Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

CALDERÓN’S PROPOSED REFORM OF MEXICAN MILITARY LAW “WILL NOT PUT AN END TO THE MAJORITY OF ABUSES COMMITTED BY SOLDIERS”: HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH.

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

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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, , , , , ,

MEXICO CONDEMNED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AGAINST WOMEN

On 16 February 2002, 17 year old indigenous girl Valentina Rosendo Cantú was approached by eight soldiers from the 41st Infantry Battalion as she washed clothes in a stream in Barranca Bejuca, in the municipality of Ayutla de los Libres in the State of Guerrero (see maps). The soldiers demanded to know the whereabouts of a gang of “hooded men”; and when Valentina denied having seen such a gang, they pointed their guns at her. As they continued interrogating her, the soldiers beat her and held her down by her hair, in the end two of the soldiers raped her in front of the others. On 22 March that same year, 25 year old Inés Fernández Ortega, from the nearby community of Barranca Tecuani, was attacked in her home while she cared for her four children. Eleven soldiers entered her house and after demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband, a member of the Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa (Me’phaa Indigenous Community Organization), they knocked her to the floor of her kitchen. One soldier raped her while her children were in the next room. Both Inés and Valentina bravely denounced what had happened to them, travelling eight hours from their village to the nearest town then they could report their rapes to the authorities. But the investigations did not prosper. First the cases were turned over to the military authorities who did little to look into the matter. Worse still, in the case of Inés, the investigating authority lost crucial evidence pertaining to her case. Needless to say, no one has been prosecuted for these crimes eight years later.

The women have refused to be silent, however. In 2003 with the help of their Indigenous Community Organization and Human Rights groups, Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña “Tlachinollan” and the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) they presented their case before the Inter American Commission for Human Rights. The Commission published a ruling in their favour and against the Mexican State for violating the women’s human rights in 2007. This ruling was ignored in Mexico, so as result it was passed to the Inter American Court of Human Rights. During this period, the women, their families and their community came under immense pressure from the State to abandon their case: five members of the Community Organization were imprisoned and Inés’s brother was murdered. Despite all this, both women agreed to take the stand in the Court in April and May of this year. In the proceedings, barristers for the Mexican State alleged that the women were lying and had suffered no violence at the hands of the military.

Yesterday (1 October 2010), the Inter-American Court published its ruling on both cases. It found that both women had unquestionable been tortured and sexually assaulted and that the Mexican State was directly responsible for violating their human rights to live without violence and without being tortured amongst others. Moreover, it found that the state had failed to adequately investigate these crimes and reiterated an earlier sentence ordering the Mexican state to reduce the fuero militar (the instances in which crimes perpetrated by members of the military are subject to the jurisdiction of military authorities) [1].

This ruling comes in the same week that the non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch (HWR) sent a public letter to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. This letter roundly condemns the unwillingness of Calderón Hinojosa’s government to take human rights into consideration in the war he has been fighting against drug traffickers in Mexico since 2007. The HRW reminds the President that “In times of extreme violence [such as the ones we are experiencing now in Mexico], it is the government’s duty to protect its population’s fundamental human rights, rather than ignore them with the pretext of establishing security [2].” The HRW is referring to the numerous abuses committed by members of the armed forces and Federal Police against civilians and the state’s failure to protect human rights activists and journalists who have reported on the drug violence. It does not mention- but I will- that these abuses have usually been “whitewashed” by governmental spokespeople and ministers who invariably accuse those attacked or killed as being members of a drug gang.

Neither this letter nor the Inter American Court of Human Rights’s ruling is likely to go down very well here in Mexico, where criticism from outside is generally greeted with open hostility. It is notable that the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice has rejected its call for the reduction of the fuero militar on more than one occasion; most recently, on 7 September this year [3]. However, in the government´s favour, a similar sentence passed by the Court in December 2009 in the case of three women who had been “disappeared” in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, victims of feminicidio (hate crime against women) is being addressed [4], albeit very slowly. It is to be hoped that this latest ruling will also force the Mexican state to revise its policies to offer its population, and most especially its women, more protection against abuses perpetrated by the military.

[1] http://justiciaparanuestrashijas.blogspot.com/2010/10/el-estado-mexicano-es-responsable-de-la.html

[2] http://www.sergioaguayo.org/biblioteca/Carta_HRW_septiembre2010.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2010/09/07/desecha-scjn-analizar-constitucionalidad-de-fuero-militar ; http://enmexicoseviolanlosderechoshumanos.blogspot.com/2010/09/desecha-scjn-declarar-inconstitucional.html

[4] http://www.campoalgodonero.org.mx/ The name of this case is “Campo Algodonero” (Cotton Field), the place where the women’s bodies were finally discovered.

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

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