Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Heart-Breaking Report from Chihuahua, Mexico by the NGO Justice for Our Daughters

This post is a report I recently translated for the NGO Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice For Our Daughters). It makes for sad reading. It also should be prefixed with a trigger warning.

INFORMATION ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN THE STATE OF CHIHUAHUA

The following pages outline some statistics about murder, sexual violence and disappearances which show the violent reality in which the women of the state of Chihuahua live. The information is taken from official sources, newspaper investigations and non-governmental organizations.

Murders of Women

Between 1993 to 2011 at least 1, 776 women and children have been violently murdered in the state of Chihuahua [1]. According to the Mexican Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía or INEGI), this region probably has the highest murder rate in the world for women, with 34.73 murders for every 100, 000 women [2].

Since 2008, the state of Chihuahua has the highest murder rate for women in Mexico [3]. There have been multiple recommendations from international organisations that the Mexican State guarantee the victims’ access to justice; that it take steps to punish those responsible; and, that it prevent these murders continuing. Despite this, the number of women murdered in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are unprecedented in the state’s history. In only one year (2011), more women have been murdered that in the whole of the previous decade [4].

While the government suggests that the increase in murders may be linked to the war it is undertaking against the drug traffickers in the region, three aspects of these murders worry local organizations. Firstly, the huge increase in the number of these crimes; secondly, the fact that none of these murders have been properly investigated; and thirdly, the obvious pattern and similarity between the crimes which suggest that they are the results of people trafficking. In February 2012 at least three bodies were recovered from a field in Praxexis Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua.

  • Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15 year old. Reported missing on 19 August 2010.
  • Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17 years old. Reported missing on 16 June 2010.
  • Lizbeth Aviles García, 17 years old. Reported missing 22 April 2009 [5].

In the case of these three missing girls, their mothers filed the required missing persons report, but the authorities failed to undertake their obligation to activate the Alba protocol or use another form of immediate search for the women and girls reported missing. This contravenes the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s order in this respect. From the girls’ files it is clear that the authorities did not undertake the search immediately or thoroughly. Quite the opposite, it is clear that they minimized the facts and limited themselves to writing the missing persons reports. As a result, the girls’ mothers carried out the search. In the field, the authorities have found various other bones but have been unable or unwilling to identify them.

Sexual violence

In the last four years, military presence has increased in the northern border and with it, every day dangers to the population. No measures have been implemented to reduce these risks, mostly in terms of abuse and the violation of women’s human rights. In April 2008, as a response to the increase in violence caused by organized crime in the region, the national government set in motion Operation All Chihuahua (Operative Conjunto Chihuahua). This was a joint operation between the military, federal and state police. However, this did not help to quell the violence. Statistical evidence shows the relation between these types of mixed operations and the increase in murders in some regions of Mexico [6].

As part of these operations, the Federal Government sent 9, 000 federal police and soldiers to the state of Chihuahua. However, the state did not foresee the consequences for women of the military/police occupation. According to official data, between March 2009 and April 2010, there were 1, 017 reports of abuse against the police and soldiers in Ciudad Juarez; that is to say three per day. Nearly half of these (445) were filed by women.

Just like the murder rate, sexual violence has incremented considerably. In 2011 alone, 698 people reported being the victims of sexual violence in the State, 598 were women; the majority of which (399), were younger than 17 years old [7]. Chihuahua is among the states with the highest rate of rape in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 727 reports of sexual violence were made each year. That is to say, two per day [8]. This figure could easily be other as a large number of victims do not report this type of crime for fear of being victimized once more or because of the high rate of impunity,

Disappeared Women

The number of women and girls who have disappeared in the state of Chihuahua has increased considerably. Many of these women are probably victims of people traffickers.

According to official figures obtained by local organisations, in 2011 alone, at least 91 women were reported missing (and remain missing today). Of these, 50 went missing in Ciudad Juarez. The graph shoes the drastic increase in the number of women reported missing in the State of Chihuahua and in Ciudad Juarez between 1993 and 2011. Of these women, 60% are minors. Girls between 13 and 17 make up the majority of cases [9]. Local NGOs believe that the women could be victims of people traffickers, deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods, and sexually assaulted before being murdered.

