Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer


Protests by the People's Front for the Defence of their Land

UPDATE: Today, 4 May 2011, marks the fifth anniversay of the assault described below on women arrested in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State, Mexico. You can link to the Amnesty blog and petition page here.


Each year Amnesty International organises a letter-writing event, the Write-a-thon, to coincide with International Human Rights Day (10 December). In the week of 4-12 December participants from over 50 countries will send letters to twelve governments with the aim of putting pressure on them to free political prisoners, protect and help human rights activists or, to seek justice for those whose human rights have been abused. Of the twelve cases featured by Amnesty this year, one is from Mexico. It concerns forty-seven women who were arrested in 2006 in a police operation in San Salvador Atenco, in the state of Mexico. According to the case sheet available on Amnesty International’s webpage, dozens of the arrested were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse by the police officers arresting them. Once they were in the Saniaguito prison in Toluca, they were examined by doctors who then failed to properly document their injuries or gather evidence of the sexual abuse they had suffered. 26 women claim to have been sexually abused; 14 of whom latter pressed charges via the entonces Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra las Mujeres (Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Relating to Acts of Violence Against Women, or FEVIM) [1].

Here are testimonies from three of the women arrested that day taken from a report drawn up by the Centro de Derechos Humanos Pro Miguel Agustín Juárez and the Organización Mundial contra la Tortura in 2006[2]:

“[When the policemen entered the house] They ordered us kneel down in front of a wall with our hands on the back of our necks and our blouses covering our faces and started beating us on the head with their truncheons. They started touching my breasts and bottom, and suddenly I felt a hand touching my genitals and inserting their fingers inside me. Then they ordered us to stand up […], they carried on hitting us and told us to leave the house and then kept us on the pavement, I remember that more than five or six policemen were brutally beating a compañero [male member of the group] and others were feeling a compañera‘s [female member of the group] breasts, and then there was me […] One policeman, I think he was the Commander asked me where I was from, and when I replied he shouted to another “Look this bitch is from Tepito [3]”, he pulled my hair and started to hit me until I started bleeding […] [Then they put us in the back of a van where] one said, “we have to give this bitch calzón chino [4]”. He then began pulling my knickers and realized that I was menstruating because I was wearing a sanitary towel. He shouted to the other policemen “look this bitch is bleeding, let’s make her even more dirty” and then I felt him violently insert his fingers in my vagina repeatedly for a long time, I was not thinking straight by then, but I remember wondering “My God what are they going to do to me?”

“Alejandra” a 22-year-old student.

“As they put us in the van they were hitting us, I was hit in the left eye with a truncheon. Three people forced me to sit in the back seats, they only put women, and I was one of them. One of them [the policemen] asked me my address, age and took a photograph. Then they started to grab my breasts […], putting their hands in my mouth and making me suck them. Then one made me give him oral sex. He finished and the second came, and he wanted the same oral sex. He finished and left. Then the third one arrived and he said that if I wanted him to help me I would have to be his puta [prostitute] for a year and go to live where he wanted […] he also put his hand in my vagina […] I gave him oral sex because he had me by my hair and was threatening to beat me up if I didn’t. He stole my mobile phone and 300 pesos [about 15 UKP], he took off my jumper that I had spat out his sperm on. Then the fourth arrived and started to masturbate when another said to him “not now mate we’re here”. They cleaned me up and gave me a cigarette, but I don’t smoke. Then they took me to the prison.”

“Sandra”, a 18-year-old worker.

“When they put me on the bus […] I was piled on top of other people who were lying on the floor. They dragged me to the back seat and undid my underwear. They pulled down my trousers round my ankles and pulled my blouse over my face. They smacked my buttocks with great force while threatening me with rape and death. The policeman who was beating me demanded that I said “cowboy” and he hit me five or six times until he heard what he wanted to hear. Then he penetrated my vagina with his fingers while second person (policeman) hit me in the stomach and put his tongue into my mouth. He also penetrated me while he called to other people, saying “come and hump this bitch”. Each of the three pinched my nipples and pressed my breasts very hard. Later they penetrated me with some kind of object that I could not clearly identify but it gave the impression of being metal. They forced me to travel naked with my head pressed against the seat and my buttocks in the air the whole time. They hit me on the buttocks, the legs and the ribs.”

