Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up Working Visit to El Salvador

January 29, 2018

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) carried out a working visit to El Salvador on November 20-22, 2017. The purpose of the visit was to monitor the human rights situation in El Salvador, particularly the situation regarding the rights of women and girls. The delegation included Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, in her capacity as IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and Rapporteur for El Salvador, as well as specialists from the IACHR Executive Secretariat.

The IACHR held working meetings with various authorities from the three branches of government, to learn about the current human rights situation in the country and especially the situation regarding the rights of women and girls in El Salvador. In meetings with representatives of the State, the IACHR obtained information about laws, national policies, and mechanisms to protect the rights of women and girls.

The IACHR delegation held a meeting with representatives of various United Nations agencies present in the country. The meeting addressed issues related to the consequences of citizen insecurity in the country and the current outlook for women’s and girls’ rights in El Salvador. Specifically, it addressed the current situation regarding sexual and reproductive rights, women’s political participation, the vulnerable situation of women migrants, and the challenges that girls and female adolescents continue to face in the country.

During its working visit, the IACHR also met with Salvadorian civil society organizations. Organizations that advocate for the rights of women and children underscored the prevalence of gender-based discrimination and violence against girls and women. Meanwhile, various human rights organizations informed the Commission mainly about challenges related to human rights violations stemming from the situation of citizen insecurity, as well as obstacles faced by people who belong to groups in an especially vulnerable situation, such as LGBTI persons, women human rights defenders, women journalists, and women with disabilities.

In addition, during the visit to El Salvador the IACHR participated in two events organized by civil society organizations and academic institutions with the aim of promoting inter-American human rights standards. Commissioner Macaulay participated in an event on “Women and Girls in El Salvador: Situation of Sexual and Reproductive Rights,” and in a forum on “Inter-American Standards on the Election of High-Court Judges: Input on the Appointment of the Constitutional Court in El Salvador.”

The IACHR observes that the State of El Salvador has made some progress in the areas of citizen security and the rights of women and other groups at special risk, such as the “Safe El Salvador Plan” or the Ciudad Mujer (“Women’s City”) program. At the same time, the IACHR expresses its deep concern about violations of human rights stemming from citizen insecurity, the lack of universal access to basic services, and the lack of budgetary resources to ensure the proper functioning and development of human rights policies. With regard to the rights of women and girls, the IACHR notes the prevalence of violence and discrimination against them, which is clearly reflected in the total criminalization of abortion in the country.

As stated in the Conclusions and observations from the visit of the IACHR to El Salvador, annexed to this Press Release, the IACHR has observed several issues of concern, including the issues related to citizen security and military presence in public security tasks; the disproportionate impact that the current context of criminality has upon women, girls, migrants and other groups in vulnerable situations; to the criminal policy and the situation of persons deprived of liberty; the situation of discrimination and structural violence against LGBTI people; the human rights situation of women with disabilities; as well as the prevalence of threats and harassment suffered by women human rights defenders, women journalists and women who are political representatives or candidates.

Likewise, in the Conclusions of the IACHR working visit to El Salvador, the Commission notes with great concern the situation of the rights of women and girls in relation to the prevalence of violence against them, including murders, disappearances and sexual violence committed in many cases against young women and girls. Also, the Commission notes the general situation of impunity relating these cases. The IACHR also refers to the prohibition of child marriage in the country, as well as the high number of adolescents in de facto unions in El Salvador, and the various negative impacts suffered by the rights of girls and adolescents who enter into  a de facto union  before age 18.

During its visit to El Salvador, the IACHR received very concerning information regarding the regulations that criminalize abortion in all circumstances. As it is stated in the Commission’s Observations and Conclusions on the IACHR working visit to El Salvador, the Article 133 of the Criminal Code currently governs absolute criminalization of voluntary interruption of pregnancy, even when a woman’s life is at risk. In addition, article 1 of El Salvador’s Political Constitution establishes the recognition of human life from the moment of conception. In this regard, the Commission urges El Salvador to bear in mind the inter-American standards developed in the judgment issued in the Case of Artavia Murillo et al. v. Costa Rica (“In Vitro Fertilization”), in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded that an embryo cannot be considered a person in the terms of Article 4(1) of the American Convention.

As the Commission has reiterated in previous reports, the absolute criminalization of abortion has direct consequences on maternal morbidity and mortality rates. Without legal, safe, and timely options, many women have to subject themselves to dangerous and even fatal practices; they refrain from seeking medical services or experience obstetric emergencies without the medical care they need. The Commission reiterates that the absolute criminalization of abortion in El Salvador, by imposing a disproportionate burden on the exercise of the rights of women and girls and creating a context that facilitates unsafe abortions, ignores the State’s international obligations to respect, protect, and guarantee women’s rights to life, to health, and to integrity.

The Commission also expresses its concern over the fact that, even though the Criminal Code establishes sentences of up to 12 years for abortion, many women who suffer obstetric complications or miscarriages are convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, based on the suspicion of having induced an abortion and in possible violation of their right to due process. As indicated by the IACHR in the Conclusions of the working visit to El Salvador, sentences are said to be occurring in the context of proceedings that allegedly fail to respect the right of the accused to a fair trial by not recognizing the principle of presumption of innocence and not assessing the evidence in accordance with inter-American standards on due process protections. In addition, the law on which these sentences are based appears to be in clear contradiction to the right to medical privacy, which reportedly keeps health professionals from having the necessary conditions of legal certainty to be able to properly exercise their responsibility as guarantors of their patients’ health.

According to information obtained by the IACHR during the visit, at least 27 women are currently serving these types of sentences. In this regard, sharing the recommendations made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights following his visit to the country, the IACHR urges El Salvador to launch a moratorium on the application of Article 133 of the Criminal Code; to carefully review the convictions in each of these 27 cases mentioned, to ensure that each of the women had a fair trial, free of stereotypes; and, should it be established that this was not the case, release these women.

In this regard, the IACHR urges El Salvador to adopt legislation geared toward ensuring that women can effectively exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, with the understanding that denying the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in certain circumstances is a violation of the fundamental rights of women, girls, and adolescents.

The IACHR thanks the State, civil society organizations, international organizations, and the people of El Salvador for their collaboration during this visit. The IACHR will continue to monitor the State’s efforts to comply with its international commitments regarding the rights of women and girls. Similarly, as Commissioner Macaulay reiterated during the working visit, the IACHR hopes to have the opportunity to conduct an on-site visit to El Salvador in the near future, to observe more broadly that country’s achievements and challenges in the area of human rights.

This press release comes with an annex containing the Commission’s observations on the human rights situation it observed during the visit to the country.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 011/18