In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International stated that El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is killing women and infringing upon human rights progress. Enacted in 1998, the law makes any form of abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the fetus has serious defects.
The report was compiled after nearly two years of infield research and interviews with women and children who have been affected by the law, as well as with health care professionals and social workers. It details the effects of the abortion ban, including the number of women that have died as a result, and misappropriated charges of abortion in cases of miscarriages.
According to the report, El Salvador has a lethal combination of high rates of teen pregnancy and clandestine abortions, lack of maternal education, and a paternalistic society that discriminates against women and girls. In fact, with 23 percent of teenage girls getting pregnant at least once between the ages of 15-19, El Salvador has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the region and suicide is the cause of death for over half (57 percent) of pregnant teenage girls.
Despite over 74 percent of Salvadorans in favor of selective abortion, those women and girls found guilty of abortion face two to eight years in prison, and those accused of aggravated homicide as a result of an abortion can face up to 50 years. “The ban on abortion reflects the low position of women in society and discrimination and violence against women in El Salvador,” said Erika Guevara, the Americas director at Amnesty International.
Four other Latin American countries currently have a full ban on abortion, including Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.
Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.
The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”
Student protests erupted in Santiago, Chile, yesterday when an estimated 5,000 demonstrators took to the streets to demand free, high-quality public education for all Chileans. The organization that convened the demonstrations, Asamblea Coordinadora de Estudiantes Secundarios (ACES), contends that steps taken by the Chilean government last year to quell similar protests are insufficient. Shortly after protesters began leaving a designated area, police intervened with tear gas, water cannons and crowd control horses, which prompted demonstrators to retaliate by throwing tree branches, bottles and rocks. The street conflict and demonstration lasted for approximately three hours and resulted in 50 arrests and three police officers injured.
Although yesterday’s demonstrations were the first major education-related protests of 2012, widespread protests have forced President Sebastián Piñera to replace two education ministers since 2010. Student demands also include requests for interest rate reductions on loans and a break on university fees, which have saddled many graduates with overwhelming personal debt.
Human rights organization such as Amnesty International have expressed concerns about the Piñera government’s crackdown on protesters, saying there have been complaints “by demonstrators about the use of excessive force and mistreatment of tear gas and water cannons by the police, arbitrary arrests and reports of torture and mistreatment, including beatings and threats of sexual violence.” In 2011, there were more than 40 major protests during which an estimated 5,000 people were detained.
A group of women delivered thousands of signatures demanding the restoration of therapeutic abortion to representatives of President Daniel Ortega. The signatures, collected in Europe by Amnesty International, were turned in by leaders of the Strategic Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, in hopes that international pressure will aid in passing “legislation regarding abortion to be able to save women’s lives,” according to Wendy Flores, one of the group’s leaders.
In Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador, abortions are illegal under any circumstances, including rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life. According to Flores, women in Nicaragua have died because abortions are inaccessible. She accused the government of withholding data about such deaths. The prohibition on abortions is a recent development, having been outlawed following the 2006 electoral campaign, after being allowed in cases where the mother’s life was at risk for over a century. The decision has been criticized by women’s groups, the physicians’ association of Nicaragua, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the European Union, which have demanded further discussion on the issue.
The petition was coordinated to coincide with an international Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, which saw protests and rallies in other Latin American countries to decriminalize abortions.
At first, reports were that that Mexico’s La Parota hydroelectric dam had been scrapped for good due to limited funds. After five long years of opposition rallies, blockades, legal battles, and widespread intimidation, the peasant community of Cacahuatepec in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, could finally give up their fight and claim victory.
But as it turns out, there was no such cancellation. Mexico’s state power company, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), had postponed construction of the 900MW hydroelectric dam citing the country's “sufficient generation margin, the difference between capacity and peak demand.” This is a huge letdown for the people of Cacahuatepec.
Back in 2006, I worked on a story about how the dam would affect the surrounding indigenous peasant community. Located near the tourist destination of Acapulco, residents make a living growing a variety of crops and community-owned lands, known as ejidos. Construction of the $1 billion hydroelectric project meant that an estimated 25,000 people faced the very real risk of being pushed out so that the Mexican government could flood their crops and dry up the Papagayo River. The project faced serious opposition from the United Nations, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the World Bank, which argued that the dam's energy output would be inefficient and would come at a high ecological and economic cost.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.