clinic because we want the nurses to know that what they did is wrong (the alleged forced sterilisation of HIV women) and this should come to an end.” She also stated that, “the nurses should explain to the people in their mother tongue what sterilisation is. Then the women can understand before the operation is done.”

“There is lack of communication between the health workers and patients which need to be improved,” said Mrs. Petrus.

Another support group leader Stella !Gontes from Tobias Ijogo of Okahandja Park said that there is no communication in the hospitals and the people don’t really understand what sterilization is.

The group leader Veronica Kalambi said that she was happy with the campaign and protest. However Miss Kalambi said that, “we are here because it is at the antenatal where everything starts and right information needs to be communicated.”

Miss Kalambi said she was impressed that the nurses working at the came out, acknowledged the protesters’ presence, and that the nurses said that they have heard the message and will pass it on.

- article contributed by Eunice Mbewe, media studies student, University of Namibia. photo by Mark Nonkes

Live from the Courtroom. Day 2

Windhoek High Court, 02 June

09h30 - Court room is full with supporters. Defense for state is currently cross-examining the patient. Questioning why the patient had time to sign the consent form but didn’t have time to ask what was on the form. Suggested patient had personal responsibility to ask about a life-changing operation.

10h42 - “You are a reasonably intelligent woman capable of asking a question without being invited to ask a question… It is your life that is being changed and you have the responsibility to ask.”

11h02 – Patient claims she received family planning counseling at ante-natal clinic but was not informed about sterilization – that she did not know what sterilisation was before the surgery. The defense claims that nurses will testify that all HIV patients are informed in group therapy about sterilisation as an option for family planning.

11h37 - Cross examination over. The persecutor is now asking more questions.

11h50 - Patient’s lawyer asked her to re-read the consent form and identify if the work uterus appears on the form. She reported there was no mention about “removing uterus or womb” on the form. The nurse at the time allegedly explained that the patient’s uterus would be removed b/c all HIV+ women have that surgery. She did not refer to it as sterilisation, which it was referred to as on the consent form. The patient reports she did not learn the meaning of the word sterilisation until after the surgery.

12h01 - First witness (patient) has been dismissed from the witness stand. The next witness has been sworn in.

12h22 – Second plaintiff reports that she had a breached pregnancy (explained to her by a Doctor at clinic). It was then explained that she would need a caesarian section. The woman alleges the doctor told her that during the C-section they would sterilize her, that she would be unable to have more children, and that she should agree to the procedure.  The plaintiff alleges that Doctor at Katatura State Hospital told her this in English. The plaintiff is testifying in Oshiwambo.

12h27 – Plaintiff alleges the Doctor did not ask her if she wanted more children, she did not receive any counseling about sterilisation, and did not explain the consequences of the surgery. She alleges he did not ask her if she wanted the surgery, but that he “only told me I was going to be sterilised.”

12h46 – The plaintiff reports that the Doctor first told her about the sterilisation on the 6th of Dec. She was admitted on the 8th because of contractions and delivered just after midnight on the morning of the 9th. The plaintiff alleges she was presented with the consent forms just before she went for C-section. When she asked what the papers were for, she alleges the nurse said: “The doctor has already explained what the forms mean… Take these papers and sign so I can give you the drip and take you to the theatre.”

14h45 – Court reconvenes after lunch.

Plaintiff was asked to sign two forms – one for C-section and one for BTL. The consent form for BTL says nature of procedure was explained, but plaintiff alleges the procedure was not explained. She was not told there was an option to not sign. At the times she was asked to sign the forms she reported that she was in severe labor pains. “I did not want to be sterilized. If I had I could have asked for myself.”

14h50 – In the 3+ days she was in the hospital after her C-section, plaintiff claims no one spoke with her about the steril. One of the drs told her that she had a “deep operation” and that was the cause of abdomen and back pain. Plaintiff alleges that it was not until 6 weeks later that she learned of the sterilisation, when she went to doctor to get contraceptives and she was told she did not need contraceptives because she had been sterilised.

15h04 – The plaintiff did not tell her family what happened because they were not aware of her HIVpositive status and she felt that she could not tell them about her sterilisation without telling them about her status.

