Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

THREE INDIGENOUS GIRLS RAPED BY SOLDIERS 16 YEARS AGO STILL AWAIT JUSTICE

On 4 June 1994, three indigenous sisters, aged 12, 13 and 14, were detained along with their mother, Delia Pérez de González, as they returned from selling vegetables in the market by a group of soldiers in a military roadblock in the municipality of Altamirano, in the southwestern state of Chiapas. They were held against their will for two hours, during which time the girls were beaten and repeatedly raped by the soldiers. Their mother was tortured and made to watch the rape of her daughters. Later on that month, the sisters reported the attacks against them to the Federal authorities and were subjected to a gynecological examination. The case was turned over the Procuraduría General de Justicia Militar, which administers Mexican military law in September of the same year. No soldiers were ever prosecuted as a result and the girls’ story was dismissed as “completely false” by the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Ministry of Defence).

Undeterred, the sisters sought the help of Mexican Human Rights groups and were able to present their case before the Inter American Court of Human Rights (CIHR) in November 1999. In April 2001 the court delivered its verdict, classifying as torture the sexual violence committed against the three girls and ordering the Mexican military authorities to investigate the crime and turn over the culprits to be prosecuted in a civilian tribunal. Nine years later these recommendations have still to be implemented.

In August, the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Gutiérrez from the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática or PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) offered each of the (now) women 500, 000 pesos (25, 000 GBP or 40, 500 USD) as compensation. This week the sisters gave a statement to the press on the subject. Citing their poverty as the reason why they are accepting this payment, the sisters also explained that they had refused to make public declarations on the subject until now. By way of a translator, they indicated that their statement was designed to make sure that none of the state or federal authorities were able to exploit their decision to accept compensation for their own gain. They pointed out the offer was “the only proof [they] have that the Mexican government publicly recognizes their responsibility” for the crime the suffered, but that, in no way did it excuse the Mexican government from obeying the CIHR sentence. Furthermore, they insisted that their mother be included in the payout and vowed to continue fighting for the soldiers who attacked them to be tried by civilian courts [1].

As I have mentioned before on this blog (01/10/2010), the CIHR has ordered the Mexican government to revise the application of military law on several occasions since, but that the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled against all proposals on the matter. This week the government presented another bill to Congress, in which it proposes to make the crimes of forced “disappearance”, torture and sexual violence prosecutable only in civilian tribunals. Experts in criminal and military law believe the bill is inadequate as it still leaves it up to the military authorities to decide whether or not to prosecute a case and does not comply with the CIHR ruling that all attacks on human rights perpetrated by soldiers should be pursued exclusively via civilian courts [2]. Even so, given the stance of the Supreme Court on other occasions, even this small reform looks unlikely to prosper.

[1] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/84628

[2] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10102704-Incumple-estandares.44805.0.html

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

DECLARATION BY THE NATIONAL REUNION OF FEMALE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN MEXICO, 14-16 OCTOBER 2010

This is a translation of the declaration issued by the National Reunion of Female Human Rights Activists in Mexico on 16 October 2010:

“We, more than sixty female human rights’ activists, from twenty of Mexico’s states and from diverse sectors and social movements declare the following:

1. Our work and commitment to human rights’ sustains, nurtures and reconstructs democracy, the rule of law and the development of decent life opportunities for the whole of society. Particularly, our actions favour liberty, citizen’s access to justice and the end to discrimination against women. As a result, the state, society, human rights’ organizations and our own organizations must recognize, strengthen and support our contributions as female human rights’ activists.

2. We are facing a failed state that has renounced its obligation to guarantee the population’s rights; one which, on repeated occasions, has used public institutions and funds to attack, criminalize and undermine our work. In this context, it has limited our ability to exercise our citizenship and has aggravated the patriarchal, misogynist culture that discriminates against women; the impunity, corruption and the worsening of violence against women; the undermining of the secular nature of the state; the violation of human rights committed by soldiers in their new role as functionaries of public security; and the protection of private interest that attack social and economic rights, among other things.

3. Female human rights activists are at increased risk of attack in all of the Mexican Republic, particularly those in the states of Chihuahua, Monterrey [sic] [1], Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero. As are activists who denounce feminicidio (femicide); those who run and work in shelters for female victims of domestic violence; those who denounce the army’s violations of human rights; those who defend women’s reproductive autonomy; those who defend the family members of the “disappeared”, persecuted or detained for political reasons; those who defend indigenous rights; and those who work in the Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender movements.

