Communication No. 1153/2003 : Peru. 22/11/2005.
CCPR/C/85/D/1153/2003 . (Jurisprudence )
Convention Abbreviation: CCPR
Human Rights Committee
17 October – 3 November 2005
Views of the Human Rights Committee under article 5, paragraph 4,
of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights
- Eighty-fifth session -
Communication No. 1153/2003
Submitted by : Karen Noelia Llantoy Huamán (represented by the organizations DEMUS, CLADEM and Center for Reproductive Law and Policy)
Alleged victim: The author
State party : Peru
Date of communication : 13 November 2002 (initial submission)
The Human Rights Committee , established under article 28 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Meeting on 24 October 2005,
Having concluded its consideration of communication No. 1153/2003, submitted on behalf of Ms. Karen Noelia Llantoy Huamán under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Having taken into account all written information made available to it by the author of the communication and the State party,
Adopts the following :
Views under article 5 paragraph 4 of the Optional Protocol
1. The author of the communication is Karen Noelia Llantoy Huamán, born in 1984, who claims to be a victim of a violation by Peru of articles 2, 3, 6, 7, 17, 24 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. She is represented by the organizations DEMUS, CLADEM and Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. The Optional Protocol entered into force for Peru on 3 October 1980.
2.1 The author became pregnant in March 2001, when she was aged 17. On 27 June 2001 she was given a scan at the Archbishop Loayza National Hospital in Lima, part of the Ministry of Health. The scan showed that she was carrying an anencephalic foetus.
2.2 On 3 July 2001, Dr. Ygor Pérez Solf, a gynaecologist and obstetrician in the Archbishop Loayza National Hospital in Lima, informed the author of the foetal abnormality and the risks to her life if the pregnancy continued. Dr. Pérez said that she had two options: to continue the pregnancy or to terminate it. He advised termination by means of uterine curettage. The author decided to terminate the pregnancy, and the necessary clinical studies were carried out, confirming the foetal abnormality.
2.3 On 19 July 2001, when the author reported to the hospital together with her mother for admission preparatory to the operation, Dr. Pérez informed her that she needed to obtain written authorization from the hospital director. Since she was under age, her mother, Ms. Elena Huamán Lara, requested the authorization. On 24 July 2001, Dr. Maximiliano Cárdenas Díaz, the hospital director, replied in writing that the termination could not be carried out as to do so would be unlawful, since under article 120 of the Criminal Code, abortion was punishable by a prison term of no more than three months when it was likely that at birth the child would suffer serious physical or mental defects, while under article 119, therapeutic abortion was permitted only when termination of the pregnancy was the only way of saving the life of the pregnant woman or avoiding serious and permanent damage to her health.
2.4 On 16 August 2001, Ms. Amanda Gayoso, a social worker and member of the Peruvian association of social workers, carried out an assessment of the case and concluded that medical intervention to terminate the pregnancy was advisable "since its continuation would only prolong the distress and emotional instability of Karen and her family". However, no intervention took place owing to the refusal of the Health Ministry medical personnel.
2.5 On 20 August 2001, Dr. Marta B. Rondón, a psychiatrist and member of the Peruvian Medical Association, drew up a psychiatric report on the author, concluding that "the so-called principle of the welfare of the unborn child has caused serious harm to the mother, since she has unnecessarily been made to carry to term a pregnancy whose fatal outcome was known in advance, and this has substantially contributed to triggering the symptoms of depression, with its severe impact on the development of an adolescent and the patient's future mental health".
2.6 On 13 January 2002, three weeks late with respect to the anticipated date of birth, the author gave birth to an anencephalic baby girl, who survived for four days, during which the mother had to breastfeed her. Following her daughter's death, the author fell into a state of deep depression. This was diagnosed by the psychiatrist Marta B. Rondón. The author also states that she suffered from an inflammation of the vulva which required medical treatment.
2.7 The author has submitted to the Committee a statement made by Dr. Annibal Faúdes and Dr. Luis Tavara, who are specialists from the association called Center for Reproductive Rights, and who on 17 January 2003 studied the author's clinical dossier and stated that anencephaly is a condition which is fatal to the foetus in all cases. Death immediately follows birth in most cases. It also endangers the mother's life. In their opinion, in refusing to terminate the pregnancy, the medical personnel took a decision which was prejudicial to the author.
