Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

How Mexican Police Obtain Confessions. The Torture and Imprisonment of Rosa López

Recently the case of the French national, Florence Cassez, imprisoned in Mexico on the charge of being an accomplice to a gang of kidnappers, has been in the headlines. A few weeks ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered Cassez’s release after considering evidence which showed that the police had not followed proper procedure when arresting her. Sadly, there are a hundred stories like that of Cassez’s in Mexico. It is well known that the police rarely follow legal procedure when making arrests and that the courts convict defendants in the full-knowledge of the fact that the evidence they are presented with has been obtained illegally. Cassez’s release was mainly due to the diplomatic pressure the French government applied in Mexico. Ordinary Mexicans have no such extra legal recourse, and, as a result, their cases rarely make the Supreme Court.

The story of Rosa López is particularly horrifying. Her misfortunes began in 2005 when her husband left her to emigrate illegally to the United States with his lover. Rosa, an indigeneous Tsotsil women from the town of San Cristóbal de la Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, had five children to support, so she set about selling small goods on a street corner. A year later, she started a new relationship with a fellow market-seller, Alfredo. This did not please her husband’s family, who reproached her constantly, calling her a prostitute and insisting she ought to wait faithfully for her husband to return.

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​In May 2007, while Rosa was pregnant with her sixth child, she was unexpectedly arrested by the local police, accused along with Alfredo of kidnapping a girl called Claudia Estefanía, the daughter of her husband’s uncle. During Rosa’s detention, police officers tortured her in an effort to make her confess to being involved in the kidnapping. She was blindfolded and tied up, threatened with rape, asphyxiated with a plastic bag and beaten repeatedly in her stomach until she agreed to make a statement incriminating herself in the kidnapping of Claudia.

​In the trial that followed, Rosa, who did not speak Spanish, was not given the services of a translator who could explain the process in her native language. She also could not afford the services of a competent lawyer. As a result, her confession meant she was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years, 6 months and 17 days in prison.

​A few months later, her sixth child was born. The baby had various health problems, including cerebral palsy and a broken spinal column, probably as a result of the violence Rosa suffered during her arrest. As Rosa was still in prison, she gave her son, Nataneal, to her mother to care for along with her five other children. Sadly, he died in 2011.

​Rosa is still in prison. Due to the numerous irregularities presented in her arrest and the flagrant violation of her human rights during her trial, activists in Chiapas and Spain have organised a campaign to call for her release. Journalist and human-rights campaigner, Patricia Chandomí, has published an open letter to Manuel Velasco Coello, State Governor of Chiapas, on her blog Mujeres en Chiapas (Women in Chiapas). The letter calls the governor’s attention to the fact that the police who captured Rosa did not have an arrest warrant and highlights the violence to which she was subjected at hands of the authorities. It also points out that in the case of grave human rights violations during a criminal process, Chiapas’s Criminal Code allows for the governor to order the immediate release (on a suspended sentence) of any convicted prisoner.

​You can add your name (and location) to this letter in the comments section. I have already done so. I urge you to do the same.

Update 19:48 : You can also sign the petition at Avaaz.org

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

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, , , , ,

Margarita has been released!

I have just been informed that Margarita López Gómez, the indigenous women from Chiapas unjustly imprisoned for the murder of her husband (who I wrote about here, here and here), has been finally released from the terms of her suspended sentence thanks to the effort and hardwork of her lawyer Rosa López Santis, from the Women’s Human Right Centre in Chiapas and the social media campaign led by Patricia Chandomí which included a petition at change.org I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who signed this petition.

Margarita suffered for many years at the hands of the judicial authorities in Chiapas, who imprisoned her after forcing a confession form her during an interrogation conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak nor understand. She was kept in solitary confinement and raped during her prison stay. It can only be hoped that now she has been completely freed, she will be able to make a new life for herself and her family.

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

The Continued Harassment of Margarita López Gomez

Margarita López Gómez, an indigenous women from Chiapas, Mexico, was recently released from prison after a sustained campaign by human rights activists. Margarita had been convicted of killing her partner and imprisoned for seven years based on a confession allegedly obtained during her interrogation, which she later repudiated repeatedly. It was also proved later that her partner was killed by someone else. The interrogation was conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak at the time. For more details you can see my original posts here and here. It emerged this week that the terms of Margarita’s release include the requirement to go to the state capital, San Cristobal de las Casas each month to sign a report in the local prison. She must also send a monthly report of her work activities via registered mail every month. Her suspended prison sentence is due to expire in 2016. This might seem a small price to pay for her freedom, however Margarita lives in a small village many hours away from the state capital. She has a very ill mother and young children to care for and no settled means of income. Paying to go to San Cristobal each month is practically impossible for her, and makes it very likely she will be unable to meet the terms of her sentence. Margarita was wrongly convicted. The State of Chiapas kept her in prison seven years, a number of them in solitary confinement in a male prison, where she was raped and gave birth to her youngest child. The authorities released her in February due to the hard work of her lawyer and human rights activists in Chiapas and Mexico. However, with these terms it appears that the authorities continue to unfairly punish Margarita and her family and aim to return her to prison. This is scandalous and unacceptable.