4. Threats, police raids, defamation of character, violence, sexual torture, judicial persecution, attacks on family members, murder and extrajudicial executions are some of the ways we have been attacked for being female and for our work in defending human rights. These aggressions have been carried out by federal and local authorities, as well as by private individuals and de facto powers that operate thanks to the tolerance and complicity of the authorities; such as, traffickers of women and children, drug gangs, transnational companies, religious hierarchies, conservative and paramilitary groups and local caciques (local strongmen).

5. The impunity with which these aggressions are perpetrated is alarming; it sustains the culture of violence against female human rights’ activists. In the face of this situation, it is urgent that the Mexican state assume its responsibility to ensure their safety, protection and support. This necessitates the investigation and prosecution of the culprits behind these threats, acts of hostility and attacks that we have been subject to as female human rights activists. Society for its part, and especially, Human Rights movements and our own organizations ought to better the conditions in which we carry out our work, providing us with the necessary resources and support.

6. The gravity of the attacks and the high risk field in which we operate, has led to dozens of activists to petition the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to award them protective measures. However, such measures, despite being accepted by the Mexican government, are not implemented properly. The authorities which should guarantee their implementation impose an excessive and unnecessary burden of bureaucracy on the activists, they do not provide sufficient coordination with federal and state authorities, and take very little account of individual needs. Often they hamper the imposition of protective measures, causing their erosion and increasing the vulnerability of the activists. We denounce the fact that our colleague, Margarita Guadalupe Martínez from the organization “Enlace, Comunicación y Capacitación, A. C” (Chiapas), who has been living with protective measures since March of this year, has been unable to attend this meeting because the Mexican state was unable to guarantee her safe passage to Mexico City.

7. The Mexican state must recognize its obligations in the matter of the protection of female human rights activists. This means fully complying with the Inter American Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the feminicidios in Ciudad Juárez, and the rape of two indigenous women by soldiers in Guerrero. Complying with the observations of the CEDAW [2] committee in matters relating to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which should lead to the abolition of any regulation limiting a women’s right to choose over her own body. And, modifying the current legislation to ensure that the civilian tribunals are the only ones permitted to investigate, prosecute and punish soldiers who infringe human rights and fundamental liberties.

Human rights’ activists in Mexico are a motor for the transformation of society and represent the hope for the full exercise of human rights and fundamental liberties for all, men and women alike.

LET US ALL RAISE OUR VOICES TO RECOGNISE AND PROTECT FEMALE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS’ WORK AND THEIR STRUGGLE IN MEXICO.

JUSTICE, TRUTH AND COMPENSATION FOR THE MURDERS OF ACTIVISTS DIGNA OCHOA, GRISELDO TIRADO, BETY CARIÑO AND JOSEFINA REYES.

SIGNED:

Laura Gutiérrez (MUGAC, Baja California, Tecate), Silvia Vázquez Camacho (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos A.C., Baja California, Tijuana), Blanca Mesina (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción para Regreso a Casa A.C, Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Ileana Espinoza (Red Mesa de Mujeres Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Verónica Juárez A.C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Emilia González (Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, A. C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Lucha Castro Rodríguez (Centro de Derechos de las Mujeres A.C. Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Martha Graciela Ramos Carrasco (Mujeres por México en Chihuahua A.C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez (ENLACE, Comunicación y Capacitación, A.C., Chiapas), Martha Figueroa (Grupo de mujeres de San Cristóbal de las Casas A.C., Chiapas, San Cristobal), Diana Damián (Municipio Autónomo Zapatista, Chiapas), Ana Karen López Quintana (Tamaulipas Diversidad y VIHDA Trans A.C., Tamaulipas, Tampico), Alicia Leal Puertas (Alternativas Pacíficas A.C., Nuevo León, Monterrey), Consuelo Morales (Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A.C., Nuevo León, Monterrey), Angélica Araceli Reveles Soto (CLADEM‐México, Jalisco, Guadalajara), Guadalupe López García (Lesbianas en Patlatonalli A. C., Jalisco, Guadalajara), Dora Ávila (Centro para los derechos de la Mujer Nääxwiin, Red Nacional de Promotoras y Asesoras Rurales, Oaxaca, Matías Romero), Beatriz Teresa Casas Arellanes (BARCA, Oaxaca), Emelia Ortiz García (Campaña “Si no están ellas no estamos todas”, Oaxaca, Región Triqui), Beatriz Hernández (Círculo Profesional para la Formación con Equidad de Género ¡Ndudxa Ndandi!, Oaxaca, Tlaxiaco), Edita Alavez Ruiz (UNOSJO, Mujeres Organizadas Yuubani, Oaxaca, Guelatao), Ana María Hernández (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Theres Hoechli (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Yessica Maya Sánchez (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Nadia Altamirano Díaz (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., Oaxaca), Leticia Burgos (Red Feminista Sonorense, Sonora, Ciudad Obregón), Sandra Peniche (Servicios Humanitarios en Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, Yucatán, Mérida), Espinoza Núñez (Zacatecas), Nora Isabel Bucio Nava (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., Morelos, Cuernavaca), María del María del Montserrat Díaz (Colectivo Feminista de Xalapa A.C., Veracruz, Xalapa), Ofelia Cesareo Sánchez (Coordinadora Guerrense de Mujeres Indígenas y Afromexicana, Guerrero, Chilpancingo), Silvia Castillo Salgado (Instituto Guerrerense de Derechos Humanos A.C., Guerrero, Chilpancingo), Obtilia Eugenio Manuel (OPIM, Guerrero), Andrea Eugenio Manuel (OPIM, Guerrero), Soledad Eugenio (OPIM, Guerrero), Cristina Hardaga Fernández (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, Guerrero, Tlapa), Carolina Cantú (Coordinadora Guerrense de Mujeres Indígenas y Afromexicanas, Guerrero, Tlacopa), Georgina Vargas Vera (Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Díez A.C. Guanajuato, León), Verónica Cruz (Las Libres A.C. Guanajuato, León), María Trinidad Ramírez (Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra, Estado de México, San Salvador Atenco), Martha (D.F.), Yunuhen Rangel (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., DF), Lucía Lagunes Huerta (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer , DF), Cirenia Celestino Ortega (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer , DF), Alejandra Ancheita Pagaza (Proyecto Derechos Económicos Sociales y Culturales, DF), Elga Aguilar (Comité Cerezo México, DF), Eréndira Tania Ramírez Hernández (HIJOS, DF), Josefina Chávez (Cuadernos Feministas, PRT, DF), Andrea de la Barrera Montpellier Medina Rosas (Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez A.C., D.F.), Orfe Castillo (D.F.), Laura García Coudurier (Sociedad AC, D.F.), Carmen Morales (Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer AC, D.F.), Alejandra González (Tlachinollan, D.F.), Irma Estrada Martínez (Tribunal Internacional de Conciencia, DF) [2].”

[1] Monterrey is the capital of the state of Nuevo León.

[2] The Committe for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This is part of the UN Commission for Human Rights. See their webpage,

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/index.htm

[3] The original Spanish text can be found at: http://filesocial.com/na2dj64

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, , , , ,

FEMINICIDIO IN MEXICO. KILLING WOMEN FOR BEING FEMALE

UPDATE 18 FEBRUARY 2011: a more detailed definition of feminicidio can be found in this post

When I first came to Mexico in 1999, one of the only feminist issues I was aware of (such was my vast ignorance at the time) was the question of large numbers of women being tortured and murdered in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua [1] by what appeared to be organised groups of assailants, possibly linked to the city’s drug cartels. It was a subject that had made it into the media in the UK, albeit in small amounts, mostly due to ghoulish speculations concerning the possible motives for the murders and who might be the perpetrators. This was a phenomenon that gave rise to the use of the word “feminicido” by feminist groups, appropriating, translating and adapting the English word “femicide” that had itself been adopted by feminist authors, especially, Diana E. Russell [2] to describe the murder of women “simply for being women”. What was, and unfortunately still is, startling about this phenomenon was the lack of disposition on the part of the police and investigating authorities (called “Ministerio Público” or Public Ministry in Mexico) to look into these crimes and bring the murderers to justice. As I have mentioned in passing in a previous post, relatives of three victims of femicide in Ciudad Juárez, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez and Claudia Yvette González, took their cases to the Inter American Court of Human Rights, where on the 10 December 2010, judges ruled that the Mexican judicial authorities had not done sufficient to protect the human rights of these women, whose bodies were found mutilated and abandoned in a place known locally as the Cotton Field (Campo Algodonero), and condemned the same institutions for not making proper investigations into their deaths [3].