2.8 Regarding the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the author claims that this requirement is waived when judicial remedies available domestically are ineffective in the case in question, and she points out that the Committee has laid down on several occasions that the author has no obligation to exhaust a remedy which would prove ineffective. She adds that in Peru there is no administrative remedy which would enable a pregnancy to be terminated on therapeutic grounds, nor any judicial remedy functioning with the speed and efficiency required to enable a woman to require the authorities to guarantee her right to a lawful abortion within the limited period, by virtue of the special circumstances obtaining in such cases. She also states that her financial circumstances and those of her family prevented her from obtaining legal advice.
2.9 The author states that the complaint is not being considered under any other procedure of international settlement.
3.1 The author claims a violation of article 2 of the Covenant, since the State party failed to comply with its obligation to guarantee the exercise of a right. The State should have taken steps to respond to the systematic reluctance of the medical community to comply with the legal provision authorizing therapeutic abortion, and its restrictive interpretation thereof. This restrictive interpretation was clear in the author's case, in which a pregnancy involving an anencephalic foetus was considered not to endanger her life and health. The State should have taken steps to ensure that an exception could be made to the rule criminalizing abortion, so that, in cases where the physical and mental health of the mother was at risk, she could undergo an abortion in safety.
3.2 The author claims to have suffered discrimination in breach of article 3 of the Covenant, in the following forms:
(a) In access to the health services, since her different and special needs were ignored because of her sex. In the view of the author, the fact that the State lacked any means to prevent a violation of her right to a legal abortion on therapeutic grounds, which is applicable only to women, together with the arbitrary conduct of the medical personnel, resulted in a discriminatory practice that violated her rights — a breach which was all the more serious since the victim was a minor.
(b) Discrimination in the exercise of her rights, since although the author was entitled to a therapeutic abortion, none was carried out because of social attitudes and prejudices, thus preventing her from enjoying her right to life, to health, to privacy and to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on an equal footing with men.
(c) Discrimination in access to the courts, bearing in mind the prejudices of officials in the health system and the judicial system where women are concerned and the lack of appropriate legal means of enforcing respect for the right to obtain a legal abortion when the temporal and other conditions laid down in the law are met.
3.3 The author claims a violation of article 6 of the Covenant. She states that her experience had a serious impact on her mental health from which she has still not recovered. She points out that the Committee has stated that the right to life cannot be interpreted in a restrictive manner, but requires States to take positive steps to protect it, including the measures necessary to ensure that women do not resort to clandestine abortions which endanger their life and health, especially in the case of poor women. She adds that the Committee has viewed lack of access for women to reproductive health services, including abortion, as a violation of women's right to life, and that this has been reiterated by other committees such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The author claims that in the present case, the violation of the right to life lay in the fact that Peru did not take steps to ensure that the author secured a safe termination of pregnancy on the grounds that the foetus was not viable. She states that the refusal to provide a legal abortion service left her with two options which posed an equal risk to her health and safety: to seek clandestine (and hence highly risky) abortion services, or to continue a dangerous and traumatic pregnancy which put her life at risk.
3.4 The author claims a violation of article 7 of the Covenant. The fact that she was obliged to continue with the pregnancy amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment, in her view, since she had to endure the distress of seeing her daughter's marked deformities and knowing that her life expectancy was short. She states that this was an awful experience which added further pain and distress to that which she had already borne during the period when she was obliged to continue with the pregnancy, since she was subjected to an "extended funeral" for her daughter, and sank into a deep depression after her death.
