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El Salvador: UN experts urge Government to reconsider current abortion legislation and practice

GENEVA (4 June 2013) – A group of UN independent experts today urged the Government of El Salvador to reconsider the abortion legislation and current practice in the country. They also reiterated their call* on the authorities to ensure the protection and full enjoyment of the right to life, and to the highest attainable standard of health, in accordance with international human rights law.

“It is high time to reconsider the serious consequences on women’s rights of the abortion legislation and practice in El Salvador, and to afford the legal protection that all women in the country deserve,” the human rights experts said.

On 28 May, the Salvadorian Supreme Court ruled, by a vote decision of four to one, to deny a writ of rights, “amparo,” to Beatriz (name withdrawn to protect her identity) to undergo a therapeutic abortion, despite the probability that the foetus may die before or shortly after birth due to the brain condition, as proved to be the case this Monday 3 June. The judges voting for the ruling considered that the threat to her life was not actual, but eventual. Should health complications imminently place her life at risk, the Court opened the possibility for medical interventions.

The experts strongly condemned the ruling of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador rejecting a young woman’s request to terminate a life-threatening pregnancy. While welcoming the decision on this case by high public officials, including the Minister of Health, that allowed an alternative procedure to be carried out, the experts expressed their hope that medical professionals who provided the required treatment will not be sanctioned.

“This Court ruling exposed the physical and mental health of Beatriz to serious risk, which could eventually threaten her life,” said the UN experts on right to health, torture, and discrimination and violence against women, Anand Grover, Juan E. Méndez, Kamala Chandrakirana and Rashida Manjoo.

The human rights experts renewed their grave concerns for the fragile physical and mental health of the young 22-year old woman who was in urgent need for medical intervention, highlighting that this condition could lead to irreparable damage to her life and physical and mental integrity.

“The court’s decision is in clear contravention of El Salvador’s human rights obligations, including article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” they warned, “and article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women to which El Salvador is party.”

The experts highlighted that having obliged Beatriz to continue with the pregnancy could amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. “An absolute ban on abortion, when the result is serious risk to the life and health of the woman, constitutes a violation of the State’s obligation to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the experts said.

“The decision by El Salvador’s Supreme Court put Beatriz’s life at risk and causes her tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering. Because only pregnant women are subjected to it, this pain and suffering is inflicted on her and others in her situation on the basis of gender.”

The experts: Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Kamala Chandrakirana, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice and; Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

(*) “El Salvador: UN rights experts appeal to government to provide life-saving treatment to woman at risk” (24/04/2013): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13269&LangID=E

For more information log on to:
Right to health: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx
Torture: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx
Discrimination against women: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx
Violence against women: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – El Salvador: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/SVIndex.aspx

For more information and press inquiries, please contact Pol Planas (+41 22 79657 / pplanas@ohchr.org) or write to vaw@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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