Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Heart-Breaking Report from Chihuahua, Mexico by the NGO Justice for Our Daughters

This post is a report I recently translated for the NGO Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice For Our Daughters). It makes for sad reading. It also should be prefixed with a trigger warning.

INFORMATION ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN THE STATE OF CHIHUAHUA

The following pages outline some statistics about murder, sexual violence and disappearances which show the violent reality in which the women of the state of Chihuahua live. The information is taken from official sources, newspaper investigations and non-governmental organizations.

Murders of Women

Between 1993 to 2011 at least 1, 776 women and children have been violently murdered in the state of Chihuahua [1]. According to the Mexican Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía or INEGI), this region probably has the highest murder rate in the world for women, with 34.73 murders for every 100, 000 women [2].

Since 2008, the state of Chihuahua has the highest murder rate for women in Mexico [3]. There have been multiple recommendations from international organisations that the Mexican State guarantee the victims’ access to justice; that it take steps to punish those responsible; and, that it prevent these murders continuing. Despite this, the number of women murdered in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are unprecedented in the state’s history. In only one year (2011), more women have been murdered that in the whole of the previous decade [4].

While the government suggests that the increase in murders may be linked to the war it is undertaking against the drug traffickers in the region, three aspects of these murders worry local organizations. Firstly, the huge increase in the number of these crimes; secondly, the fact that none of these murders have been properly investigated; and thirdly, the obvious pattern and similarity between the crimes which suggest that they are the results of people trafficking. In February 2012 at least three bodies were recovered from a field in Praxexis Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua.

  • Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15 year old. Reported missing on 19 August 2010.
  • Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17 years old. Reported missing on 16 June 2010.
  • Lizbeth Aviles García, 17 years old. Reported missing 22 April 2009 [5].

In the case of these three missing girls, their mothers filed the required missing persons report, but the authorities failed to undertake their obligation to activate the Alba protocol or use another form of immediate search for the women and girls reported missing. This contravenes the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s order in this respect. From the girls’ files it is clear that the authorities did not undertake the search immediately or thoroughly. Quite the opposite, it is clear that they minimized the facts and limited themselves to writing the missing persons reports. As a result, the girls’ mothers carried out the search. In the field, the authorities have found various other bones but have been unable or unwilling to identify them.

Sexual violence

In the last four years, military presence has increased in the northern border and with it, every day dangers to the population. No measures have been implemented to reduce these risks, mostly in terms of abuse and the violation of women’s human rights. In April 2008, as a response to the increase in violence caused by organized crime in the region, the national government set in motion Operation All Chihuahua (Operative Conjunto Chihuahua). This was a joint operation between the military, federal and state police. However, this did not help to quell the violence. Statistical evidence shows the relation between these types of mixed operations and the increase in murders in some regions of Mexico [6].

As part of these operations, the Federal Government sent 9, 000 federal police and soldiers to the state of Chihuahua. However, the state did not foresee the consequences for women of the military/police occupation. According to official data, between March 2009 and April 2010, there were 1, 017 reports of abuse against the police and soldiers in Ciudad Juarez; that is to say three per day. Nearly half of these (445) were filed by women.

Just like the murder rate, sexual violence has incremented considerably. In 2011 alone, 698 people reported being the victims of sexual violence in the State, 598 were women; the majority of which (399), were younger than 17 years old [7]. Chihuahua is among the states with the highest rate of rape in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 727 reports of sexual violence were made each year. That is to say, two per day [8]. This figure could easily be other as a large number of victims do not report this type of crime for fear of being victimized once more or because of the high rate of impunity,

Disappeared Women

The number of women and girls who have disappeared in the state of Chihuahua has increased considerably. Many of these women are probably victims of people traffickers.

According to official figures obtained by local organisations, in 2011 alone, at least 91 women were reported missing (and remain missing today). Of these, 50 went missing in Ciudad Juarez. The graph shoes the drastic increase in the number of women reported missing in the State of Chihuahua and in Ciudad Juarez between 1993 and 2011. Of these women, 60% are minors. Girls between 13 and 17 make up the majority of cases [9]. Local NGOs believe that the women could be victims of people traffickers, deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods, and sexually assaulted before being murdered.

National Institutions Established to Help Female Victims of Violence

The creation of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nactional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra Mujeres or CONAVIM) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence Against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or FEVIMTRA), set up to help those affected by violence resulting from their gender has not led to better strategies to reduce violence against women or improve access to justice for victims of these crimes. The scant diffusion of these institutions’ objectives and the lack of control mechanisms implemented to evaluate their performance and effectiveness is very worrying. On a local level, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, has successfully lobbied for the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to deal with victims of gendered violence and femicide. However, NGOs are concerned that not enough resources are assigned to this office and their staff are not properly trained.

Penal Justice System

The State of Chihuahua was the first to change over to the accusatory system (oral trial system like that of the US) in 2007. Various NGOs participated in the drawing up of new legislation dealing with gendered violence and the inclusion of a number of articles designed to protect women’s and victims’ rights. This wide-ranging and unprecedented participation meant that Chihuahua has one of the most advanced laws on the subject of women’s human rights in Latin America. However, NGOs are worried by recently proposed laws that would go against this legislation and whose proposers exclude them from their discussion.

[1] Information obtained by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (JPNH) through freedom of information requests and a daily revision of newspaper articles.

[2] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010. As a reference point, the World Health Organization indicates that South Africa has the highest female murder rate with an indicator of 8.8 murders per 100, 000.

[3] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010.

[4] Between 1993 and 2003, between 260 and 370 women were murdered. Inter-American Court for Human Rights. González and others vs. Mexico (“Campo Algodonero” or Cotton Field Case). Sentence of 16 November 2009. C Series no. 205.

[5] The dates quoted were published by the Chief Prosecuting Officer of the State of Chihuahua (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua) in January 2012.

[6] Source: Fernando Escalante, “Homicidios 2008-2009. La muerte tiene permiso,” Nexos, January 2011. (The operations began in 2007).

[7] Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer in response to a freedom of information request filed by JPNH on 8 February 2012 (folio 005352012).

[8] Source: Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.

[9]Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer. This information is provided due to an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

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