Alyne Pimentel v Brazil: pro bono collaboration for reproductive rights recognition in leading human rights case
Flavia Regina de Souza Oliveira
Mattos Filho, Sao Paulo
Bianca dos Santos Waks
Mattos Filho, Sao Paulo
Considered emblematic for bringing together problems faced by several women in Brazil, the case Alyne Pimentel v Brazil concerns the death of a young, Black and low-income pregnant woman, due to the lack of adequate medical care in Nova Iguaçu, city of the municipality of Rio de Janeiro.
Alyne Silva Pimentel died in November 2002, aged 28. She was in her sixth month of pregnancy, five days after being admitted to a public hospital with signs of high-risk pregnancy and lack of proper basic healthcare. In view of the events, in 2003, her husband and daughter filed an indemnity claim in the domestic jurisdiction aimed at condemning the municipality to pay material and moral damages.
After four years of no response from the Brazilian Judiciary, in 2011, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and Citizen Advocacy for Human Rights – organisations that advocate for reproductive and human rights in many countries through legal work – submitted an international claim before the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee.
The claim argued that the Brazilian state had violated Alyne’s right to access to justice as at the time of the claim’s filing, the Brazilian judiciary had not issued a decision regarding the domestic civil claim. It was also argued that there was violation of the right to health without discrimination and right to life considering she did not have access to adequate health services during pregnancy and delivery.
The CEDAW Committee held the Brazilian State responsible for not fulfilling its role of providing adequate medical care to Alyne. It has also made several recommendations to Brazil, including the need to develop public health policies aimed at maternity and sexual and reproductive rights, besides affirming the state’s duty to indemnify the mother and daughter of Alyne Pimentel. In addition, it indicated the state’s responsibility to ensure effective judicial protection since the damages claim filed in 2003, had not then been judged.
On indication of the CRR and due to our 100 per cent pro bono practice dedicated to the defence of women’s rights, we assumed providing legal assistance to Alyne’s family on the domestic lawsuit, which has had a final decision pending since 2003. With the lapse of approximately five years of the international CEDAW Committee’s decision, the claim was finally sentenced, and the Brazilian municipality of Nova Iguaçu was required to pay compensation for moral damages and a monthly stipend to Alyne’s daughter.
Nevertheless, the projection for the effective payment of the amounts due to Alyne’s daughter, Alice, who is now 25, was approximately ten years, due to the long backlog in the payment of judicial orders. The extended waiting time would make the decision ineffective and further magnify the injustice suffered by Alice, who was only five years old when her mother died.
We therefore began a negotiation process with the state’s Attorney Office of Nova Iguaçu aiming at a reduction in the payment term. After a sequence of discussions, we managed to reach an agreement in which Alyne’s daughter, who lives in conditions of extreme economic vulnerability, will be paid the total compensation due, amounting to approximately US$130,000 for moral damages and allowance within three years and five months. The financial resources will transform the lives of this young woman and her family, who have been waiting around 20 years for justice.
The collaboration between the law firm Mattos Filho and the CRR was continuous throughout the case. As a result, it enabled the reparation to Alyne’s family and the recognition of accessible and affordable reproductive healthcare as a human right. This leading case, decided by an international human rights body, recognised quality maternal health care for all women free from discrimination of race, income or geographical location and reinforced the state’s accountability to ensure quality maternal healthcare services.
Alyne’s case unfortunately mirrors the critical state of millions of women from Brazil and from other countries who suffer from the lack of quality maternal healthcare. According to the World Health Organization, every day approximately 810 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In Brazil, high maternal mortality rates are still a serious public health issue, mostly affecting poor and Black women. According to data from the Ministry of Health this an avoidable tragedy in 92 per cent of cases.
The final reparation paid now in the domestic jurisdiction to Alyne’s family highlights the necessary enforceability of a human rights decision issued by an international body and is therefore a milestone in the advancement women’s rights throughout the world.
 WHO, Maternal Mortality, 19 September 2019 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/maternal-mortality. Accessed 9 December 2021.