Manuela was always innocent. His family knew it and his lawyers proved it, but a court had yet to confirm it for El Salvador to be officially identified as responsible for violating all his rights. Manuela was unjustly imprisoned for an obstetric emergency. He died of cancer in detention. This Tuesday the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Inter-American Court) declared that the Salvadoran State was wrong: Manuela should not have died in jail. The Court has condemned El Salvador for the arbitrary criminalization of a woman for trying to access health services when she faced a miscarriage.
The ruling of the highest American court of human rights sets a historic precedent in favor of women in El Salvador, a country where losing a pregnancy is punishable as homicide. Manuela was sentenced to 30 years, the minimum penalty provided for the crime of aggravated homicide, which can be up to 50 years.
“In the present case, there is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency caused by pre-eclampsia. The Court rescues that obstetric emergencies, because they are a medical condition, cannot automatically give rise to a criminal sanction, ”says the court, which lists several points that the country must adjust to guarantee respect for women’s rights.
The ruling orders to regulate professional medical secrecy and the confidentiality of medical records and to develop a protocol to attend to obstetric emergencies. “We have waited a long time for this sentence of the Court, we can say that justice has been done because doctors will have to guarantee the professional secrecy of their patients and never again women criminalized for obstetric complications in El Salvador, ”said Morena Herrera, an activist with the Citizen’s Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion.
The ruling, explains Catalina Martínez, regional coordinator of the Center for Reproductive Rights, recognizes that in that country cases like Manuela’s occur in a context of systematic persecution of women who suffer spontaneous abortions. A pattern that has relied on the absolute prohibition of abortion in that country. “The torture to which Manuela was subjected when she was shackled to the stretcher, detained, even though she was convalescing, is also recognized. That act was considered by the Court as torture, ”says Martínez.
Manuela, her mother, her father, and her children suffered all possible injustices. The sentence highlights that due process guarantees were not respected, justice did not want to hear the testimonies of his family. “El Salvador violated her right to personal integrity, to live free from violence, not to be discriminated against,” adds Martínez, who explains that although the case did not have abortion as the center of debate because it was an emergency, it does recognize that women are persecuted even for losing their pregnancies.
Manuela was 31 years old when she was taken to prison. The medical personnel who treated her when she arrived after fainting denounced her and accused her of causing an abortion. Lymphatic cancer that was already beginning to affect her health during pregnancy was not taken into account and in 2010, two years after being incarcerated, she died.
His mother had been seeking justice since 2008. Each word of the sentence vindicates the fight that he has maintained so that the innocence of his daughter, of which he never doubted, is finally supported with a sentence, which also orders reparations in his favor and creates a framework of jurisprudence for all countries that are part of the inter-American human rights system.
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