Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment


Women and girls worldwide face a wide range of violations to their sexual and reproductive rights, such as lack of access to contraception and safe abortion, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sexual violence. Moreover, when accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare services women and girls encounter low-quality, often negligent and abusive care and treatment. These human rights violations often involve tremendous physical and psychological pain and arguably rise to the level of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), but historically they have not been recognized as such.

In recent years, the Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center) and other civil society organizations have extensively documented the ways in which abuses of women’s sexual and reproductive rights rise to the level of torture or CIDT and have advocated for recognition of the severity of these violations. The situation is continuing to change as international and regional human rights bodies and experts increasingly recognize that certain reproductive rights violations amount to torture or CIDT.

Establishing the most severe reproductive rights violations as a contravention of the right to be free from torture or CIDT can reinforce the urgency of addressing these issues and challenge impunity for such conduct. As the United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture (CAT Committee) has repeatedly stated, the right to be free from torture and CIDT carries with it non-derogable state obligations to prevent, punish, and redress violations of this right. By highlighting the links between the right to be free from torture and CIDT and other human rights, such as the right to the highest attainable standard of health, advocates can place greater pressure on states to take immediate and effective action to respect, protect, and fulfi ll women’s reproductive rights. Recognizing these rights violations as forms of torture or CIDT reinforces state’s legal obligations to provide appropriate remedies and reparations. This analysis also challenges the traditional conception of reproductive rights as limited to the right to health; instead, it reveals the ways in which a broad range of human rights are implicated when reproductive rights are violated. Moreover, it provides advocates with greater leverage to demand government accountability and halt future violations.