Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Indigenous Rights Activist Receives New Death Threats

I have written before of how dangerous it is to be a woman in Mexico. It is estimated that 34, 000 women were murdered between 1985 and 2009. On Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) presented a report to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in which the Mexican government was criticised for failing to adequately address the situation. The report’s author, Rupert Knox, said:

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In the last few years, Mexico has enacted a number of laws and created institutions designed to protect women from violence. However, a large part of the problem lies in the weakness of its institutions and the non-application of these laws.” As a result, he urged the Mexican government that it show “a stronger commitment” to protecting women’s rights.

The report also stated that during 2009, there were nearly 15, 000 reports of rape in Mexico; although, given the reticence of women to report this crime, AI estimates that the true figure could be as high as 74, 000.

According to AI, women activists are particularly vulnerable to attack, especially if they work against gender violence or human rights abuses. Sadly, they often fail to receive adequate protection from the state.

Examples of this are numerous. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who campaigned tirelessly for the prosecution of her daughter’s murderer was killed on the steps of the State Government Place in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua in December 2010. Norma Esther Andrade founder of the Organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Our Daughters Returned Home), has received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to protect her and three other female members of her organization. Even so, Andrade was shot on 2 December 2011 outside her home in Juárez City, Chihuahua. She was forcibly discharged from hospital a few days later, despite still requiring continual medical attention, due to the fact those treating her in the hospital had also received numerous threads. She moved to Mexico City, but could not escape her persecutors. In February this year she was attacked with a knife in her home. Thankfully her injuries were not serious, but she has had to leave Mexico for her own protection.

Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez, an activist for indigenous rights from Comitán, Chiapas, has been under threat since 2009. In this year Margarita complained about an illegal search that had been carried out on her house by elements of the local police. From this point on, she has received numerous death threats via telephone and letter; presumably originating from members of the police. On 30 June, as she was preparing to leave to attend a CEDAW conference in New York as part of a contingent of Mexican human rights activists, she received a written threat pasted to her door in which the authors styling themselves “The Power” stated:

“In this matter you have two options. First, you leave the country. Second, you publish this letter and you are a dead woman.” It warned her that, were she to take the second option, “neither the State Prosecutor’s Office, nor the police, nor the national and international human rights organisations will be able to help you.”

Situations like this make it quite clear that campaigning for human rights is a high risk occupation. The women who do it risk their lives on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is also clear that the Mexican authorities are incapable of protecting them and, in some cases, actually engaging in threatening behaviour themselves. How many more women (and men) need to die until Mexico’s politicians realise that they cannot fix the situation merely by passing more and more legislation? Written legislation can never work until the ability to break laws with impunity comes to an end.

There is a petition currently circulating to ask the Mexican government to provide adequate protection for Margarita. You can sign here.

An edited version of this appears on e-feminist.

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

Norma Andrade, Activist who Works to Find Missing and Kidnapped Women, Attacked for Second Time

Yesterday at about 9am, Norma Esther Andrade, one of the cofounders of the charity Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (“May Our Daughters Return Home”), was attacked by a man with a knife at her home in Mexico City. She is currently in hospital in a serious condition. This is the second time Andrade has been attacked. On 2 December 2011, she was shot repeatedly outside her home in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. She was later discharged from hospital after a couple of days because death threats were made to those treating her. Andrade subsequently moved to Mexico City for her own safety and was supposed to be under police protection at the time of this second attack.

Norma Andrade cofounded Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa in 2001 after her daughter, Lilia Alejandra García Andrade, was kidnapped in Ciudad Juárez. Her body was later found in a field, strangled and with signs of having been severely tortured. The aim of the organization is to bring the situation in Juárez and Chihuahua to the attention of the world and to campaign for improvements to Mexico’s justice system to ensure that those responsible for these types of crimes are punished. (For more details on the murder of women in Chihuahua see my post here. For a discussion of femicide in a Mexican context see another post here).

Andrade and the other founders of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa have received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights directed the Mexican government to provide protection for Andrade and three other members of her organization. However, in September last year they were warned to leave Juárez immediately or be killed. Andrade was attacked in December and now, for a second time, in Mexico City. Under these circumstances, Amnesty International has issued a statement indicating that they believe her life to be in immediate danger.

There is currently a petition circulating on Twitter which asks the Mexican President, Felipe Calderón, to ensure that Norma Andrade receives the protection she requires. If the Mexican state is incapable of finding those responsible for her daughter’s murder, it is the least it can do to protect her from suffering the same fate. As I have occasion to mention in other posts, too many activists have already been killed for daring to search for their daughters. It has to stop. Not one more.