“Ana”, a 27-year-old student.

As a result of pressure from Human Rights Organizations, a federal report later named 34 policemen suspected of being responsible for the attacks, but since then nothing has been done to bring them to justice. In fact, the FEVIM passed responsibility for prosecuting the policemen to the Procurador General del Estado de México (State of Mexico’s Prosecutor’s Office or PGEM) in July 2009. As I have had cause to mention a number of times on this blog, Mexico State has a terrible record in the Republic for prosecuting crimes of violence against women. So much so, that as I reported last week, the Federal State has issued a reprimand to the governor, Enrique Peña Nieto (a contender for 2012’s presidential elections), ordering him to better his state’s record. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this case should be so ignored.

It is even more unlikely that Peña Nieto will favour bringing the police aggressors to justice, given the wider context of the Atenco women. Their arrests were part of a police operation against the organizers of the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra (Peoples’ Front For the Defence of their Land, or FPDT), a local group in San Salvador Atenco which opposed the forcible expropriation of the village’s land by the government of ex President Vicente Fox for the relocation of Mexico City’s airport in 2006. Twelve members of this group, including its leader, Ignacio del Valle, who were also captured at the same time as the women mentioned, have only recently been released (in July 2010) after four years in prison [5]. For her part, América del Valle, sister to Ignacio and also a leader of the movement, had taken refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy to avoid being detained by the Federal authorities. Enrique Peña Nieto was the governor of the State of Mexico during all this period (his term runs from 2005 to 2011). Prosecuting the policemen makes his government look bad and might affect his presidential ambitions.

The Amnesty International Write-a-thon could therefore work to make it much more politically expedient for Peña Nieto to bring the abusers to justice rather than sweeping the affair under the carpet. Write your letter; don’t let this abuse go unpunished.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10072101-Esperan-justicia-la.43384.0.html

[2] The testimonies come from the report, Violencia de Estado contra mujeres en México, El caso San Salvador Atenco. Informe alternativo al CAT. 37º período de sesiones, México, ProDH, CAT, CLADEM, 2006, pp. 13-14. Available online http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/ngos/omct_sp.pdf

[3] One of the roughest neighbourhoods of Mexico City with a very high crime rate.

[4] Which consists of pulling the victim’s underwear as hard as you can so that it wedges itself into their genitalia. In English it is often called a “wedgie”.

[5] http://www.milenio.com/node/477326

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


According to the Organization of American States, 1, 205 women are murdered every year in Mexico; nearly half of which (40%) are victims of domestic violence. As Margarita Guillé Tamayo, representative of this body highlighted yesterday, this is indicative of the culture of toleration and impunity towards violence against women in Mexico. In Spain, for example, only 80 such cases are recorded each year[1].

The most dangerous place to be a women in Mexico, as I have mentioned in other posts, is the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) [2] According to the latest reports, the total of femicides in this entity during the last two years now stands at 556. If nationally, three women are
murdered every day. In the state of Mexico, the figure is one woman murdered every day. Equally disturbing is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is woeful here: only 35% of murderers 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 [3]. The second most dangerous place is in the capital’s Federal District , where 236 women have been murdered; followed by the northern states of Sinaloa (170) and Chihuahua (157), home to Ciudad Juárez.

Quite apart from being a morally important story; this is also a politically significant issue, as the governor of this state, Enrique Peña Nieto is the Partido de la Revolución Institucional‘s (Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI) favoured candidate for the 2012 presidential elections. It is interesting then, in this context that the Federal Senate should have agreed to exhort Peña Nieto to implement a policy to “stop this shameful situation of violence against women continuing” and to undertake measures to better his state’s record in prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes. All parties represented in the Senate voted in favour of this exhortation, including the PRI. It can only be hoped that such unwelcome publicity will make Peña Nieto take more notice of the problems in his own backyard before postulating himself for a national government role.

