Andorran government seeks to prosecute women’s rights activist

The government has accused Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, from Stop Violències, of spreading “lies” at CEDAW for speaking up against the lack of reproductive rights in the country

November 15, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Vanessa Mendoza Cortés had accused the Andorran government at the 74th session CEDAW for limiting women's sexual health rights. (Photo: Altaveu)

The government of Andorra has requested the attorney general’s office to initiate proceedings against Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, leader of the women’s rights group Stop Violències, for speaking out on the issues facing women in the country, especially the right to abortion, at a United Nations forum. Cortés had participated in the 74th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) held in Geneva from October 21 to November 8.

CEDAW is the treaty body that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. Cortés shared concerns about the government’s inaction on the demand for the decriminalization of abortion, along with the difficulties faced by the women living in the small principality.

Following the session in Geneva, on November 11, CEDAW stated that Andorra can not limit women’s sexual health rights. CEDAW has called for reforms to Andorra’s current criminal code in order to decriminalize abortion. As per CEDAW, the government must guarantee free access to information and education about sexual and reproductive health, and ensure that doctors do not act under constant fear of investigation and prosecution. The convention also reiterated the need for implementing programs that guarantee the availability, accessibility and use of modern contraceptives.

However, instead of attempting to comply with CEDAW’s recommendations, the Andorran government – led by a centre-right coalition headed by Xavier Espot Zamora – has decided to target Cortés for allegedly defaming the country through “lies” at the UN forum.

Responding to the government’s move pushing for Cortés’ prosecution, Stop Violències stated that “We are not afraid.” According to an Altaveu report, Cortés also maintains that she has only exposed before the UN the reality that is lived by the women in the country, without lies.

Meanwhile feminist groups in Andorra including the Feminist Action, and progressive political parties have welcomed the CEDAW recommendations. Social Democratic Party (PS) leader Susanna Vela applauded the directions by the UN committee, and demanded that the government act swiftly to implement them. Vela has also requested the government to backtrack from prosecuting Cortés.

Abortion has not been legalized in Andorra so far, citing an ambiguous validation in the 1993 constitution which “recognizes the right to life” and calls for “protecting it in its different phases.” However rights groups in the country, including Stop Violències, have been campaigning against the misinterpretation of the constitutional provision by the authorities, and the criminalization of abortion. In order to get the procedure even in emergency situations, pregnant women in the country are forced to visit facilities in nearby towns in Spain or France.

Earlier on September 28, on the International Safe Abortion Day, the Andorran feminist movement hit the streets, demanding the decriminalization of abortion.