In the last ten years the word feminicido has become a much used term by feminist and women’s rights groups to denounce the murder of women all over the Republic, not just the systemic kidnapping, torture and murder of women by organised groups. Results of this generalization have been both positive and negative. On the positive side, the adoption of this term has enabled women’s groups to publicise Mexico’s shocking rates of female murders and campaign for a more adequate response to the problem by the police and judicial authorities. This had led to the creation in 2007 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or Fevimtra). On the negative, the generalised employment of the term simply as a shorthand way of referring to the murder of a women, threatens to undermine this very battle, as over-use can generate over-familiarity and even to the questioning of the validity of the term. For example, State Prosecutors (Procuradores Estatales) routinely attempt to claim that women who die at the hands of their partners are not victims of femicide but domestic violence; a claim that can only hold water if the public is unsure of exactly what the definition of femicide actually is. Victims of domestic violence, according to the definition provided by Russell are most clearly killed as a result of their gender and their spouses’ attempts to control them. As I reported last week, Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) in the state of Guanajuato, alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities there to deny that a women’s murder counts as a feminicidio, but rather to claim that their deaths resulted from a consequence of the victim’s personal circumstances: they had an abusive partner or their jobs were high risk, or that they were in involved with drug gangs [4].

Aside from the quibble over the use of the term feminicidio, the figures available showing how many females are murder victims in Mexico are horrifying. As I have mentioned in other posts, between 1999 and 2005, 6, 000 women and girls have been murdered in the states of México, Veracruz, Chiapas, Guerrero, the Federal District, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Sonora, Baja California and Morelos. This works out at three women
murdered every day in the Republic as a whole [5]. In the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) the figure is one woman murdered every day. Equally disturbing is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is erratic. In the state of Mexico, only 35% of murders were convicted between 2000 and 2005; in 20% of cases an arrest warrant has been issued, but no one has been arrested; and, in the other 45% of cases the investigation is still ongoing [6]. In the case of the Campo Algodonero women, reports this week indicate that the Mexican state has done very little to comply with the Inter American Court’s ruling beyond publishing the ruling on its websites. The federal government alleges it is not liable to pay the damages that the Court has indicated, and authorities in the State of Chihuahua have promised to pay only half the sum stipulated. Meanwhile, half-hearted attempts have been made to reopen the cases in Chihuahua with little success [7].

Paternalist and misogynist attitudes seem to be at the root of the authorities’ lack of interest in pursuing investigations into the assassination of women. The National Congress’s Special Commission for Femicide, noted last month that the state of Guanajuato shows more dedication in prosecuting women accused of procuring abortion than men accused of murdering women [8]. As I have stated above, the Procurador of this state has implied that the lifestyles and jobs of a women are used to imply that their murders are not sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant. The women’s groups who help the victims’ families in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua also denounce a similar attitude on the part of the authorities who should be investigating the feminicidos there [3]. In short, the idea still prevails that women of low income, who work in a bar or strip club or a maquiladora (factory) or have the misfortunate to have a violent father or husband, are somehow to blame for their own deaths.

All this leads to me to end with an invitation. The Unifem campaign Say NOUNiTE to End Violence against Women which seeks to end violence against women and girls is circulating a petition on its website in favour of women being included in peace-keeping measures and against sexual violence against women in war. They are going to hand the petition to the UN next week. The link to the petition is on the right hand side of my blog page. Sign please. As Mexico drifts closer and closer to a war-like situation such matters are in the interest of Mexican women.

[ADDITION 26 JANUARY 2011: FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS SUBJECT YOU CAN SEE MY LATER POSTS HERE, HERE, HERE AND HERE.]