3.5 The author points out that the Committee has stated that the prohibition in article 7 of the Covenant relates not only to physical pain but also to mental suffering, and that this protection is particularly important in the case of minors. (1) She points out that, after considering Peru's report in 1996, the Committee expressed the view that restrictive provisions on abortion subjected women to inhumane treatment, in violation of article 7 of the Covenant, and that in 2000, the Committee reminded the State party that the criminalization of abortion was incompatible with articles 3, 6 and 7 of the Covenant. (2)
3.6 The author claims a violation of article 17, arguing that this article protects women from interference in decisions which affect their bodies and their lives, and offers them the opportunity to exercise their right to make independent decisions on their reproductive lives. The author points out that the State party interfered arbitrarily in her private life, taking on her behalf a decision relating to her life and reproductive health which obliged her to carry a pregnancy to term, and thereby breaching her right to privacy. She adds that the service was available, and that if it had not been for the interference of State officials in her decision, which enjoyed the protection of the law, she would have been able to terminate the pregnancy. She reminds the Committee that children and young people enjoy special protection by virtue of their status as minors, as recognized in article 24 of the Covenant and in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
3.7 The author claims a violation of article 24, since she did not receive the special care she needed from the health authorities, as an adolescent girl. Neither her welfare nor her state of health were objectives pursued by the authorities which refused to carry out an abortion on her. The author points out that the Committee laid down in its General Comment No. 17, relating to article 24, that the State should also adopt economic, social and cultural measures to safeguard this right. For example, every possible economic and social measure should be taken to reduce infant mortality and to prevent children from being subjected to acts of violence or cruel or inhuman treatment, among other possible violations.
3.8 The author claims a violation of article 26, arguing that the Peruvian authorities' position that hers was not a case of therapeutic abortion, which is not punishable under the Criminal Code, left her in an unprotected state incompatible with the assurance of the protection of the law set out in article 26. The guarantee of the equal protection of the law implies that special protection will be given to certain categories of situation in which specific treatment is required. In the present case, as a result of a highly restrictive interpretation of the criminal law, the health authorities failed to protect the author and neglected the special protection which her situation required.
3.9 The author claims that the administration of the health centre left her without protection as a result of a restrictive interpretation of article 119 of the Criminal Code. She adds that the text of the law contains nothing to indicate that the exception relating to therapeutic abortion should apply only in cases of danger to physical health. But the hospital authorities had drawn a distinction and divided up the concept of health, and had thus violated the legal principle that no distinction should be drawn where there is none in the law. She points out that health is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity", so that when the Peruvian Criminal Code refers to health, it does so in the broad and all-embracing sense, protecting both the physical and the mental health of the mother.
State party's failure to cooperate under article 4 of the Optional Protocol
4. On 23 July 2003, 15 March 2004 and 25 October 2004, reminders were sent to the State party inviting it to submit information to the Committee concerning the admissibility and the merits of the complaint. The Committee notes that no such information has been received. It regrets that the State party has not supplied any information concerning the admissibility or the merits of the author's allegations. It points out that it is implicit in the Optional Protocol that States parties make available to the Committee all information at their disposal. In the absence of a reply from the State party, due weight must be given to the author's allegations, to the extent that these have been properly substantiated. (3)
Issues and proceedings before the Committee
Consideration of admissibility
5.1 In accordance with rule 93 of the rules of procedure, before examining the claims made in a communication, the Human Rights Committee must decide whether the communication is admissible under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
5.2 The Committee notes that, according to the author, the same matter has not been submitted under any other procedure of international investigation. The Committee also takes note of her arguments to the effect that in Peru there is no administrative remedy which would enable a pregnancy to be terminated on therapeutic grounds, nor any judicial remedy functioning with the speed and efficiency required to enable a woman to require the authorities to guarantee her right to a lawful abortion within the limited period, by virtue of the special circumstances obtaining in such cases. The Committee recalls its jurisprudence to the effect that a remedy which had no chance of being successful could not count as such and did not need to be exhausted for the purposes of the Optional Protocol. (4) In the absence of a reply from the State party, due weight must be given to the author's allegations. Consequently, the Committee considers that the requirements of article 5, paragraph 2 (a) and (b), have been met.
5.3 The Committee considers that the author's claims of alleged violations of articles 3 and 26 of the Covenant have not been properly substantiated, since the author has not placed before the Committee any evidence relating to the events which might confirm any type of discrimination under the article in question. Consequently, the part of the complaint referring to articles 3 and 26 is declared inadmissible under article 2 of the Optional Protocol.
