Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Indigenous Rights Activist Receives New Death Threats

I have written before of how dangerous it is to be a woman in Mexico. It is estimated that 34, 000 women were murdered between 1985 and 2009. On Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) presented a report to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in which the Mexican government was criticised for failing to adequately address the situation. The report’s author, Rupert Knox, said:

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In the last few years, Mexico has enacted a number of laws and created institutions designed to protect women from violence. However, a large part of the problem lies in the weakness of its institutions and the non-application of these laws.” As a result, he urged the Mexican government that it show “a stronger commitment” to protecting women’s rights.

The report also stated that during 2009, there were nearly 15, 000 reports of rape in Mexico; although, given the reticence of women to report this crime, AI estimates that the true figure could be as high as 74, 000.

According to AI, women activists are particularly vulnerable to attack, especially if they work against gender violence or human rights abuses. Sadly, they often fail to receive adequate protection from the state.

Examples of this are numerous. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who campaigned tirelessly for the prosecution of her daughter’s murderer was killed on the steps of the State Government Place in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua in December 2010. Norma Esther Andrade founder of the Organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Our Daughters Returned Home), has received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to protect her and three other female members of her organization. Even so, Andrade was shot on 2 December 2011 outside her home in Juárez City, Chihuahua. She was forcibly discharged from hospital a few days later, despite still requiring continual medical attention, due to the fact those treating her in the hospital had also received numerous threads. She moved to Mexico City, but could not escape her persecutors. In February this year she was attacked with a knife in her home. Thankfully her injuries were not serious, but she has had to leave Mexico for her own protection.

Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez, an activist for indigenous rights from Comitán, Chiapas, has been under threat since 2009. In this year Margarita complained about an illegal search that had been carried out on her house by elements of the local police. From this point on, she has received numerous death threats via telephone and letter; presumably originating from members of the police. On 30 June, as she was preparing to leave to attend a CEDAW conference in New York as part of a contingent of Mexican human rights activists, she received a written threat pasted to her door in which the authors styling themselves “The Power” stated:

“In this matter you have two options. First, you leave the country. Second, you publish this letter and you are a dead woman.” It warned her that, were she to take the second option, “neither the State Prosecutor’s Office, nor the police, nor the national and international human rights organisations will be able to help you.”

Situations like this make it quite clear that campaigning for human rights is a high risk occupation. The women who do it risk their lives on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is also clear that the Mexican authorities are incapable of protecting them and, in some cases, actually engaging in threatening behaviour themselves. How many more women (and men) need to die until Mexico’s politicians realise that they cannot fix the situation merely by passing more and more legislation? Written legislation can never work until the ability to break laws with impunity comes to an end.

There is a petition currently circulating to ask the Mexican government to provide adequate protection for Margarita. You can sign here.

An edited version of this appears on e-feminist.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , ,

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