On July 15, the Ministry of Health of Armenia presented a new legislative draft proposing to change the legal regulations of “voluntary sterilization,” and at the same time proposing sterilization of people recognized as incapacitated by the court decision.
Fact Investigation Platform decided to study the draft, its problematic clause and international practice.
What is proposed?
The draft submitted for public discussion, among others, defines “sterilization of persons recognized by the court as incapacitated or with limited capacity by medical instructions upon court decision.“
This wording can mean that a decision is allowed without the person’s consent. According to human rights activists, this provision “violates the voluntary nature of the draft” and turns it into a “forced sterilization” draft law.
On the other hand, it violates the rights of people with disabilities.
Interestingly, the sentence about sterilization by court decision is preceded by a paragraph about the importance of this decision being “voluntary.” “… Voluntary medical sterilization is a surgical procedure used as a permanent method of contraception and is performed only on a voluntary basis with the informed consent of an adult individual (spouses). Voluntary medical sterilization may be performed at the individual’s request or by medical instructions with the individual’s written informed consent.”
It is also noteworthy that the decision adopted by the Armenian government in 1998 prohibits the court from making such a decision.
After the publication of the draft, the Ministry of Health took note of the proposal of the Disability Rights Agenda NGO to remove the problematic clause and to include the clause “Persons recognized by the court as incapacitated are not subject to medical sterilization,” noting that the draft will be edited.
According to Arsen Torosyan, the former Minister of Health, the current member of the National Assembly, the draft actually implies the voluntary sterilization of persons recognized as “incapacitated” but by the court decision. However, the existing wording of the discussed section of the annex to the draft does not correspond to Arsen Torosyan’s comments.
Forced sterilization is a state program to perform sterilization of a specific group of people regardless of their will. In certain cases, such programs were aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, population control, etc. This was also a means for committing ethnic cleansing and genocides. Some, mostly authoritarian countries have such laws to this day.
In Bangladesh, for example, forced sterilization is part of the state’s birth control policy and typically targets the underprivileged, offering a small sum of money to agree to undergo the operation. In Brazil, too, in individual cases, the court has the right to make a decision to sterilize a person.
At the end of the previous century, Canadian authorities were still systematically sterilizing indigenous peoples against their will, reducing the birth rate among indigenous peoples by half. Even in 2018, there were still complaints of forced sterilization, after which the Canadian government promised to share any information in its possession with the United Nations.
Similar regulations were in place around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries and into the early 21st century. In the US, for example, this policy has long targeted minorities.
Cases of forced sterilization of persons with disabilities in the United States were recorded until 2019. According to a study published in early 2022, almost all US states still have laws that allow forced sterilization of people with disabilities (including children in some states).
To this day, some countries, including European ones, require sterilization surgery to legalize a person’s gender reassignment.
Conflicts with international conventions
The Istanbul Convention, which Armenia signed in 2018, but has not yet ratified, prohibits forced sterilization (Article 39). Large-scale or systematic forced sterilization is considered a “crime against humanity” under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This treaty is also, however, non-binding, as a number of countries, including the US, Russia and China, have not ratified it.
Forced sterilization contradicts the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in 2010. Forced sterilization programs have been condemned in a number of international statements and treaties as well.