Vanessa Mendoza Cortes

Andorra: Activist on trial for raising concerns about total abortion ban at UN meeting

Abortion rights activist, Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, should have never been charged with a crime or put on trial for defending human rights, said Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Women’s Link ahead of her defamation trial on Monday.

Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, President of Stop Violence (Stop Violències), a civil society organisation, was charged with criminal defamation after voicing concerns about Andorra’s total abortion ban at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to examine the country’s record on women’s rights in 2019.

“This politically motivated trial marks the latest attempt by the Andorran authorities to silence criticism about the harmful impact of their total abortion ban. This prosecution is a deliberate and shocking attempt to punish a respected human rights defender for her participation at a UN meeting,” said Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Gender Justice in Europe.

In 2020 the public prosecutor brought three criminal defamation charges against her, but following an international outcry, two of the charges involving prison sentences were dropped. She is currently charged with ‘a crime against the prestige of the institutions’ and if convicted, she faces a fine of 6,000 euros, an additional 6,000 euros in civil damages and a six month ban from holding public office.
Given the serious human rights concerns about Vanessa Mendoza Cortés’ protracted prosecution, two eminent human rights experts will be attending the hearing on Monday as independent trial observers and will assess the court proceedings’ compliance with international human rights standards.

Andorra is the only country in Europe with a total ban on abortion. As a result, people who need an abortion are compelled to travel abroad to seek the healthcare they need, violating their rights and inflicting additional stress.

“Abortion is an essential part of healthcare and access to abortion is a human right. Women human rights defenders like Vanessa Mendoza Cortés who advocate for reproductive rights should never face reprisals and other forms of intimidation. The charges should be dropped, and the Andorran authorities should bring an end to reprisals against human rights defenders who engage with the United Nations,” said Katrine Thomasen, Associate Director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The organisations are deeply concerned about provisions in the penal code on defamation against state institutions and the heads of state, including the article under which Vanessa Mendoza Cortés has been charged. According to international human rights standards, government and public officials should legitimately be subject to scrutiny or public criticism. Laws that safeguard against attacks on reputation should not be designed to protect abstract values or state institutions.

“The prosecution of Vanessa Mendoza Cortés shows how criminalization of abortion and abortion bans can lead to violations of the rights to information, freedom of expression and freedom of association, and limit public debate and government scrutiny,” said Gema Fernández, Managing Attorney at Women’s Link.


On 28 November, in a public statement, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Andorran authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression for women’s rights defender Vanessa Mendoza Cortés and ensure an enabling environment for women’s rights defenders in the country.

More than 70,000 people from countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Spain or the UK have called on the Andorran Attorney General to drop the charges against Vanessa Mendoza Cortés.

The unjust prosecution of Vanessa Mendoza Cortés and the concerted efforts to delegitimise her work to advance sexual and reproductive rights follow a global pattern of intimidation, attacks and stigmatisation of people who are defending the right to abortion, making their work increasingly difficult to carry out.