 

[1] Trawling the internet I have only found articles dating from 2002, although I do remember reading about the issue before going to Mexico in 1999. See for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/mar/25/gender.uk; and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/nov/02/mexico

[2] See Diana E. Russell and Roberta A. Harmes, Femicide: A Global Perspective, New York, Teachers’ College Press, 2001; A translation this text entitled Feminicidio: Una perspective global, with an introduction by Mexican academic Marcela Legarde y de los Ríos was published by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México en 2006. Available (in fragments) at http://books.google.com.mx

[3] See, http://www.campoalgodonero.org.mx/

[4] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/711565.html?awesm=fbshare.me_ATqfU

[5] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091302-CONTEXTO-Estado-inc.44116.0.html. A good study of the violence perpetrated against women in Mexico available on-line is Violencia contra la mujer en México, ed. Teresa Fernández de Juan, México, Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, 2004. See: http://www.mujereshoy.com/imagenes/3640_a_MEXICO_Violencia_Mujer%2019%20MARZO.pdf

[6] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091301-REPORTAJE-Cuanto-ma.44114.0.html

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/10/11/index.php?section=politica&article=023n1pol; and http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10101508-Ni-se-cumple-senten.44676.0.html

[8] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092907-En-Guanajuato-se-ca.44424.0.htmlhttp://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092907-En-Guanajuato-se-ca.44424.0.html

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

“NO ONE CAN MAKE YOU FEEL INFERIOR WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT.” IF ONLY IT WERE THAT SIMPLE…

I thought I’d do something different in my blog this week. I have generally opted for a journalistic approach to this space; with the aim of bringing Mexican women´s issues to an English-speaking audience. Not that I flatter myself that my audience is huge, obviously; but I am of the opinion that even a little publicity is better than none at all. My proudest moment so far is being credited on the “Women’s Views on News” website last week when it reported the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling on the case of the two indigenous women raped by soldiers [1]. As I am sure is more than evident, little of the material I present is my own; rather it is all gathered from the press and women’s activist sites here in Mexico.

This week I thought I’d try a reflection instead. Not there is shortage of material, but because as I was thinking about what to write today, I couldn’t get a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I read this week out of my head: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent [2].” Why? Because it reminded me of many conversations I have had over the years, when people have put it to me that advocating women’s equality (usually in the context of the workplace or education) is all very well, but that given the fact that there is much legislation in place in Mexico with the aim of promoting this laudable aim, the fact that women are generally underrepresented in the workforce, or don’t continue with education or work once they have children, is due to the fact that they don’t want to.

This quote also echoed in my head as I read follow-up stories on the  two women from Guerrero I mentioned last week. Both of them are exceptionally brave and determined women. Neither has consented to accept second class treatment from the police and judicial authorities in Mexico, nor have they allowed themselves to be intimidated by the threats made against them by the same authorities. In the case of Valentina Rosendo, it appears that she even had to fight against the social stigma of being a rape victim in her own village, a traditional community which, she says, discriminated against her and ultimately expelled her for being “a raped woman, a women who is no longer worth anything” (“me discriminaron por mujer violada,
como mujer que ya no vale“) [3].

Finally, it also made me remember other news stories I have read recently: for example, about hate crimes against women (feminicidio) in the state of Guanajuato [4]. This report quotes Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) who alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities to deny that a women’s murder counts as a feminicidio, but rather to claim that their deaths resulted from a consequence of the victim’s personal circumstances: they had an abusive partner or their jobs were high risk, or that they were in involved with drug gangs. What she objects to is the fact that the majority of the 31 female deaths registered in the state so far this year have not been properly investigated because many of the victims, due to such personal circumstances, were not deemed sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant.

My reflection on all this being? Not consenting to discrimination; or, refusing to accept the inferior position Mexican society accords to women is not as easy as simply quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. It involves confronting and rejecting stereotypes and prejudices, from the small yet insidious idea that women don’t make up half the workforce because they don’t want to work; to the more preposterous and insulting idea that some victims are not important enough to warrant that the crimes against them go punished. This is not to say Roosevelt is not right; but rather that standing up for women’s rights and equality can be a hard and thankless task. Those women who do, especially in circumstances as difficult as those faced by Valentina Rosendo, are special people whose struggle deserves to be recognised far beyond the borders of Mexico.