5.4 The Committee notes that the author has claimed a violation of article 2 of the Covenant. The Committee recalls its constant jurisprudence to the effect that article 2 of the Covenant, which lays down general obligations for States, is accessory in nature and cannot be invoked in isolation by individuals under the Optional Protocol. (5) Consequently, the complaint under article 2 will be analysed together with the author's other allegations.
5.5 Concerning the allegations relating to articles 6, 7, 17 and 24 of the Covenant, the Committee considers that they are adequately substantiated for purposes of admissibility, and that they appear to raise issues in connection with those provisions. Consequently, it turns to consideration of the substance of the complaint.
Consideration of the merits
6.1 The Human Rights Committee has considered the present complaint in the light of all the information received, in accordance with article 5, paragraph 1, of the Optional Protocol.
6.2 The Committee notes that the author attached a doctor's statement confirming that her pregnancy exposed her to a life-threatening risk. She also suffered severe psychological consequences exacerbated by her status as a minor, as the psychiatric report of 20 August 2001 confirmed. The Committee notes that the State party has not provided any evidence to challenge the above. It notes that the authorities were aware of the risk to the author's life, since a gynaecologist and obstetrician in the same hospital had advised her to terminate the pregnancy, with the operation to be carried out in the same hospital. The subsequent refusal of the competent medical authorities to provide the service may have endangered the author's life. The author states that no effective remedy was available to her to oppose that decision. In the absence of any information from the State party, due weight must be given to the author's claims.
6.3 The author also claims that, owing to the refusal of the medical authorities to carry out the therapeutic abortion, she had to endure the distress of seeing her daughter's marked deformities and knowing that she would die very soon. This was an experience which added further pain and distress to that which she had already borne during the period when she was obliged to continue with the pregnancy. The author attaches a psychiatric certificate dated 20 August 2001, which confirms the state of deep depression into which she fell and the severe consequences this caused, taking her age into account. The Committee notes that this situation could have been foreseen, since a hospital doctor had diagnosed anencephaly in the foetus, yet the hospital director refused termination. The omission on the part of the State in not enabling the author to benefit from a therapeutic abortion was, in the Committee's view, the cause of the suffering she experienced. The Committee has pointed out in its General Comment No. 20 that the right set out in article 7 of the Covenant relates not only to physical pain but also to mental suffering, and that the protection is particularly important in the case of minors. (6) In the absence of any information from the State party in this regard, due weight must be given to the author's complaints. Consequently, the Committee considers that the facts before it reveal a violation of article 7 of the Covenant. In the light of this finding the Committee does not consider it necessary in the circumstances to made a finding on article 6 of the Covenant.
6.4 The author states that the State party, in denying her the opportunity to secure medical intervention to terminate the pregnancy, interfered arbitrarily in her private life. The Committee notes that a public-sector doctor told the author that she could either continue with the pregnancy or terminate it in accordance with domestic legislation allowing abortions in cases of risk to the life of the mother. In the absence of any information from the State party, due weight must be given to the author's claim that at the time of this information, the conditions for a lawful abortion as set out in the law were present. In the circumstances of the case, the refusal to act in accordance with the author's decision to terminate her pregnancy was not justified and amounted to a violation of article 17 of the Covenant.
6.5 The author claims a violation of article 24 of the Covenant, since she did not receive from the State party the special care she needed as a minor. The Committee notes the special vulnerability of the author as a minor girl. It further note that, in the absence of any information from the State party, due weight must be given to the author's claim that she did not receive, during and after her pregnancy, the medical and psychological support necessary in the specific circumstances of her case. Consequently, the Committee considers that the facts before it reveal a violation of article 24 of the Covenant.
6.6 The author claims to have been a victim of violation of articles 2 of the Covenant on the grounds that she lacked an adequate legal remedy. In the absence of information from the State party, the Committee considers that due weight must be given to the author's claims as regards lack of an adequate legal remedy and consequently concludes that the facts before it also reveal a violation of article 2 in conjunction with articles 7, 17 and 24. 7. The Human Rights Committee, acting under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, is of the view that the facts before it disclose a violation of articles 2, 7, 17 and 24 of the Covenant.
8. In accordance with article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, the State party is required to furnish the author with an effective remedy, including compensation. The State party has an obligation to take steps to ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future.
