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UN experts call veto of Ecuador’s Organic Health Code a missed opportunity to advance gender equality and health care

GENEVA (21 October 2020) – UN human rights experts* today urged Ecuador to ensure equal access to health care for women and girls, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (LGBT) and intersex persons, particularly sexual and reproductive health care.

“The Government’s recent decision to veto the new Organic Health Code that was passed by the National Assembly on 25 August is disappointing, and was a missed opportunity to improve the overall legislation on the right to health and to advance gender equality,” the experts said.

The high prevalence of violence against women and girls, and discrimination against certain groups within and beyond the healthcare system continue to pose a significant threat to the realization of the right to health in the country.

The vetoed Organic Health Code would have reformed the current health legal framework, consisting of some 40 related health laws.

“Gaps in the implementation of current healthcare legislation mean that health care providers often deny confidential procedures when a woman or girl seeks an abortion or emergency contraception,” the experts said.

Ecuador has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America, often as a result of gender-based violence, and abortion is illegal except in very narrow circumstances. There are reportedly 250 women in jail for having abortions or for miscarrying.

“Systemic sexual violence paired with minimal access to sexual and reproductive health services means that women and girls are often exposed to early pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal mortality,” they said.

“The bill would have provided greater protection for LGBT persons from so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices, and for intersex children from medically unnecessary procedures,” the experts said.

Ecuador must advance the right to health by addressing key issues like gender-based violence and discrimination, while investing in a sustainable health system.

The special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic, and the former special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras, conducted separate visits to Ecuador in 2019 at the invitation of the Government. Their reports  encouraged adoption of the Organic Health Code in line with international human rights standards. 
* The experts: Dubravka SimonovicSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls: Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Alda FacioIvana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane; and Victor Madrigal-BorlozIndependent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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.
For further information and media requests, please contact:  Orlagh McCann (+41 22 917 7900/ omccann@ohchr.org) or write to vaw@ohchr.org  
For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org), Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / jlaurence@ohchr.org) and Kitty McKinsey (kmckinsey@ohchr.org)
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