[1] http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2010/10/two-mexican-women-finally-find-justice-after-being-raped-eight-years-ago/

[2] http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_e_roosevelt.htm

[3] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/columnas/86450.html

[4] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/711565.html?awesm=fbshare.me_ATqfU

Filed under: Feminism, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,

MEXICO CONDEMNED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AGAINST WOMEN

On 16 February 2002, 17 year old indigenous girl Valentina Rosendo Cantú was approached by eight soldiers from the 41st Infantry Battalion as she washed clothes in a stream in Barranca Bejuca, in the municipality of Ayutla de los Libres in the State of Guerrero (see maps). The soldiers demanded to know the whereabouts of a gang of “hooded men”; and when Valentina denied having seen such a gang, they pointed their guns at her. As they continued interrogating her, the soldiers beat her and held her down by her hair, in the end two of the soldiers raped her in front of the others. On 22 March that same year, 25 year old Inés Fernández Ortega, from the nearby community of Barranca Tecuani, was attacked in her home while she cared for her four children. Eleven soldiers entered her house and after demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband, a member of the Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa (Me’phaa Indigenous Community Organization), they knocked her to the floor of her kitchen. One soldier raped her while her children were in the next room. Both Inés and Valentina bravely denounced what had happened to them, travelling eight hours from their village to the nearest town then they could report their rapes to the authorities. But the investigations did not prosper. First the cases were turned over to the military authorities who did little to look into the matter. Worse still, in the case of Inés, the investigating authority lost crucial evidence pertaining to her case. Needless to say, no one has been prosecuted for these crimes eight years later.

The women have refused to be silent, however. In 2003 with the help of their Indigenous Community Organization and Human Rights groups, Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña “Tlachinollan” and the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) they presented their case before the Inter American Commission for Human Rights. The Commission published a ruling in their favour and against the Mexican State for violating the women’s human rights in 2007. This ruling was ignored in Mexico, so as result it was passed to the Inter American Court of Human Rights. During this period, the women, their families and their community came under immense pressure from the State to abandon their case: five members of the Community Organization were imprisoned and Inés’s brother was murdered. Despite all this, both women agreed to take the stand in the Court in April and May of this year. In the proceedings, barristers for the Mexican State alleged that the women were lying and had suffered no violence at the hands of the military.

Yesterday (1 October 2010), the Inter-American Court published its ruling on both cases. It found that both women had unquestionable been tortured and sexually assaulted and that the Mexican State was directly responsible for violating their human rights to live without violence and without being tortured amongst others. Moreover, it found that the state had failed to adequately investigate these crimes and reiterated an earlier sentence ordering the Mexican state to reduce the fuero militar (the instances in which crimes perpetrated by members of the military are subject to the jurisdiction of military authorities) [1].

This ruling comes in the same week that the non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch (HWR) sent a public letter to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. This letter roundly condemns the unwillingness of Calderón Hinojosa’s government to take human rights into consideration in the war he has been fighting against drug traffickers in Mexico since 2007. The HRW reminds the President that “In times of extreme violence [such as the ones we are experiencing now in Mexico], it is the government’s duty to protect its population’s fundamental human rights, rather than ignore them with the pretext of establishing security [2].” The HRW is referring to the numerous abuses committed by members of the armed forces and Federal Police against civilians and the state’s failure to protect human rights activists and journalists who have reported on the drug violence. It does not mention- but I will- that these abuses have usually been “whitewashed” by governmental spokespeople and ministers who invariably accuse those attacked or killed as being members of a drug gang.

Neither this letter nor the Inter American Court of Human Rights’s ruling is likely to go down very well here in Mexico, where criticism from outside is generally greeted with open hostility. It is notable that the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice has rejected its call for the reduction of the fuero militar on more than one occasion; most recently, on 7 September this year [3]. However, in the government´s favour, a similar sentence passed by the Court in December 2009 in the case of three women who had been “disappeared” in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, victims of feminicidio (hate crime against women) is being addressed [4], albeit very slowly. It is to be hoped that this latest ruling will also force the Mexican state to revise its policies to offer its population, and most especially its women, more protection against abuses perpetrated by the military.

[1] http://justiciaparanuestrashijas.blogspot.com/2010/10/el-estado-mexicano-es-responsable-de-la.html

[2] http://www.sergioaguayo.org/biblioteca/Carta_HRW_septiembre2010.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2010/09/07/desecha-scjn-analizar-constitucionalidad-de-fuero-militar ; http://enmexicoseviolanlosderechoshumanos.blogspot.com/2010/09/desecha-scjn-declarar-inconstitucional.html

[4] http://www.campoalgodonero.org.mx/ The name of this case is “Campo Algodonero” (Cotton Field), the place where the women’s bodies were finally discovered.

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

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