Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opens case involving Manuela, wrongfully imprisoned in El Salvador

In 2008, a pregnant, haemorrhaging woman staggered into a hospital in El Salvador seeking emergency care.(Vice News, 20 April 2017)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced it will hear the case of Manuela, a Salvadoran woman wrongfully imprisoned after having an obstetric emergency who later died from untreated Hodgkins lymphoma in prison.

In its report, the IACHR states that it is admitting Manuela’s case after determining that the government of El Salvador failed to provide access to justice for Manuela and her family, citing failure to provide her with adequate defence counsel.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto filed a petition to the IACHR on behalf of Manuela’s family in March 2012 which demonstrated the numerous human rights violations Manuela endured because of El Salvador’s total abortion ban. IACHR is now awaiting additional written arguments from both parties assessing Manuela’s case on various human rights grounds, including the right to life, personal integrity, personal liberty, due process, non-discrimination and dignity.

Once the Inter-American Commission reviews the arguments, it will assess Manuela’s case using human rights mechanisms including the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Eliminate Torture, and the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará).

In 2008, Manuela, a 33-year-old Salvadoran woman with two young children, suffered a complication giving birth during her third trimester. From the moment she arrived at the hospital, doctors treated her as if she had attempted an abortion and immediately called the police. She was shackled to her hospital bed and accused of murder. She was later convicted to 30 years in prison on charges of aggravated homicide without ever having had a chance to meet with her lawyer, and without having an opportunity to speak in her own defense.

After several months in prison, Manuela was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease that could have been the cause of her miscarriage and that could have been treated earlier with proper medical attention in prison. When she finally received chemotherapy it was too little, too late. Manuela died in jail in 2010.

“The state failed Manuela, her children and her family,” said Morena Herrera, Executive Director of Agrupación Ciudadana. “She is one of Las 17 and she should still be with us today, but untreated cancer prevented her from continuing to fight for freedom. Now we await justice and hope the Salvadoran government recognizes the human rights violations Manuela suffered for the sake of her dignity and her children.”

SOURCE: Center for Reproductive Rights, 19 April 2017 ; Manuela y Familia, IACHR Report, 2017