National Institutions Established to Help Female Victims of Violence

The creation of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nactional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra Mujeres or CONAVIM) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence Against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or FEVIMTRA), set up to help those affected by violence resulting from their gender has not led to better strategies to reduce violence against women or improve access to justice for victims of these crimes. The scant diffusion of these institutions’ objectives and the lack of control mechanisms implemented to evaluate their performance and effectiveness is very worrying. On a local level, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, has successfully lobbied for the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to deal with victims of gendered violence and femicide. However, NGOs are concerned that not enough resources are assigned to this office and their staff are not properly trained.

Penal Justice System

The State of Chihuahua was the first to change over to the accusatory system (oral trial system like that of the US) in 2007. Various NGOs participated in the drawing up of new legislation dealing with gendered violence and the inclusion of a number of articles designed to protect women’s and victims’ rights. This wide-ranging and unprecedented participation meant that Chihuahua has one of the most advanced laws on the subject of women’s human rights in Latin America. However, NGOs are worried by recently proposed laws that would go against this legislation and whose proposers exclude them from their discussion.

[1] Information obtained by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (JPNH) through freedom of information requests and a daily revision of newspaper articles.

[2] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010. As a reference point, the World Health Organization indicates that South Africa has the highest female murder rate with an indicator of 8.8 murders per 100, 000.

[3] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010.

[4] Between 1993 and 2003, between 260 and 370 women were murdered. Inter-American Court for Human Rights. González and others vs. Mexico (“Campo Algodonero” or Cotton Field Case). Sentence of 16 November 2009. C Series no. 205.

[5] The dates quoted were published by the Chief Prosecuting Officer of the State of Chihuahua (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua) in January 2012.

[6] Source: Fernando Escalante, “Homicidios 2008-2009. La muerte tiene permiso,” Nexos, January 2011. (The operations began in 2007).

[7] Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer in response to a freedom of information request filed by JPNH on 8 February 2012 (folio 005352012).

[8] Source: Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.

[9]Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer. This information is provided due to an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

FEMINICIDIO IN MEXICO. KILLING WOMEN FOR BEING FEMALE

UPDATE 18 FEBRUARY 2011: a more detailed definition of feminicidio can be found in this post

When I first came to Mexico in 1999, one of the only feminist issues I was aware of (such was my vast ignorance at the time) was the question of large numbers of women being tortured and murdered in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua [1] by what appeared to be organised groups of assailants, possibly linked to the city’s drug cartels. It was a subject that had made it into the media in the UK, albeit in small amounts, mostly due to ghoulish speculations concerning the possible motives for the murders and who might be the perpetrators. This was a phenomenon that gave rise to the use of the word “feminicido” by feminist groups, appropriating, translating and adapting the English word “femicide” that had itself been adopted by feminist authors, especially, Diana E. Russell [2] to describe the murder of women “simply for being women”. What was, and unfortunately still is, startling about this phenomenon was the lack of disposition on the part of the police and investigating authorities (called “Ministerio Público” or Public Ministry in Mexico) to look into these crimes and bring the murderers to justice. As I have mentioned in passing in a previous post, relatives of three victims of femicide in Ciudad Juárez, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez and Claudia Yvette González, took their cases to the Inter American Court of Human Rights, where on the 10 December 2010, judges ruled that the Mexican judicial authorities had not done sufficient to protect the human rights of these women, whose bodies were found mutilated and abandoned in a place known locally as the Cotton Field (Campo Algodonero), and condemned the same institutions for not making proper investigations into their deaths [3].

