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Appeal for letters - solidarity with women wrongly imprisoned in El Salvador

This is a really historic opportunity for meaningful cross-border solidarity: the first case on the criminalization of abortion that comes before the Inter-American Human Rights Court.

We know that anti-rights actors are likely to flood the Court with their own opinions. We hope you'll make your voice heard in support of women's rights.

In El Salvador, since 1998 abortion is illegal under all circumstances. When women having miscarriages go to the hospital, they are often reported by medical staff to the police, and then charged and imprisoned. Between 2000 and 2019, 181 women who suffered obstetric emergencies were criminalized and sentenced to up to 50 years in prison on “abortion” or “aggravated homicide” charges.

One of them was Manuela, a rural single mother of two living in poverty who suffered a miscarriage in 2008. Taken to the hospital, she faced interrogations and harassment, was reported by the doctors and then sent to prison for 30 years on “aggravated murder” charges. She died in 2010, of an untreated cancer and cuffed to a hospital bed.

Manuela’s family and local feminist organizations took her case to the Inter-American human rights system.

On March 11-13, 2021, the Inter-American Court will decide if El Salvador has violated Manuela’s most basic rights - including to life and health.

It is the first time the Court will be asked to state its position on abortion, so this case is important not only for Manuela and her family but for everybody who cares about women’s lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. And we need your help!

How can you help?

  • Send a short letter to the Inter-American Court tramite@corteidh.or.cr ) at any time before March 31st, 2021 mentioning “Manuela vs El Salvador” in the subject line.
    You can send your letter in English, French or Spanish.
    You can do it as an individual or as a collective, organization or network. We are providing a sample text below but of course drafting your own message is also welcome.

  • Circulate this appeal through your contacts and encourage them to also send letters to the Court.

  • The Court also welcomes Amicus Curiae so if this is an option for your organization (or for a network you are part of) please do it (and let us know). Amicus are also to be sent to tramite@corteidh.or.cr before March 21st, 2021.

  • Follow #ManuelaJusticiaYEsperanza on social media and get involved in the conversation.

Manuela's story - Solidarity with Women in El Salvador - full illustration ENGLISH

Sample message

Subject line: Manuela vs El Salvador 

To: Inter-American Court on Human Rights Judges ( tramite@corteidh.or.cr )

Dear Madams and Sirs,

I/We [name of the individual, group, organization or network] am/are writing to you to share our views on the Manuela vs El Salvador case and why it is important for women in the Americas and all over the world.

[Make it personal: Add a couple of lines saying why the outcome of this trial matters to you personally and/or to your group, network or movement]

We place our hopes in you, as the most important human rights mechanism in the Americas, to be a strong voice affirming women’s rights to life, equality, non-discrimination and health through your decision in the Manuela case. 

As an activist/activists committed to women’s rights and justice for all women everywhere we have learned that:

  • Complete criminalization of abortion is a form of discrimination and violence that has a disproportionate impact on women and girls who are economically and socially marginalized. 
  • When miscarriages and other obstetric emergencies occur, more privileged women and girls can be treated privately and confidentially for a fee, while women and girls living in poverty can only resort to public health facilities where they are harassed and criminalized. This is not only a matter of reproductive justice but also of social  justice.
  • No woman who is going through an obstetric emergency should be subjected to verbal harassment by the medical staff who should be caring for her, reported to the police, cuffed to a bed and/or deprived of care when her life and health are at risk. We know that in most cases medical staff take these actions to protect themselves against eventual legal complaints - this is another damaging effect of the full prohibition of abortion.      

We look forward to a decision that honours the Court’s trajectory on upholding all human rights for all persons. We hope your decision will hold the state of El Salvador accountable for having violated Manuela’s rights; and more broadly will affirm its responsibility to prevent police persecution of women suffering obstetric emergencies and to provide redress to women who have been arbitrarily detained and condemned in these cases or to their families. We know that your decision is mandatory for all states under your jurisdiction and thus it can be extremely helpful in preventing similar injustices taking place across the Americas. And it can also be an inspiration to all those fighting for women’s rights and justice across the world.

We rely on you to help us make sure that never again will a woman be criminalized for having an obstetric emergency in the Americas.        


[Your name]

Please don’t forget to add your organization’s logo and address, or just your address (email and country - or your full address, if you prefer) if you write as an individual.

Send your own message

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