Why Reparations are Not Enough to Address the Harm of Forced Sterilization in California: A Transitional Justice Analysis

Location: TNH 2.111


In 2021, the California State Legislature approved a reparations scheme for victims of forced sterilization carried out from 1909-1979. As the window for victims of state-sanctioned forced sterilization to apply for reparations comes to a close in December 2023, an evaluation of the efficacy of the initiative can now be undertaken. One way of evaluating the reparations scheme’s efficacy is through the lens of transitional justice – a theory in international law describing the process and mechanisms through which a state seeks to reform and repair relations with its citizens following a mass human rights abuse, conflict, or political regime change. The California State Legislature is therefore engaging, to a certain extent, in transitional justice by creating the reparations scheme and attempting to address the historical injustice caused to its citizens. In her talk, Helen Jennings will evaluate the extent to which this engagement has been successful, and will suggest lessons from transitional justice that can be applied to California’s reckoning with the legacy of eugenics.

Helen Jennings is a barrister, doctoral student and reproductive justice advocate. She played an active part in the campaign to legalise abortion across the island of Ireland with the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. Helen studied law as an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, and graduated with an LLM (Master of Laws) from New York University in 2021 as a Fulbright Scholar.  Helen has worked for UN Women as a legal researcher on various topics related to Women, Peace and Security, and has published papers on non-consensual sterilisation in U.S. immigration detention and on UN fact-finding as a mechanism to secure justice for victims of rape as a weapon of war. Helen completed pupillage at 25 Bedford Row Chambers in London as a criminal defence barrister before completing a clerkship at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the JSD program at Berkeley Law School, writing on issues related to international human rights, transitional justice and reproductive justice.