On June 19, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights monitored criminal proceedings against Maricela Albizuri before the Ninth Court of Instruction of San Salvador, El Salvador. The observation was conducted as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative. Ms. Albizuri was charged with aggravated homicide after seeking urgent medical care in the wake of a home delivery and still birth. Although the San Salvador court ultimately dismissed the charges against her for lack of evidence, the investigation and prosecution of Ms. Albizuri is deeply troubling.
On October 31, 2018, Ms. Albizuri gave birth to a child at home, unassisted. The child did not survive and Ms. Albizuri experienced medical complications. Almost immediately after Ms. Albizuri arrived at the hospital, where she underwent various emergency medical procedures, she was handcuffed to her bed. As noted by the defense, doctors arrived alongside police investigators soon thereafter to conduct a gynecological exam. According to defense counsel, police investigators were in the room during the exam. Four days after entering the hospital, Ms. Albizuri was transported to a woman’s prison, where she was detained from November 2018 to May 2019.
As stated by the San Salvador court, the doctor’s exam conducted in the hospital proved only that Ms. Albizuri possessed the characteristics of a woman who had recently given birth and the autopsy report showed only that the child had died due to asphyxiation - a leading cause of still births worldwide, especially in the absence of quality prenatal care and medical care at birth.
The court thereby concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the State’s contention that Ms. Albizuri had harmed her child. Additionally, the court that revoked Ms. Albizuri’s detention in May found that the seven months she spent in prison had a detrimental effect on her mental health, a foreseeable result of such treatment in light of Ms. Albizuri’s ordeal.
The immediate detention and interrogation of a woman seeking urgent medical care in the wake of a traumatic incident, including the presence of police investigators during private examinations, implicates the basic rights to health and dignity, among others. Moreover, given the apparent dearth of evidence differentiating between this incident and any other tragic still birth, it is troubling that the prosecution pushed ahead with the charges, leaving Ms. Albizuri to languish in detention. Unfortunately, Ms. Albizuri’s prosecution resembles other reported cases in which the state has filed homicide charges against economically marginalized women for out of hospital miscarriages and still births.
A full report on the proceedings against Ms. Albizuri is forthcoming. Read CFJ’s statement on the case here: https://cfj.org/news/.