[1] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/723269.html


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

Filed under: Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,


On Tuesday (9 November 2010) Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern about the limited nature of President Calderón’s proposal to reduce the scope of military judicial jurisdiction (currently being discussed in the Federal Congress) [1]. After the rulings by the Inter American Court of Human Rights (IAMCHR), which indicate that Mexico should ensure that soldiers who commit crime against civilians are punished in a civilian court [2], Calderón has submitted a bill which proposes to make the rape, “desaparición forzosa“(unlawful kidnapping or “disappearance”) and torture by soldiers crimes that must be dealt with by the civil justice system. However, the bill would allow military authorities to decide in each case if the charge made falls into these categories. A clause which obviously maintains the army’s privilege of deciding whether or not to pursue complaints made against its soldiers.

In a memorandum sent to the government and the Senate AI warms that this reform –due to its partial nature- does not comply with the IACHR’s sentence. For its part, HRW wrote to the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate respectively to ask them to reform Calderón’s proposal. In his letter, José Miguel Vivanco, Director of the America Division of the human rights organization, pointed out quite rightly that the reform in its present state “would not put an end to the majority of abuses committed by soldiers”. He called for the representatives to change the terms of the bill to cover more crimes and to make sure that the military is not awarded the right to determine whether a charge fall into the categories that must be prosecuted in civilian courts.

Vivanco highlights the fact that military personal commit a wide range of abuses against civilians, most of which are not contemplated in Calderón’s reform. He points out that HRW has carried out an analysis of the 65 recommendations the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) has made to the Mexican Minisitry of Defence. This study revealed that “in only three of the 62 cases (only 5%) the crimes being investigated” can be classified as rape, kidnap or torture. As a result, “the 59 remaining cases, which include extrajudicial executions, sexual assault and cruel and degrading treatment” would still remain crimes that could only be prosecuted under military law.

Finally, he demonstrates the inadequate nature of President Calderón’s proposal to allow the army to determine which cases to hand over to the civilian authorities. In his letter he states, “of the [aforementioned] 62 cases examined by Human Rights Water […], in more than half -34 out of 62- it has been proved that the cases of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment documented by the CNDH have been classified by the Ministry of Defence as lesser crimes, such as ‘injuries’ or ‘abuses of authority'”. At least one case, even a “disappearance” had been termed an abuse of authority[3].

Evidently AI and the HRW speak sense. However, given the fact that Calderón has been unsuccessful in achieving any reform of military law during his government, despite a number of attempts, even if Mexico’s Congress were to change the bill in the manner that Vivanco suggests, it is unlikely to become law. Mexico’s military are too important a part of the President’s war on drugs for him to accept any reforms Congress might make.

[1] http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=162839070422359&id=1487417499&ref=mf

[2] See my earlier blog post for more details: https://hidingunderthebedisnottheanswer.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/mexico-condemned-for-women%E2%80%99s-human-rights-violations/

[3] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/85204

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


On 4 November, members of the group Pacto por la Vida y Libertad y los Derechos de las Mujeres (Pact for Life, Liberty and Women’s Rights) highlighted the prosecution of 30 women –including two girls of 12 and 16 years of age respectively– by the judicial authorities in the state of Puebla, Mexico for the “crime of abortion”. In a meeting with the Puebla State Government’s representative in Mexico City they demanded that these proceedings be stopped. According to data collected by this group and the Red por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos (Sexual and Reproductive Rights Network, or DDSER) in Puebla, nine women have been convicted of this offence and are awaiting sentencing, while the cases of the remaining 21 women are still in their investigative phrase. Due to the fact that the authorities have refused to disclose the circumstances in which these abortions occurred and the state of the case against the women, the activists are still unsure whether the prosecution is seeking punitive or non punitive sentences in these matters.

Natali Hernández Arias, a DDSER representative from Puebla, indicated that these prosecutions seemed to derive from the new legislation passed by the state authorities in March 2009 which introduced the “protection of life from the moment of conception until natural death”. She also called attention to the fact that in the period in which these prosecutions had begun (March 2009 to April 2010) there is no record of any investigation or prosecution into crimes of sexual violence in Puebla. As was the case in Guanajuato (see my blog post from September “Women imprisoned for miscarrying in Mexico”), all of the women being prosecuted originate from municipalities with the highest levels of social marginalisation and poverty in the state, where access to education, health care and justice is scarce. Also like the case of the women imprisoned in Guanajuato, at least one of those accused claims that she is being prosecuted for suffering a spontaneous miscarriage.





Filed under: Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,067 other followers