9. Bearing in mind that, as a party to the Optional Protocol, the State party recognizes the competence of the Committee to determine whether there has been a violation of the Covenant, and that, under article 2 of the Covenant, the State party has undertaken to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the Covenant and to offer an effective and enforceable remedy when a violation is found to have occurred, the Committee wishes to receive from the State party, within 90 days, information about the measures taken to give effect to the present Views. The State party is also requested to publish the Committee's Views.
[Adopted in English, French and Spanish, the Spanish text being the original version. Subsequently to be issued also in Arabic, Chinese and Russian as part of the Committee's annual report to the General Assembly.]
* The following members of the Committee participated in the examination of the present communication: Mr. Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati, Ms. Christine Chanet, Mr. Maurice Glèlè Ahanhanzo, Mr. Edwin Johnson, Mr. Walter Kälin, Mr. Ahmed Tawfik Khalil, Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah, Mr. Michael O'Flaherty, Ms. Elisabeth Palm, Mr. Rafael Rivas Posada, Sir Nigel Rodley, Mr. Ivan Shearer, Mr. Hipólito Solari-Yrigoyen and Mr. Roman Wieruszewski.
The text of an individual opinion signed by Committee member Mr. Hipólito Solari-Yrigoyen is appended to the present document.
Dissenting Opinion By Committee Member
My dissenting opinion on this communication - the majority not considering that article 6 of the Covenant was violated - is based on the following grounds:
Consideration of the merits
The Committee notes that when the author was a minor, she and her mother were informed by the obstetric gynaecologist at Lima National Hospital, whom they had consulted because of the author's pregnancy, that the foetus suffered from anencephaly which would inevitably cause its death at birth. The doctor told the author that she had two options: (1) continue the pregnancy, which would endanger her own life; or (2) terminate the pregnancy by a therapeutic abortion. He recommended the second option. Given this conclusive advice from the specialist who had told her of the risks to her life if the pregnancy continued, the author decided to follow his professional advice and accepted the second option. As a result, all the clinical tests needed to confirm the doctor's statements about the risks to the mother's life of continuing the pregnancy and the inevitable death of the foetus at birth were performed.
The author substantiated with medical and psychological certificates all her claims about the fatal risk she ran if the pregnancy continued. In spite of the risk, the director of the public hospital would not authorize the therapeutic abortion which the law of the State party allowed, arguing that it would not be a therapeutic abortion but rather a voluntary and unfounded abortion punishable under the Criminal Code. The hospital director did not supply any legal ruling in support of his pronouncements outside his professional field or challenging the medical attestations to the serious risk to the mother's life. Furthermore, the Committee may note that the State party has not submitted any evidence contradicting the statements and evidence supplied by the author. Refusing a therapeutic abortion not only endangered the author's life but had grave consequences which the author has also substantiated to the Committee by means of valid supporting documents.
It is not only taking a person's life that violates article 6 of the Covenant but also placing a person's life in grave danger, as in this case. Consequently, I consider that the facts in the present case reveal a violation of article 6 of the Covenant.
[Signed]: Hipólito Solari-Yrigoyen
[Done in English, French and Spanish, the Spanish text being the original version. Subsequently to be issued in Arabic, Chinese and Russian as part of the Committee's annual report to the General Assembly.]
1. Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 20, 10 March 1992 (HRI/GEN/1/Rev.7), paras. 2 and 5.
2. Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Peru, 15 November 2000 (CCPR/CO/70/PER), para. 20.
3. See communication No. 760/1997, J. G. A. Diergaartet al. v. Namibia; Views adopted on 25 July 2000, para. 10.2, and Communication No. 1117/2002, Saodat Khomidova v. Tajikistan; Views adopted on 29 July 2004, para. 4.
4. See Communication No. 701/1996, Cesáreo Gómez Vázquez v. Spain; Views adopted on 20 July 2000, para. 6.2.
5. See Communication No. 802/1998, Andrew Rogerson v. Australia; Views adopted on 3 April 2002, para. 7.9.
6. Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 20: Prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 7), 10 March 1992 (HRI/GEN/1/Rev.7, paras. 2 and 5).