Vanessa Mendoza Cortes

Andorra: Acquittal of activist who raised concerns about total abortion ban at a UN meeting “an important victory”

The acquittal of abortion rights activist, Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, on defamation charges is an important victory but she should never have been charged in the first place, said Amnesty International following a court decision today.

In a joint public statement with the Centre for Reproductive Rights, Women’s Link Worldwide and Front Line Defenders the organisations welcome today’s decision acquitting Vanessa Mendoza Cortés and remind the authorities that she should face no further intimidation or reprisals for carrying out her important and legitimate human rights work.

“Today’s acquittal upholds Vanessa Mendoza Cortés’ right to freedom of expression and affirms the legitimacy of the efforts of all those defending women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights. However, Vanessa Mendoza Cortés has paid a high price for defending human rights. She has endured an unjust and protracted judicial process lasting more than four years. This has impinged on her crucial work and that of the organisation she represents.  

Vanessa Mendoza Cortés has paid a high price,  enduring an unjust and protracted judicial process lasting more than four years.

“We call on the Andorran authorities to publicly recognize the legitimacy of the human rights work carried out by Vanessa Mendoza Cortés. The authorities must take concrete measures to ensure she and other activists can defend the human rights of women and girls in Andorra, including the right to safe and legal abortion, without intimidation and fear of reprisals.

“Andorra should comply with its obligations to decriminalize abortion and make access to it safe and legal in the country.”

Background

Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, President of the women’s rights organisation Stop Violence (Stop Violències), 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.

In 2020, after the Government filed a complaint, the public prosecutor brought three criminal defamation charges against her, but following an international outcry, two of the charges involving prison sentences were dropped. In December 2023 Vanessa Mendoza Cortés faced trial accused of a ‘crime against the prestige of the institutions’.

Vanessa Mendoza Cortés was charged under provisions in Andorra’s penal code punishing defamation against state institutions and the heads of state. 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 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.