The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that El Salvador had violated the rights of a woman who was sent to prison for breaching the country’s tough abortion laws and died while serving her 30-year sentence.
An El Salvador court sentenced the woman only identified as Manuela in 2008 for aggravated homicide after she suffered what the human rights court called an obstetric emergency that led to the death of her unborn child.
“The Inter-American Court declared the State of El Salvador internationally responsible for violations of personal liberty, judicial guarantees, equality before the law, the right to life, personal integrity, private life, and health, in detriment to Manuela,” the court ruled.
The court ordered El Salvador to pay damages to Manuela’s children, develop and adopt a protocol for such emergencies and internationally assume responsibility for the case. The government could not immediately be reached for comment.
While serving her sentence, Manuela was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2010, she died at the age of 33 because she received medical care “late” and “irregularly”, the court said in its ruling.
A housewife who lived in a rural part of El Salvador, Manuela was treated at a public hospital for the obstetric emergency in 2008, court records showed.
Medical staff filed a complaint against her after they determined that she had recently given birth. Police raided her house and found the body of a dead newborn boy in a septic tank, the records showed.
El Salvador has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world.
Morena Herrera, a human rights activist at the Colectiva Feminista women’s rights group, called Manuela “one more victim of an unjust legal context that has its origin in the absolute prohibition of abortion that has affected mainly women, adolescents and girls living in poverty”.