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“Grave regression for Dominican women and girls’ right to health” – UN experts call for the Criminal Code reform to be dropped

GENEVA (27 July 2016) – A group of United Nations experts* today urged the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and legislators to protect women and girls’ rights to sexual and reproductive health in the country.

“We urge Dominican authorities to repeal all restrictive legal provisions regarding abortion, especially in cases of risk to the health, including mental health, of the woman or girl, of rape and incest and of fatal impairment of the foetus,” they stressed.

The call of the experts comes at a time when the Dominican Senate will debate the reform of the Penal Code, which was adopted by the Chamber of Deputies and promulgated by the President in 2014 and partially decriminalized the access to abortion services under three circumstances, including when the life of a pregnant women or girl was at risk, when the foetus could not survive outside the womb and when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

“In comparison with the text of the Criminal Code adopted in 2014, the new proposal to amend the Dominican Criminal Code constitutes a clear regression in women’s and girls’ rights, especially to access safe healthcare services”, declared the experts with concern.

The UN experts expressed serious concern that under the proposed amendment, terminating a pregnancy is only available in one case: when there is a risk for the life of the pregnant woman or girl.

“Denying women and girls’ access to safe abortion services in cases of health reasons, foetal impairment and pregnancy resulting from rape, will certainly cause excessive and long-lasting physical and psychological suffering to many women,” they said.

“Reducing access to such health services violates women’s and girls’ right to be protected against gender-based discrimination and from torture and ill-treatment”. The experts also warned that restrictive abortion laws exacerbate the risks to the health and safety of the affected women, driving them to undergo sometimes desperate life-threating solutions.

The proposed text of the Criminal Code establishes that women who induce the termination of their pregnancy will be liable to 2 to 3 year-imprisonment sentences. Health professionals who perform abortions under any circumstances other than risk to the pregnant woman or girl’s life, will be liable to 4 to 10 years in jail.

“The Dominican Republic did not seize this key moment of legislative amendment to reaffirm its commitment towards the elimination of gender discrimination in its legislation and to advance women’s and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights but, rather, is  attempting to remove crucial rights to reproductive health,” deeply regretted the experts.

“We urge President Danilo Medina and its government, to take all necessary steps and measures in accordance with their international human rights obligations, to ensure that women and girls have effective and safe access to all necessary healthcare services, including sexual and reproductive services,” they concluded.

NOTE TO EDITORS:
The Dominican Republic remains one of the Latin American countries with the highest maternal mortality ratio. According to the World Health Organization, the Dominican Republic had a maternal mortality ratio of 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015 while there is a ratio of 67 deaths per 100,000 in the GRULAC region.

Unsafe abortion accounts for about 13% of maternal mortality globally. In some countries, the percentage of maternal deaths resulting from unsafe abortion is much higher, accounting for up to 30%. Maternal mortality violates the rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination. In the framework of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, States committed to reduce greatly the number of deaths and morbidity from unsafe abortion.

(*) The UN experts: Alda Facio, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Dominican Republic: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/DOIndex.aspx 

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Claire Mathellié (+41 22 917 9151 / wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org) or Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159/ barditi@ohchr.org )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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