The question of forced sterilisation
Welcome from your Chairs
My name is Amelia , and I am Head Chair of the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural committee, or SOCHUM).
My name is Caitlin , and I am Co-chair of the General Assembly’s Third Committee.
BMUN is the first conference that we are attending as chairs, and we are honoured to be sharing this experience with you all. We believe MUN offers the opportunity to develop many vital skills that are needed for life, such as public speaking, critical thinking, and leadership, which is why we are so passionate about MUN.
Whether this is your first time attending an MUN conference, or whether you are a well-seasoned delegate – we shall work hard to ensure you have the best possible experience, and a wonderful day.
We are looking forward to an interesting and exciting day of debate and cannot wait to meet all of you!
Introduction to the Committee
The General Assembly is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, and is the main deliberative, policy-making, and representative organ of the UN. The broad scope of its mandate had led the General Assembly to divide its workload among six different committees, the UN General Assembly Third Committee being one, each with representation from all 193 member states. It is also important to note that observers can attend and participate in meetings of the committee, however they do not have the right to vote. The committee tackles issues relating to social, humanitarian, and cultural affairs that affect the global population.
Traditionally, the Third Committee collectively agrees on, and then proceeds to draft resolutions, which are then either passed or rejected by the member states. The Third Committee sometimes also works with other UN organs that deal with similar work, such as the Human Rights Council (HRC). However, this year, the member states will be doing clause-by-clause debate as this will mean that delegates are able to engage and achieve more during the day of debate. These clauses will be added to a collaborative resolution on the committee’s question. SOCHUM2 will be discussing the question of forced sterilisation.
Areas to consider when preparing clauses:
- Does the delegate’s country have legislations regarding forced sterilisation?
- Is sterilisation part of the delegate’s country’s culture or religion?
- For those countries against forced sterilisation, what are the issues and how can the UN work to overcome these?
- For those countries in favour of forced sterilisation, what are the positives?
- What measures are countries going to put in place to regulate forced sterilisation to ensure that it is under control?
- What can the UN do to support those who have been negatively affected by forced sterilisation?
- Consider how forced sterilisation can lead to discrimination of minorities.
Introduction to Forced Sterilisation:
Forced sterilisation is a government-mandated programme to sterilise a specific group of people. Forced sterilisation removes a person’s capacity to reproduce, usually through surgical procedures. Although sterilisation programmes have been made illegal in most countries, instances of forced sterilisations persist. Forced sterilisation is carried out for many different reasons, such as population control, gender discrimination, limiting the spread of HIV and ethnic genocide.
Forced Sterilisation of Women:
There has been a long history of forced sterilisation of women globally with marginalised populations such as people with mental disabilities, racial minorities, and lower-class women being targeted. Throughout the 20th Century, countries including the USA, Canada and Australia have passed laws that allow for the forced sterilisation of specific populations. Recent cases of forced sterilisation have targeted similar groups to the historical trend: women with HIV, ethnic and racial minorities, women with disabilities, as well as lower-income women. Such force has primarily taken the form of consent obtained under duress; women are asked to sign consent forms when they are under pressure such as in labour or forced to consent to sterilisation for their operation to be carried out.
International Human Rights Standards:
There are several important international conventions and actors which structure how member states should look to interpret the question of forced sterilisation:
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides a basis for upholding the rights of people with disabilities and contains specific articles of relevance to the issue of involuntary sterilisation. Article 23 reinforces the right of people with disabilities to starts and maintain a family and to retain their fertility on an equal basis with others. Article 12 reaffirms the right of people with disabilities to recognition everywhere before the law and to enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others, including access to the support required to exercise their legal capacity. Article 25 clearly articulates that free and informed consent should be the basis for providing health care to people with disabilities. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has recommended “the abolition of surgery and treatment without the full and informed consent of the patient” in one of its first recommendations to a state party.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that forced sterilisation of girls and women with disabilities is a breach of Article 10, protecting the family, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Human Rights Committee addresses the prohibition of forced sterilisation in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights through Article 7, prohibiting torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 17, ensuring the right to privacy; and Article 24, mandating special protection for children. The Committee Against Torture has recommended that States take urgent measures to investigate promptly, impartially, thoroughly, and effectively all allegations of involuntary sterilisation of women, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, and provide the victims with fair and adequate compensation.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified forced sterilisation of girls with disabilities as a form of violence and noted that State parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child are expected to prohibit by law the forced sterilisation of children with disabilities. The Committee has also explained that the principle of the “best interests of the child” cannot be used to justify practices which conflict with the child’s human dignity and right to physical integrity.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has considered forced sterilisation a violation of a woman’s right to informed consent, infringing on her right to human dignity and physical and mental integrity. The Committee has clarified that except where there is a serious threat to life or health, the practice of sterilisation of girls, regardless of whether they have a disability, and of adult women with disabilities in the absence of their fully informed and free consent, should be prohibited by law.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women has asserted that forced sterilisation is a method of medical control of a woman’s fertility. Thus, in violating a woman’s physical integrity and security, such action constitutes violence against women. Likewise, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture has emphasised that forced sterilisation of women with disabilities may constitute torture or cruel or inhuman treatment, and that forced sterilisation constitutes a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.
Lastly, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPA) identifies forced sterilisation as an act of violence and reaffirms the rights of women, including women with disabilities, to found and maintain a family, to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health, and to make decisions concerning reproduction free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Delegates are encouraged to research further into the topic, with this guide being a rudimentary summary into the subject matter. Not all aspects of forced sterilisation are covered within this brief overview, and delegates are welcome to put forward additional issues that can be tackled in the clause-by-clause debate.
Best of luck!
Further reading and bibliography:
A statement on forced sterilisation in support of it:
Forced sterilisation case studies:
Forced sterilisation of women as discrimination: https://publichealthreviews.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40985-017-0060-9