The plaintiff reported that if she still had the choice she would want to have more children. She now understands that she cannot have more children and she feels bad about it.

15h29 – The plaintiff’s lawyer explained that the defense claims that sterilization was recommended in part because she had a hemmorage problem during her last pregnancy. The plaintiff claims that the dr told her she would need to be steril because she had already had one C-section and because she was HIV+. The plaintif claims this conversation occurred on Dec 6, and that sterilization was not mentioned on the day/evening that she gave birth (Dec 8-9).

Plaintiff alleges the risks were not explained to her on the 6th, and that she still does not understand the risks of the procedure.

16h00 - Court recesses as cross examination begins.

- contributed by Andrea Flynn, an intern at Women’s Health Network

Petition Presented to Ministry

The petition was handed over yesterday to the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services following a protest in solidarity with the women who are currently in court on 01 June 2010.

In total, more than 1,100 people signed the petition calling for an immediate end to the sterilisation of HIV positive women without their informed consent.

In the photo above, Rosa Namises of the End Forced Sterilisation Coalition presents the petition to a representative from the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

photo by: Henry Luyombya, a University of Toronto student currently interning at Namibia Women’s Health Network

Sterilisation cases spark international action

For Immediate Release
01 June 2010

As the alleged forced sterilisation cases begin this morning, people across the world have taken to the streets in solidarity with three HIV positive women who are claiming compensation in a case that will set international precedent.

The case, currently underway at the High Court of Namibia, is alleging the women were sterilised without their informed consent while trying to access medical services at state hospitals in Namibia. They are each suing the Ministry of Health and Social Services for the alleged violation of their right to dignity, to non-discrimination and to found a family.

“The three women are alleging that they were sterilised without their informed consent. They are further alleging that they were discriminated because they are women living with HIV. The government is denying that the women were sterilised without their informed consent and is alleging that women requested for and gave written consent for the sterilisations. The women are claiming damages for alleged sterilisation and discrimination,” explains Linda Dumba-Chicalu, a member of the legal team at the Legal Assistance Centre.

Demonstrations of support for the women have been launched at Namibian Embassies in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.; Pretoria, South Africa and Lusaka, Zambia.

“OSISA and ICWGlobal are organizing a rally at the Namibian Embassy in Washington in solidarity with HIV positive women in Namibia and around the world who have had there reproductive rights violently violated by healthcare providers,” says Beri Hull, of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C.

In Namibia, planned events of support for the three women included a mass march in Windhoek and hospital sit-ins in Ondangwa and Windhoek.

“HIV positive women are holding the health care system accountable for the wrongs done to them,” says Veronica Kalambi of the Women’s Health Network. “These violations of women’s rights are in the context of a broader set of violations occurring against women at hospitals and clinics.”

“People should have peace of mind that if you have HIV, you can still go to the hospital and be treated with dignity and equality,” says Vicky Noa, who alleges she was sterilised in 2001 and organized a sit-in at an Ondangwa hospital in solidarity with the three women.

“If we are scared we might be sterilised we will not use the hospital services as much. We do not want to be denied the right to motherhood,” Noa said.

Additionally, a petition signed by more than 1,000 people – both from Namibia and around the world – was handed over to the Ministry of Health and Social Services this morning. The petition demands that, amongst other things, the Ministry of Health and Social Services issue a circular to both the public and private health facilities explicitly prohibiting the practice of sterilisation without informed consent.

Further events are planned throughout the rest of the court case, which is scheduled to be heard in court until 4 June 2010. A hospital sit-in at the Katutura State Hospital is planned to kick off in the maternity ward tomorrow morning, June 2 until June 4. Hospital sit-ins will continue at Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital until 4 June.

Available for interview are:

Amon Ngavetene
Coordinator, AIDS Law Unit
Legal Assistance Centre
Windhoek, Namibia

Veronica Kalambi
Project Officer
Women’s Health Network
Windhoek, Namibia

Victoria Noa
Women’s Health Network
Ondangwa, Namibia

Rosa Namises
Director
Women’s Solidarity Network
Windhoek, Namibia

Interviews can be arranged in person or telephonically by contacting:
Mark Nonkes
Communication Officer
Legal Assistance Centre
Email

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