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Update 14 May 2012

The Centre for Woman’s Rights in Chiapas is organising a petition to send to the magistrate in charge of Margarita’s case, Dr. Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gomez, to ask him to grant her an unconditional release. See here for details. Please sign the petition -with an English language explication- on www.change.org

Source: http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/12050305-Imponen-a-indigena.49613.0.html

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

“I am just one example of the terrible life led by women in Chiapas” Margarita López Gómez

Margarita López Gómez was freed on 10 February, after spending seven years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She spent four years in a cage in a male prison, where was raped and became pregnant. In a press conference after her release (see story here). In a press conference following her release Margarita López Gómez rejected offers of psychological and economic assistance from the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Guerrero, and stated that:

In Chiapas women’s rights are not respected, even less so if they are indigenous, poor and don’t speak Spanish. Mr. Governor I don’t want your help. I have my hands, I have my feet to work for my children. During your government you and your functionaries ignored me and didn’t offer anything for me or my children. I am free today thanks to national and international solidarity which showed how far injustice can be taken.

[...]

They [the state government] want to help me in order to have their photo taken which me and benefit from the publicity, forgetting that they have had me unjustly imprisoned for seven years. I am just one example of the terrible life led by women in Chiapas.

Accompanied by her 78 year old mother and four of her six children, Margarita said she was pleased by the solidarity offered by many people via social networks and their campaign for her release. She also expressed her anger towards the state of Chiapas, which kept her locked up and marginalized for so long.

During the press conference her lawyer, Martha Figueroa indicated that in Chiapas there were at least 250 documented cases of indigenous women imprisoned unfairly due to irregularities in their prosecution.

Sources: https://hidingunderthebedisnottheanswer.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/freedom-for-margarita/#comment-84

http://www.prensaindigena.org.mx/?q=content/m%C3%A9xico-ind%C3%ADgena-liberada-acusa-violencia-del-gobierno-de-chiapas

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

Freedom and Justice for Margarita

The following is a resumed translation from a blog post at Observatorio Ciudadano by Patricia Chandomí (@patriachandomi)

Margarita López Gómez married Juan Velasco López at the age of twelve in Tojchuctik, hamlet that makes up the council of Mitontic in the southwestern state Chiapas. Velasco López had paid López Gómez’s father ten bottle of alcohol to arrange the marriage a year earlier. Velasco López took Margarita to a different town, Venustiano Carranza, where they lived together in a rented room. Two months later, she returned to Mitontic where she complained to the village authorities that her husband beat her daily. They told her that Velasco Gómez “was her husband and she should put up with it.”   

Later she and Velasco Gómez moved to Chincuyal, where her husband bought himself a new wife, Juana, who he brought to live in the family home. Both wives had six children each. Velasco Gómez continued to be violent on a daily basis and often came home drunk. Soon López Gómez also became an alcoholic. He also raped one of Margarita’s daughters, Sonia, repeatedly from the age of eight and at twelve, she became pregnant twice as a result.

In 2005, aged fifteen with two children as a result of her father’s sexual violence, Sonia killed her father one night as he lay drunk with her mother. She and her mother, her sisters, brothers and her own children fled back to Margarita López Gómez’s village of Mitontic. They lived there for two months until Juana arrived with her six children. She had no money and decided to visit Margarita to see if Juan Velasco had left her any money. The presence of Juana in the village raised questions and the manner of Juan’s death became known.

Juana, Margarita and Sonia were arrested. Sonia spent two and half years in juvenile detention before being released. Juana was imprisioned for two years for helping cover up the murder. Margarita was sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder as the judge refused to accept that she was drunk at the time and believed her to be the principle culprit. She was imprisoned in a male prison in Venustiano Carranza and, to keep her from the other prisoners, was kept in a cage for nearly four years. Despite this, she became pregnant and had another child while in prison. In 2008 she was transferred to a prison in San Cristobal de las Casas, the capital of Chiapas. Thanks to the intervention of the Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Mujer de Chiapas (Women’s Human Rights Centre in Chiapas) her sentence was reduced to eleven years eight months.

Margarita López Gómez has now served seven years of her sentence, during which she has not been able to see her children. Her five children from her marriage to Juan live with her elderly mother, while the daughter she had prison lives with Sonia, her children and her new partner. Rosa López Santis, lawyer for the Women’s Human Right Centre in Chiapas, has managed to arrange for Margarita to be eligible for early release. However, in order for this to happen, Margarita must pay 34, 000 pesos (around 1, 700 pounds). Evidently she does not have this money.

Margarita’s case is currently being reviewed by the judicial authorities in Chiapas (exp. 378/MR/2010) and Rosa López Santis is pressing for the State Government to pay the fine on her behalf. López Santis says that the case of Margarita López Gómez “illustrates the level of discrimination and violence suffered by women [in Chiapas], they are discriminated against for being indigenous, poor, monolingual [ie not speaking Spanish] illiterate. The authorities are racists and the justice system deficient. The story of these three women should never be repeated.” I heartily agree.

There is a petition circulating asking the State Government of Chiapas to aid Margarita here. A Twitter campaign is also underway under the hashtag #LibertadAMargarita

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Update today 11 February 2012. Margarita López Gómez was freed yesterday in large part thanks to the hardwork of her lawyer Rosa López Santis, from the Women’s Human Right Centre in Chiapas and the  social media campaign led by Patricia Chandomí. The campaign goes on for her to be completely exonerated and to receive compensation for the suffering the Mexican state has put her through.

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

THREE INDIGENOUS GIRLS RAPED BY SOLDIERS 16 YEARS AGO STILL AWAIT JUSTICE

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 [1].

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

[1] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/84628

[2] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10102704-Incumple-estandares.44805.0.html

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

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