Why Are Human Rights Defenders Still Under Attack in El Salvador?

A Salvadorian mother lifts a portrait of her son near the Presidential House as part of a rally of relatives who lost their children during military operations in the last civil war (1980-1992) in San Salvador, El Salvador. NGO Pro-Busqueda has been working in the search of about 473 missing children (Photo Credit: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images).

A Salvadorian mother lifts a portrait of her son near the Presidential House as part of a rally of relatives who lost their children during military operations in the last civil war (1980-1992) in San Salvador, El Salvador (Photo Credit: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images).

The recent attack on the human rights defenders (HRDs) of Pro-Búsqueda brings back painful memories of wartime abuses in El Salvador.

November 16 marked the 24th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter at the Central American University (UCA) in 1989. This brutal attack shocked the world, creating pressure for the Salvadoran government to finally negotiate an end to the war.

Just two days before this anniversary, however, Salvadorans were given a horrible reminder of the type of wartime atrocities that they had hoped were behind them.

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Who Should Have Custody of the Testimony of El Salvador’s Victims?

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Since its founding in 1982, Salvadoran human rights victims, their families, and other witnesses have trusted their testimony to Tutela Legal, the human rights office of the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese in El Salvador. They had confidence that Church leaders such as Archbishop Rivera y Damas (who replaced Oscar Romero after his assassination in 1980) and María Julía Hernández (the long-time head of Tutela Legal) would preserve the crucial evidence they provided so that one day the criminals who committed wartime atrocities could be brought to justice. They also felt safe turning to Tutela Legal, believing that their testimony would remain confidential.

On September 30, those Salvadorans who had confided in Tutela Legal were shocked to learn that Archbishop Escobar Alas had disbanded the organization, locking the doors and dismissing the staff without prior notice. Since then, he has changed his explanation for doing so several times – but not provided any evidence to support any of his reasons.

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Help Beatriz with One More Request: Stand Up for Other Women & Girls

Beatriz ThanksAs you know, activism inside El Salvador (led by the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) and around the globe helped save Beatriz, the young Salvadoran mother whose life was jeopardized by the absolute ban on abortion in El Salvador.

We would like to share a note that Beatriz wrote to express her gratitude to all those who took part in this effort:

To my friends from the Colectivo Feminista and everywhere else:

I want to thank you for having supported me all the way, and without you I think I wouldn’t have been able to stand being in the hospital.

I also want to thank you for all the actions you took for my life.

This situation has been very difficult and without your support I wouldn’t have been able to get through it.

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El Salvador’s Government Finally Acts to #SaveBeatriz

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After over two months of dragging its feet, the Salvadoran government has finally acted to save Beatriz’s life. On Monday, Beatriz, the young mother we’ve posted frequently about, received an early cesarean section and is now recovering in the hospital.

Our activism helped to save Beatriz’s life.

The hundreds of thousands of people around the world who mobilized on Beatriz’s behalf helped make it possible for her to – upon recovery – be able to return home to her family which is what she has wanted all along. Because of this overwhelming support, Beatriz was never alone in her struggle to access the medical care she wanted and needed.

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Update in the Struggle to #SaveBeatriz!

Members of Amnesty International protest in front of the El Salvador embassy in Mexico City, on May 29, 2013 (Photo Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images).

Members of Amnesty International protest in front of the El Salvador embassy in Mexico City, on May 29, 2013 (Photo Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images).

In collaboration with Lyric Thompson, member of Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

On Wednesday, the Salvadoran Supreme Court of Justice issued a shameful decision in the case of Beatriz, the young Salvadoran mother we wrote about earlier. She is currently in a high risk pregnancy and suffers from lupus and related health problems. Her doctors have recommended an abortion to save her life, yet the Salvadoran government refuses to give her access to the medical treatment that she needs.

In response to this violation of her human rights, nearly 200,000 Amnesty activists from over 20 countries have called on the Salvadoran government to #SaveBeatriz.

As part of this campaign to save Beatriz, we were shocked by yesterday’s ruling by the Salvadoran Supreme Court that Beatriz’s doctors cannot proceed with the abortion they say is necessary to save her life. This decision compounds the suffering already caused by the lengthy and unnecessary delays that the Court created prior to issuing this ruling, taking over a month and a half after Beatriz’s lawyers first filed the request for protection (amparo) on April 11.

The Court itself recognized Beatriz is now entering a very risky stage with regards to her health. And yet, the Court’s decision will continue to subject Beatriz to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by denying her the medical intervention she so urgently needs while her health continues to deteriorate.

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Eyes on El Salvador: will officials act to #SaveBeatriz?

There has been an overwhelming amount of global support over the past few weeks for Beatriz and those in El Salvador working tirelessly on her behalf to save her life. Much of this support has emerged online via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other outlets. Because of these digital tools, countless people are closely following events unfold in El Salvador and calling on the authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations by immediately granting Beatriz authorization for an abortion.

Will Salvadoran authorities listen to Beatriz’s plea and take action to save her life in accordance with her wishes and at the advice of the medical professionals caring for her?

