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) .
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 .” 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 . 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 , 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.
 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
 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.