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Stop the forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan

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Imagine if you, or your pregnant wife, were to enter a hospital to deliver your child today-- and without your knowledge or consent, the doctors in charge permanently disabled you from having another child, ever again.

That is Nigora's story.

The day after she had an emergency C-section to rescue her first child, the doctors informed her that she had been sterilized. On the same day, her newborn died.

She is 24 years old and can never have children.

Nigora lives in Uzbekistan, where thousands of other women have similar stories to tell, and more women live through them with each passing day.

Rumors or tall tales? The British Broadcasting Corporation ran a special report on its World Service: it reveals first-hand accounts of doctors that divulge how the government of Uzbekistan is currently running a secret nationwide program to sterilize women.  The BBC has also personally interviewed Uzbekistan women sterilized without their knowledge or consent.

You can view the text of the BBC report here. You can also listen to the full report by the BBC News World Service here.

Some of the startling details revealed in the report include:

- firsthand accounts of women either sterilized without their knowledge, or being coerced by health workers to undergo sterilization operations after their second child
- hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) during C-section operations, often without the mother's knowledge, often with resulting health complications
- doctors, particularly gynecologists, being pressured to sterilize up to 8 women per week
- a dramatic increase in the number of C-section operations in the country in the last two years, observed and confirmed by various medical professionals, disputing official government statements that only 6.8% of women give birth via C-section
- the sterilization program being not only intended as a population control measure, but a means of reducing maternal and infant mortality rates, boosting Uzbekistan's rank in international league tables measuring human development

Government-driven sterilization in Uzbekistan is not a recent development.  In 2007, the United Nations Committee Against Torture also reported forcible sterilizations and hysterectomies in Uzbekistan, and the number of cases of forced sterilization appeared to fall as a result. But according to medical sources referred to by the BBC, in 2009 and 2010 the Uzbek government issued directives ordering clinics to be equipped to perform voluntary surgical contraception. In 2009, doctors from the capital were also dispatched to rural areas to increase the availability of sterilization services.

There is evidence that the number of sterilizations then began to rise again.

Uzbekistan signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) when it became an independent nation, joining other countries in obligating itself to upholding the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined therein.

Yet Article 16 of the UDHR states:

"Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family."

Yet the government of Uzbekistan has not only pressured, but outright removed by force the rights of women to bear children--- the very cornerstone of family in a country where life centers around them.

Article 3 of the UDHR states:

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."

Yet women in Uzbekistan do not have the liberty of control of their ability to bear children. Or the security of being in control. Their government does.

Article 5 of the UDHR states:

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Yet the Ministry of Public Health, by removing the ability of the women of Uzbekistan to bear children without even giving them the choice, subjects them to the same treatment as animals.

If the government of Uzbekistan truly intends to live up to its human rights obligations, it must change.  If it does not, it must be pressured to change.

Foreign governments, such as the US and the EU, have recently been lifting sanctions on Uzbekistan, in part due to Uzbekistan's strategic significance to getting supplies and troops into Afghanistan. Few of their representatives sent to Uzbekistan have even commented on its poor human rights record.

"(Uzbekistan) has managed to get to the point in (its) relationship with the West when there are no consequences for (its) actions and human rights abuses," says Steve Swerdlow, director of Central Asia's Human Rights Watch. "There is a deafening silence when it comes to human rights."

In a country where talking to a foreign journalist could result in a prison term, in a country where torture in detention is the norm, people live in fear of speaking up and speaking out. 

The silence must be broken. And the best way to break a silence of this kind is for you, and people like you, to add your voice to it.

Speak up for those who cannot speak.

The Uzbek government claimed to the BBC that "Uzbekistan's record in protecting mothers and babies is excellent and could be considered a model for countries around the world. "

Yet the childless home of Nigora, and others like hers, are a silent testimony otherwise.


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