June 24, 2024

Read in Spanish here.

Diana Aleman was a Venezuelan woman who lived in Lima, Peru, as an irregular migrant. At the time of her death at age 27, Diana lived with her partner with whom she shared two daughters, aged five and three. Diana’s ordeal began when she sought care for intense pain in her belly, going to a health center where physicians informed her that she was pregnant, in the process of miscarrying, and that she needed to go to a hospital urgently. When she arrived, hospital staff refused to receive her, citing COVID-19 prevention measures and demanding, as a condition for entry, that Diana pay a fee and purchase medical supplies. After several hours, Diana finally received care for her ongoing obstetric emergency. However, while she was recovering from the uterine curettage, staff informed her that they would report her to police for having an abortion. 

Fearing arrest and criminal prosecution, Diana attempted to escape from the hospital through the window and died after falling from the third floor. 

Today, Brenda Alvarez of the Proyecta Igualdad -Justicia Verde Association of Peru, the O’Neill Institute’s Health and Human Rights Initiative, and Ríos filed an individual petition before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) seeking a declaration of the international responsibility of the Peruvian State, so that Diana’s family can obtain justice and reparations, and  that the State adopts measures of non-repetition, including changes to its regulatory framework regarding abortion and medical confidentiality.

Diana’s death was a consequence of the regulatory framework in Peru, which not only harshly criminalizes abortion, but imposes strict requirements that health professionals report their patients for suspected abortions. In Peru, abortion is a crime except when “It is the only means to save the life of the pregnant woman or to avoid serious and permanent harm to her health.” Article 30 of the Peruvian General Health Law expressly establishes that when “there are indications of criminal abortion, (the doctor) is obligated to bring the fact to the attention of the competent authority,” forcing them to violate other legal obligations to protect their patients’ medical confidentiality. The events that led to Diana’s death were the result of the joint operation of both regulations.

After Diana’s death, her family requested national investigations that were archived and closed when the prosecutor’s office ruled the case had been a suicide. This decision had no evidentiary basis and was the product of an investigation that did not meet minimum standards of due diligence and contained gender stereotypes throughout. These stereotypes included the presumption that abortion necessarily generates high levels of guilt, disrupts women’s life plans, and can lead to suicide. 

The petitioners asked CEDAW to declare that Peru violated articles 2, 3, 5, 12, and 15 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and also asked CEDAW to recommend that Peru provide Diana’s family with appropriate reparations, including access to health treatment and health insurance, and provisions for their immigration regularization. Additionally, the petitioners requested CEDAW publish its decision and hold a public event of recognition. Eudomar, Diana´s partner, expressed: “We need justice for Diana, her death cannot go unpunished, a long time has passed.” 

Seeking guarantees of non-repetition, the representatives asked CEDAW to recommend that the State repeal article 30 of the General Health Law’s requirement to report women seeking post-abortion care; implement protocols to ensure respect for confidentiality; eliminate criminal sanctions for voluntary abortion; and implement for health personnel, judicial actors, public servants, and police officials. Dayana, Diana´s sister, insisted to the Committee: “We hope that this complaint will serve to ensure that no other woman experiences the same as Diana in a Hospital in this country.”

Diana’s story highlights the problematic regulations and practices in Peru. Reporting women for suspected criminal abortions in public and private health facilities is a frequent, widespread, and highly worrying practice in the country. This practice can lead not only to investigations, arrests, and interrogations in hospital wards, disproportionately affecting disadvantaged and vulnerable women, but can also lead to tragic outcomes like the death of Diana. Brenda Álvarez, the Health and Human Rights Initiative, Ríos, and Diana’s family call upon the CEDAW to recognize the different ways in which what happened constituted an episode of obstetric violence and intersectional discrimination, as well as a serious violation of ethical and human rights obligations by health personnel. In sum, the petitioners ask that CEDAW ensure that other women and families do not have to go through the suffering that Diana endured and her family continues to endure.

If you are interested in interviews with the experts, please contact Heena Patel, O’Neill Institute director of strategic communications, at hp498@georgetown.edu.