In the last ten years the word feminicido has become a much used term by feminist and women’s rights groups to denounce the murder of women all over the Republic, not just the systemic kidnapping, torture and murder of women by organised groups. Results of this generalization have been both positive and negative. On the positive side, the adoption of this term has enabled women’s groups to publicise Mexico’s shocking rates of female murders and campaign for a more adequate response to the problem by the police and judicial authorities. This had led to the creation in 2007 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or Fevimtra). On the negative, the generalised employment of the term simply as a shorthand way of referring to the murder of a women, threatens to undermine this very battle, as over-use can generate over-familiarity and even to the questioning of the validity of the term. For example, State Prosecutors (Procuradores Estatales) routinely attempt to claim that women who die at the hands of their partners are not victims of femicide but domestic violence; a claim that can only hold water if the public is unsure of exactly what the definition of femicide actually is. Victims of domestic violence, according to the definition provided by Russell are most clearly killed as a result of their gender and their spouses’ attempts to control them. As I reported last week, Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) in the state of Guanajuato, alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities there to deny that a women’s murder counts as a feminicidio, but rather to claim that their deaths resulted from a consequence of the victim’s personal circumstances: they had an abusive partner or their jobs were high risk, or that they were in involved with drug gangs [4].

Aside from the quibble over the use of the term feminicidio, the figures available showing how many females are murder victims in Mexico are horrifying. As I have mentioned in other posts, between 1999 and 2005, 6, 000 women and girls have been murdered in the states of México, Veracruz, Chiapas, Guerrero, the Federal District, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Sonora, Baja California and Morelos. This works out at three women
murdered every day in the Republic as a whole [5]. In the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) the figure is one woman murdered every day. Equally disturbing is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is erratic. In the state of Mexico, only 35% of murders 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 [6]. In the case of the Campo Algodonero women, reports this week indicate that the Mexican state has done very little to comply with the Inter American Court’s ruling beyond publishing the ruling on its websites. The federal government alleges it is not liable to pay the damages that the Court has indicated, and authorities in the State of Chihuahua have promised to pay only half the sum stipulated. Meanwhile, half-hearted attempts have been made to reopen the cases in Chihuahua with little success [7].

Paternalist and misogynist attitudes seem to be at the root of the authorities’ lack of interest in pursuing investigations into the assassination of women. The National Congress’s Special Commission for Femicide, noted last month that the state of Guanajuato shows more dedication in prosecuting women accused of procuring abortion than men accused of murdering women [8]. As I have stated above, the Procurador of this state has implied that the lifestyles and jobs of a women are used to imply that their murders are not sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant. The women’s groups who help the victims’ families in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua also denounce a similar attitude on the part of the authorities who should be investigating the feminicidos there [3]. In short, the idea still prevails that women of low income, who work in a bar or strip club or a maquiladora (factory) or have the misfortunate to have a violent father or husband, are somehow to blame for their own deaths.

All this leads to me to end with an invitation. The Unifem campaign Say NOUNiTE to End Violence against Women which seeks to end violence against women and girls is circulating a petition on its website in favour of women being included in peace-keeping measures and against sexual violence against women in war. They are going to hand the petition to the UN next week. The link to the petition is on the right hand side of my blog page. Sign please. As Mexico drifts closer and closer to a war-like situation such matters are in the interest of Mexican women.

[ADDITION 26 JANUARY 2011: FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS SUBJECT YOU CAN SEE MY LATER POSTS HERE, HERE, HERE AND HERE.]

 

[1] Trawling the internet I have only found articles dating from 2002, although I do remember reading about the issue before going to Mexico in 1999. See for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/mar/25/gender.uk; and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/nov/02/mexico

[2] See Diana E. Russell and Roberta A. Harmes, Femicide: A Global Perspective, New York, Teachers’ College Press, 2001; A translation this text entitled Feminicidio: Una perspective global, with an introduction by Mexican academic Marcela Legarde y de los Ríos was published by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México en 2006. Available (in fragments) at http://books.google.com.mx

[3] See, http://www.campoalgodonero.org.mx/

[4] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/711565.html?awesm=fbshare.me_ATqfU

[5] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091302-CONTEXTO-Estado-inc.44116.0.html. A good study of the violence perpetrated against women in Mexico available on-line is Violencia contra la mujer en México, ed. Teresa Fernández de Juan, México, Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, 2004. See: http://www.mujereshoy.com/imagenes/3640_a_MEXICO_Violencia_Mujer%2019%20MARZO.pdf

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

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/10/11/index.php?section=politica&article=023n1pol; and http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10101508-Ni-se-cumple-senten.44676.0.html

[8] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092907-En-Guanajuato-se-ca.44424.0.htmlhttp://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092907-En-Guanajuato-se-ca.44424.0.html

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

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