Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Mexico Before CEDAW: A Catalogue of Woes

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women (or CEDAW) was established in 1982 and is composed of 23 experts on women’s issues. The objective of the committee is to watch over the situation of women in those countries that signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Each country periodically presents a report to the committee which is then discussed by the committee. NGOs and human rights groups can also present a review of the situation to the committee. The committee then draws up recommendations based on this discussion.

This year the countries presenting reports to the CEDAW include the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guayana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Mexico’s report was presented and discussed this week. Various national and international NGOs also submitted evaluations to CEDAW, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organization Against Torture, Mexico’s Commission for Human Rights, Justice for Our Daughters and Centre for Women’s Rights in Chiapas.

The papers submitted by human rights organizations make for depressing reading. In general they highlight a series of issues which make life for women in Mexico –especially poor and/or indigenous women– extremely fraught with danger. In the coming weeks I shall look into the issues in more detail. However, this week I want to provide a general overview.

Killing of women: In November 2011 a joint report by Mexico’s government and UNIFEM concluded that at least 34, 000 women had been murdered in Mexico between 1985-2009. It also demonstrated that there had been a marked fall in the murder rate amongst men after 2007, but that the equivalent rate for women had stayed the same. Murder rates for both sexes have increased dramatically since then, partly as a result of the insecurity and violence created by the crackdown on drug gangs. In 2010 it is estimated that there were 2, 418 murders of women and 23, 285 murders of men.

Amnesty notes that murders of women however are frequently undocumented and that there is a routine failure to conduct autopsies. It also points to the fact that the manner in which murders of women are documented make it impossible to determine the rate with which women murderers are arrested and prosecuted.

Amnesty also highlights the brutality in which women are murdered and concludes that violence against them is very frequently of a misogynistic nature:

“Women are three times more likely than men to die by the cruelest means, such as hanging, strangulation, drowning, immersion and knives. Women are also three times more likely to be murdered by poisoning or burns with chemicals or fire.”

Abuse of migrant women: Tens of thousands of irregular migrants from Central America cross Mexico each year on their way to the US. They are regularly targeted by criminal gangs for kidnapping, extortion, trafficking and murder often with the full complicity of the police. In 2011, the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights found that some 11, 000 migrants had been kidnapped. Amnesty estimated that at least six of every ten migrant women are sexually assaulted during their passage through Mexico.

Imprisonment of women: Approximately 5% of Mexico’s prison population is female. However only 13 out of 455 prisons, 2.8%, are exclusively female, the rest are mixed. In a study of 92 mixed prisons it was found that in 22 women’s dormitories were inside male facilities and the inmates used shared facilities.

Women form a disproportionate number of remand prisoners. The great majority of them are between 18 and 37, usually mothers and often single parents. More than 85% are first time offenders and 65% are accused of crimes related to drugs, usually relating to the possession of small amounts of prohibited sustances.

Women are often badly treated and tortured during their arrest and imprisonment. The World Organization Against Torture highlights the case of a group of 47 women arrested for protesting in town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State in 2006. 26 later made formal complaints after they were raped and sexually assaulted by the police who transported them to prison. The report highlights the Mexican “state’s lack of will” to prosecute those involved.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty point to the difficulty women have to obtain contraception and legal abortion. They emphasize how constitutional reforms passed in numerous Mexican states which guarantee life from conception have had the “chilling effect” of reinforcing barriers to legal abortion. Moreover, they highlight the wide-spread practice of arresting women after miscarriage and still birth on charges of foeticide or infanticide.

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women: The risk of maternal death amongst indigenous women is considerably higher than amongst no-indigenous women. This is the result of inadequate or inaccessible health care facilities, discriminatory practices towards indigenous women by health care professionals and a lack of translators.

As might be expected, the Mexican government’s statement to CEDAW tried to paint a rather different picture of life for women in Mexico. It highlighted the advances in education amongst girls, for example raising primary school attendance from 94% to 96% and secondary school attendance from 75% to 86%. It also made much of recent constitutional reforms by which Mexico adopted the UN’s declaration of human rights. It also talked of government reforms to widen health-care provision; it mentioned family planning policies in passing but did not address the issue of abortion. Finally, it recognized the “violence against women is one of the biggest challenges faced by the actual administration”. However, it asked the Committee to take into account the context of violence in which Mexico currently lives in assessing this situation.

An edited version of this article is available on e-feminist.

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Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

20120714-124638.jpg

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, , , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

Indigenous Women Fitted With Coils Without Their Consent in Oaxaca

The following is a resumed translation of a story published on the Cimac news site on 25 November 2011.

Community midwives in Oaxaca allege that the State Health Service is violating indigenous women’s’ rights by fitting them with the IUD or coil without their consent. What is more, they claim that these devices are being fitted immediately postpartum, preventing the normal bleeding that occurs in the month after birth and thus severely endangering their health. Women are also becoming pregnant despite the IUDs, running the risk of miscarriage and severe hemorrhaging.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Women's Right to Choose, , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

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

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, , , , , ,

DECLARATION BY THE NATIONAL REUNION OF FEMALE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN MEXICO, 14-16 OCTOBER 2010

This is a translation of the declaration issued by the National Reunion of Female Human Rights Activists in Mexico on 16 October 2010:

“We, more than sixty female human rights’ activists, from twenty of Mexico’s states and from diverse sectors and social movements declare the following:

1. Our work and commitment to human rights’ sustains, nurtures and reconstructs democracy, the rule of law and the development of decent life opportunities for the whole of society. Particularly, our actions favour liberty, citizen’s access to justice and the end to discrimination against women. As a result, the state, society, human rights’ organizations and our own organizations must recognize, strengthen and support our contributions as female human rights’ activists.

