Press Release

IACHR Grants Precautionary Measures to Protect Women and Newborns at the Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital in Venezuela

March 25, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) adopted Resolution 13/2019 on March 18, 2019, to grant precautionary measures in favor of the women held in the delivery rooms and the emergency ward at the Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital in Venezuela and of newborns in the facility’s neonatal nursery, in the belief that they face a serious, urgent risk of suffering irreparable damage to their rights.

When making this decision, the Commission considered that—according to the requesting party—in the context of the scarcity and shortages that the State is facing with regard to medication, medical supplies, materials and treatment, the hospital has suffered several shortfalls that have weakened and damaged services aimed at women that are essential to provide them with adequate medical care to protect their right to sexual and reproductive health. The Commission was further informed that a significant number of newborns had died, in events that were allegedly linked to a lack of access to timely and adequate care—including shortages of medical supplies and specialized staff—and to the seriously unsanitary conditions that are allegedly affecting the hospital. In this context, the Commission deemed it reasonable to presume that several of the deaths and other events that have happened could stem from the lack of adequate treatment for obstetric emergencies or from medical problems that require special care, given the specific nature of maternal health services.

Given the provisos of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (known as the Convention of Belém do Pará), the Commission considered that the risk factors described by the requesting party would have serious consequences, with a differentiated effect on beneficiaries’ health based only on their status as women, and that they amount to an additional form of violence against them.

Before adopting precautionary measures, and given the seriousness of the allegations, the Commission requested information from the State of Venezuela, but received no response. That prevented the IACHR from having access to its observations about the request, including, for example, official diagnoses and figures that might contest those allegations. In this context, the Commission considered that the State had failed to counter the worrying risks put forward by the requesting party.

Consequently, in keeping with Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the State of Venezuela to:

a) adopt any measures necessary to preserve beneficiaries’ lives, health and personal integrity, particularly by providing the medical supplies, medication, materials and care needed to preserve maternal and newborn health, in compliance with the applicable standards. Among other measures, the Commission considers that the State must:

i. ensure the provision of adequate medical supplies, medication and medical services to effectively handle emergencies related to women’s sexual and reproductive health (among others, by coordinating appropriate referral mechanisms among various healthcare facilities);
ii. ensure that efforts to protect and grant access to maternal health and any services aimed at beneficiaries’ medical needs incorporate a gender perspective;
iii. ensure the provision of nutrition programs and adequate medical check-ups prior to a pregnancy, during that pregnancy and in the period after childbirth, both for the relevant women and for their newborns;
iv. ensure that beneficiaries are held in adequately sanitary conditions and that facilities have sufficient means—including medical staff, infrastructure, electricity and water—to assist them, in compliance with the applicable standards;

b) come to an agreement with beneficiaries and their representatives concerning any measures that need to be taken. In this context, the Commission considers it necessary to take into consideration the opinion of specialists, professionals and staff who are active at that hospital. In compliance with its obligations to respect and protect human rights, the State must grant those professionals suitable conditions, so they may give their opinion freely and adequately, without suffering retaliation; and

c) report on any measures adopted to investigate the alleged events that gave rise to this resolution, in order to prevent them from happening again in the future—especially concerning alleged newborn deaths at the hospital.

The fact that this precautionary measure has been granted and its adoption by the State do not entail a prejudgment on a potential petition that may be filed before the Inter-American system to allege violations of rights protected by the American Declaration and other applicable instruments.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 076/19