Andorra: Defamation charges against activist who raised rights concerns before UN Committee must be dropped

A human rights defender who faces four years in jail after speaking about women’s rights, including their right to safe abortion, at a United Nations expert forum, should have all charges against her dropped, Amnesty International said ahead of a hearing before the judge in Andorra tomorrow.

The criminal defamation charges against Vanessa Mendoza Cortes, were brought by the Andorran government after she spoke about the situation of women and girls in the country at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2019. Andorra is one of the few remaining countries in the world to have a total ban on abortion.

Prosecuting a respected human rights defender as a consequence of her legitimate work and participation in a UN expert body meeting is a shocking act of intimidation
Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International

“Prosecuting a respected human rights defender as a consequence of her legitimate work and participation in a UN expert body meeting is a shocking act of intimidation and an attempt to shut down freedom of expression,” said Monica Costa Riba, Senior Campaigner, Amnesty International.

“Vanessa Mendoza Cortes should be supported in carrying out her work defending the rights of women and girls, rather than being criminalized for it.”

Vanessa Mendoza Cortes, a psychologist and the President of women’s rights organisation Associacio Stop Violencies, used the UN expert forum to call for the decriminalization of abortion in Andorra and greater reproductive rights for women and girls.

The government of Andorra filed a criminal complaint for false accusation claiming that their “good name and prestige” had been compromised. Vanessa Mendoza Cortes was charged in 2020, with the Public Prosecutor using the report she had submitted to the UN body as evidence.

The charges against her carry heavy penalties, including a potential sentence of up to four years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 30,000 euros.

Andorran authorities should focus their energies on fulfilling their obligations to better protect women’s and girls’ reproductive rights rather than criminalizing those who speak up for them
Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International

“Instead of using criminal sanctions to  prevent Vanessa Mendoza Cortes from voicing her opinions freely, the Andorran authorities should drop all charges against her,” said Monica Costa Riba.

“We urge the Andorran authorities to focus their energies on fulfilling their obligations to better protect women’s and girls’ reproductive rights rather than criminalizing those who speak up for them.”

For more information or to arrange an interview contact press@amnesty.org stefan.simanowitz@amnesty.org  +44 2030365599

Background 

The government of Andorra filed a criminal complaint for false accusation against Vanessa Mendoza Cortes, claiming that their good name and prestige had been compromised. The state drew on provisions in the criminal code that should be reformed. Defamation should not be a criminal offence nor used to protect governments, abstract values or state institutions from criticism and scrutiny.  Andorra should reform these articles and not apply them pending their reform.

The hearing scheduled for 17 February is part of the preliminary proceedings against Vanessa Mendoza Cortes.

Amnesty International public statement https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR12/3684/2021/en/