Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S GLOBAL WRITE-A-THON HIGHLIGHTS CASE OF ABUSED WOMEN FROM SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, MEXICO

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.

TRIGGER WARNING. CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.

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, , , , , , , ,

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