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

Sexual Abuse Only “the Tip of the Iceburg” as Regards Violence Against Women in Mexico According to the UN

The problem of sexual violence against women in Mexico was the subject of the forum, Mujeres en Resistencia. Alto a la tortura sexual (Rebelling Women. An End to Sexual Torture), which took place on Wednesday organized by the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre or Prodh), Amnesty International, the Mexican Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the National Autonomous University’s Gender Studies Programe. The forum concentrated on the cases of the women arrested in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State in May 2006 (see my post here for more details), some of whom attended the event to share their stories.

During the event, the director of Prodh. José Rosario Marroquin, indicated that the abuse suffered by the women arrested in San Salvador Atenco was a typical example of how sexual violence was used by Mexico State Governor (and 2012 presidential hopeful, Enrique Peña Nieto) against women as a means of punishing and silencing them. Alberto Herrera, the executive director of Amnesty International in Mexico, said sexual abuse of this kind was only the “tip of the iceburg” as far as violence against women was concerned in Mexico, adding that the fact that the abusers has gone unpunished shows that Mexico “has not learnt the lesson” from the experience of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, who were raped by soldiers in 2002 and subsequently took their case to the Inter American Court of Human Rights in an attempt to force Mexico’s government to carry out a full investigation into their attack (for more details see my post here). The Court returned a sentence condemning the Mexican state for not respecting the human rights of the two women and ordered that steps be taken to remedy this. So far the Mexican government has been reluctant to comply with the ruling. The prospects are not very hopeful: a similar sentence imposed by the Inter American Court in the case of three indigenous sisters raped by the military in Chiapas ten years ago has yet to be implemented (see my post here)

The eleven survivors of San Salvador Atenco have also taken their case to the Inter American Court of Human Rights, which after a preliminary examination of the facts has decided that the situation merits their attention. It remains to be seen if this step will ensure that the policemen who abused the women in San Salvador Atenco will eventually face trial.

Fuentes

1. http://sdpnoticias.com/nota/239244/Justicia_para_las_mujeres_de_Atenco_una_obligacion_ineludible_del_Estado_mexicano

2. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/11/24/index.php?section=politica&article=023n1pol

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

Death Threats Against Prominent Journalist and Human Rights Activist in Mexico

Photo copyright European Press Photo Agency

This week the Mexican office of Amnesty International emitted a statement in support of the Mexican journalist, Lydia Cacho. It reported that Cacho, who is based in the state of Quintana Roo, had received death threats via email and telephone in June and that AI feared for her safety. On its webpage the organisation called on its supporters to take urgent action to support Cacho and demand that the Mexican government take steps to protect her as well as to undertake an investigation into the threats. There is a petition to this effect drawn up by the Lydia Cacho Foundation in Spain and currently circulating via the social media; it can be signed here.

Lydia Cacho has specialised in writing and campaigning in favour of women. In 2000 she founded a women’s shelter (Centro Integral de Atención de las Mujeres) in Cancun and is cofounder of the Mexican national network of women’s shelters (Red Nacional de refugios para mujeres que viven de violencia). During her writing career she has founded an edited the magazine Esta boca es mía: apuntes de equidad y género (“This is my mouth: notes on equality and gender”) and has written a number of books dealing with themes of sexual violence against women and children. Her most recent publication Esclavas del poder
(Ed. Grijalbo, 2010) was based on her interviews with women and girls who had been trafficked and forced into prostitution.

The worries about the safety of Cacho are well founded. As I have reason to document on this blog before now, to defend human rights –especially those of women- in Mexico is a dangerous occupation. According the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights, at least 70 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000. Moreover, Cacho has been a target of intimidation before; in fact, so much so that the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to take steps to protect her in 2008. In 2005 Cacho published the book Los demonios del Edén: el poder detrás de la pornografía infantil (Ed. Grijalbo) which detailed how a ring of child pornographers and paedophiles were protected by key figures in Mexican politics and business in the states of Puebla and Quintana Roo. Following the publication of this book, the governor of the State of Puebla, Mario Marín and other figures in his government organised a campaign against her which resulted in her brief imprisonment in 2006. Although the case made against her could not stand and she was eventually freed; no action was taken against Marín. On her release, Cacho filed charges against governor, district attorney and a judge for corruption and attempted rape in prison. She took the case to Mexico’s Supreme Court, but again, without success (for information in English on this see here.)

The death threats against Cacho are evidently designed to intimidate and silence her. But she is a courageous woman who continues to speak out in favour of the rights of women and children. For that she is deserving of admiration and support, so please take up Amnesty’s appeal to speak out in her favour or sign the petition on-line.

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

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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