People’s Tribunal to examine cases of three women imprisoned after losing babies and call for redress

Original story by Nina Lakhani14 April 2016Guadalupe Vásquez was imprisoned for more than seven years after losing the baby she conceived when she was raped at the age of 17. Vásquez, who was sentenced to 30 years for murder in 2008, was pardoned and freed last year after the Supreme Court ruled her conviction was unsafe. Her case is one of three that will come under renewed scrutiny this weekend following a determined campaign by reproductive rights campaigners and relatives of women unfairly convicted under anti-abortion legislation.As the tribunal was being prepared yet another Salvadorean woman was jailed in March 2016 for an abortion she did not commit. For the past eight months, a police cell in Sonsonate has detained Flor Sanchez, a woman who after three days of fever suffered a premature birth, fell unconscious, was taken to hospital and from the hospital to jail. She, her children and their lawyers all say she is innocent.The campaigners aim to keep the women’s plight in the public consciousness and put pressure on the authorities to decriminalise abortion, ending the imprisonments that have blighted the lives of Vásquez and many other Salvadoran women.According to research by the Salvadoran Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, more than 250 women were reported to the police between 2000 and 2014, of whom 147 were prosecuted and 49 convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. The vast majority were like Vásquez: young, poor single women who lost their babies after an obstetric complication.“The tribunal is a way to access alternative justice for the women. It will provide a space to make visible the systematic human rights violations suffered by these women, and advocate for justice in each particular case,” said Sara García, an advocacy worker with the Citizens’ Group.The eldest of nine children from a rural family in La Paz in the south of the country, Vásquez started work at the age of nine. By 14, she was a live-in domestic worker and nanny in the capital, San Salvador. Three years later, Vásquez was raped. She was subsequently unable to attend antenatal appointments due to her relentless work schedule. Refused permission to go home to give birth, she delivered her daughter at full term in her tiny bedroom, alone. The baby cried once before dying, says Vásquez. Three months later she was imprisoned for murder, without ever hearing the evidence against her. She was 18. “The doctor in the hospital was angry at me. A policeman told me that if I’d been his woman he would have cut off my head. The judge treated me hatefully,” she says.The tribunal will consider whether the state should make reparations to Vásquez for the years she spent in jail, and also address her social, psychological and medical needs. None of the women freed in recent years have received any compensation.The tribunal is supported by Barcelona’s College of Lawyers. It will also consider the case of Maria Teresa Rivera, 33, who is serving a 40-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide. Rivera, who did not realise she was pregnant, had a miscarriage in November 2011. She was convicted on the basis of her employer’s claim that she had known she was pregnant in January 2011 – which would have made her 11 months pregnant at the time of the miscarriage.The third case is Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 32, who was sentenced to 30 years in 2007 after experiencing a stillbirth days before her due date. The judge accused her of failing to do enough to save the baby, even though she became unconscious after calling emergency services.The tribunal will take place at the Jesuit-run Central American University in San Salvador, which has an illustrious history of human rights work. The university has hosted several People’s Tribunals to examine civil war cases of murder, torture and forced disappearance that have escaped justice because of the country’s amnesty law. Abortion and reproductive rights are on the university’s agenda for the first time – significant, considering the Catholic Church’s pivotal role in promoting the abortion ban.The panel will make symbolic rulings and recommendations that will be sent to the relevant authorities. Despite her ordeal, Vásquez is optimistic. She gave birth to a healthy daughter this year, and is very happy to be a mother.SOURCES: The Guardian; Agrupación Ciudadana