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Why El Salvador Must Immediately #SaveBeatriz

Women's human rights activists gather in El Salvador to demand Beatriz is granted the life-saving treatment she needs (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Women’s human rights activists gather in El Salvador to demand Beatriz is granted the life-saving treatment she needs (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

As you’re reading this, the Salvadoran authorities are STILL biding their time discussing the merits of Beatriz’s case, the young mother we posted about earlier this month. While she’s in the hospital experiencing early stage kidney failure, the authorities are holding the key to her life that is quickly fading.

We’ve promised updates on this case. Unfortunately, we know that Beatriz has been subjected to another week of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, and have no news regarding action by the authorities to save her life – in accordance with her wishes, and the recommendation of the health professionals responsible for her care.

Imagine you are in a hospital. You have lupus and you are experiencing kidney complications as a result. You have a one-year old son at home who was delivered by cesarean section weeks early because of pregnancy-related health complications. You’re pregnant again, and have been diagnosed as high-risk.

You found out after three sonograms your fetus is anencephalic, meaning that a portion of the fetus’s brain - consisting mainly of the cerebral hemispheres including the neo-cortex - doesn’t exist. With very few exceptions, fetuses with anencephaly do not make it to term and none survive infancy.

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Beatriz: Condemned to Die at 22 by El Salvador?

Women’s human rights activists gather in El Salvador to demand Beatriz is granted the life-saving treatment she needs (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Women’s human rights activists gather in El Salvador to demand Beatriz is granted the life-saving treatment she needs (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Beatriz’s life is literally in the hands of the Salvadoran government. Demand that they immediately grant her the life-saving medical treatment she needs - before it’s too late.

About Beatriz’s Case

As you may have read recently on this blog, Beatriz from El Salvador is 4.5 months pregnant and suffers from lupus and other medical conditions, including kidney disease related to lupus. She also suffered serious complications during her previous pregnancy, resulting in her being deemed at high-risk of maternal mortality should this pregnancy progress. Three scans of her fetus have confirmed it is anencephalic (lacking a large part of the brain and skull). Almost all babies with anencephaly die before birth or within a few hours or days after.

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Why Does Salvadoran Law Condemn This Young Mother to Death?

Protesters at a demonstration outside the Supreme Court of Justice in San Salvador.  The sign reads, "If Beatriz were your daughter, would it be illegal to save her life?"(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Agrupación Ciudadana por la despenalización del aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugénesico).

Protesters at a demonstration outside the Supreme Court of Justice in San Salvador. The sign reads, “If Beatriz were your daughter, would it be illegal to save her life?”(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Agrupación Ciudadana por la despenalización del aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugénesico).

Officially, El Salvador does not have capital punishment. The result will be the same, however, for “Beatriz,” a 22-year-old whose “crime” consists of needing an abortion to save her life. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador law under all circumstances, including rape, incest, and maternal health. Beatriz has a history of lupus, kidney problems, and other health conditions that her doctors have indicated place her at high-risk for pregnancy-related death. She is currently four and a half months pregnant. Preventing her from receiving an abortion is therefore comparable to a death sentence. This, in turn, will leave her one-year-old son motherless.

But surely, you may think, some Salvadoran doctor will ignore the law for the higher goal of saving this woman’s life. In November, I posted an account of another Salvadoran woman, “Mery,” who was turned in to the police by her own doctors after suffering complications from a clandestine abortion. While this may appear shocking to readers in the United States, Salvadoran law requires doctors to do so. “Beatriz” and her doctors have to worry that someone will turn them in if they proceed without explicit government authorization.

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Help Commemorate 4 Important Human Rights Anniversaries at the AGM!

More than 10,000 Catholics gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the assassination of of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a prominent human rights defender who was murdered during the Salvadorean civil war (Photo Credit: Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images).

More than 10,000 Catholics gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the assassination of of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a prominent human rights defender who was murdered during the Salvadorean civil war (Photo Credit: Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images).

On Friday, March 22, Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio will address the opening ceremony at Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) to commemorate four important anniversaries for El Salvador and the international human rights movement.

  1. On March 15, 1993, the United Nations Truth Commission issued its report on human rights abuses committed during the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1991). Unlike many other truth commissions, this international body identified the names of those found responsible when it established that there was “overwhelming evidence.”
  2. The Salvadoran government protected these individuals from prosecution and further investigation by quickly passing a second amnesty law on March 20, 1993. The 1992 amnesty law already protected anyone not named by the Truth Commission. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for these laws to be overturned, a position supported by several rulings by the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
  3. These events occurred just before another important milestone for El Salvador, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero, an outspoken human rights defender, on March 24, 1980. The Truth Commission Report identified death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson as the individual who ordered Romero’s death. The 1993 amnesty law protected D’Aubuisson for the rest of his life.
  4. In recognition of the importance of Archbishop Romero’s role standing up for justice in El Salvador and as an inspiration for human rights defenders throughout the world, the United Nations declared that International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims would be held on anniversary of his death, starting on March 24, 2011.

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