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 .
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 . Even so, given the stance of the Supreme Court on other occasions, even this small reform looks unlikely to prosper.