2. We are facing a failed state that has renounced its obligation to guarantee the population’s rights; one which, on repeated occasions, has used public institutions and funds to attack, criminalize and undermine our work. In this context, it has limited our ability to exercise our citizenship and has aggravated the patriarchal, misogynist culture that discriminates against women; the impunity, corruption and the worsening of violence against women; the undermining of the secular nature of the state; the violation of human rights committed by soldiers in their new role as functionaries of public security; and the protection of private interest that attack social and economic rights, among other things.

3. Female human rights activists are at increased risk of attack in all of the Mexican Republic, particularly those in the states of Chihuahua, Monterrey [sic] [1], Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero. As are activists who denounce feminicidio (femicide); those who run and work in shelters for female victims of domestic violence; those who denounce the army’s violations of human rights; those who defend women’s reproductive autonomy; those who defend the family members of the “disappeared”, persecuted or detained for political reasons; those who defend indigenous rights; and those who work in the Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender movements.

4. Threats, police raids, defamation of character, violence, sexual torture, judicial persecution, attacks on family members, murder and extrajudicial executions are some of the ways we have been attacked for being female and for our work in defending human rights. These aggressions have been carried out by federal and local authorities, as well as by private individuals and de facto powers that operate thanks to the tolerance and complicity of the authorities; such as, traffickers of women and children, drug gangs, transnational companies, religious hierarchies, conservative and paramilitary groups and local caciques (local strongmen).

5. The impunity with which these aggressions are perpetrated is alarming; it sustains the culture of violence against female human rights’ activists. In the face of this situation, it is urgent that the Mexican state assume its responsibility to ensure their safety, protection and support. This necessitates the investigation and prosecution of the culprits behind these threats, acts of hostility and attacks that we have been subject to as female human rights activists. Society for its part, and especially, Human Rights movements and our own organizations ought to better the conditions in which we carry out our work, providing us with the necessary resources and support.

6. The gravity of the attacks and the high risk field in which we operate, has led to dozens of activists to petition the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to award them protective measures. However, such measures, despite being accepted by the Mexican government, are not implemented properly. The authorities which should guarantee their implementation impose an excessive and unnecessary burden of bureaucracy on the activists, they do not provide sufficient coordination with federal and state authorities, and take very little account of individual needs. Often they hamper the imposition of protective measures, causing their erosion and increasing the vulnerability of the activists. We denounce the fact that our colleague, Margarita Guadalupe Martínez from the organization “Enlace, Comunicación y Capacitación, A. C” (Chiapas), who has been living with protective measures since March of this year, has been unable to attend this meeting because the Mexican state was unable to guarantee her safe passage to Mexico City.

7. The Mexican state must recognize its obligations in the matter of the protection of female human rights activists. This means fully complying with the Inter American Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the feminicidios in Ciudad Juárez, and the rape of two indigenous women by soldiers in Guerrero. Complying with the observations of the CEDAW [2] committee in matters relating to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which should lead to the abolition of any regulation limiting a women’s right to choose over her own body. And, modifying the current legislation to ensure that the civilian tribunals are the only ones permitted to investigate, prosecute and punish soldiers who infringe human rights and fundamental liberties.

Human rights’ activists in Mexico are a motor for the transformation of society and represent the hope for the full exercise of human rights and fundamental liberties for all, men and women alike.

LET US ALL RAISE OUR VOICES TO RECOGNISE AND PROTECT FEMALE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS’ WORK AND THEIR STRUGGLE IN MEXICO.

JUSTICE, TRUTH AND COMPENSATION FOR THE MURDERS OF ACTIVISTS DIGNA OCHOA, GRISELDO TIRADO, BETY CARIÑO AND JOSEFINA REYES.

SIGNED:

Laura Gutiérrez (MUGAC, Baja California, Tecate), Silvia Vázquez Camacho (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos A.C., Baja California, Tijuana), Blanca Mesina (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción para Regreso a Casa A.C, Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Ileana Espinoza (Red Mesa de Mujeres Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Verónica Juárez A.C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Emilia González (Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, A. C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Lucha Castro Rodríguez (Centro de Derechos de las Mujeres A.C. Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Martha Graciela Ramos Carrasco (Mujeres por México en Chihuahua A.C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez (ENLACE, Comunicación y Capacitación, A.C., Chiapas), Martha Figueroa (Grupo de mujeres de San Cristóbal de las Casas A.C., Chiapas, San Cristobal), Diana Damián (Municipio Autónomo Zapatista, Chiapas), Ana Karen López Quintana (Tamaulipas Diversidad y VIHDA Trans A.C., Tamaulipas, Tampico), Alicia Leal Puertas (Alternativas Pacíficas A.C., Nuevo León, Monterrey), Consuelo Morales (Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A.C., Nuevo León, Monterrey), Angélica Araceli Reveles Soto (CLADEM‐México, Jalisco, Guadalajara), Guadalupe López García (Lesbianas en Patlatonalli A. C., Jalisco, Guadalajara), Dora Ávila (Centro para los derechos de la Mujer Nääxwiin, Red Nacional de Promotoras y Asesoras Rurales, Oaxaca, Matías Romero), Beatriz Teresa Casas Arellanes (BARCA, Oaxaca), Emelia Ortiz García (Campaña “Si no están ellas no estamos todas”, Oaxaca, Región Triqui), Beatriz Hernández (Círculo Profesional para la Formación con Equidad de Género ¡Ndudxa Ndandi!, Oaxaca, Tlaxiaco), Edita Alavez Ruiz (UNOSJO, Mujeres Organizadas Yuubani, Oaxaca, Guelatao), Ana María Hernández (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Theres Hoechli (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Yessica Maya Sánchez (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Nadia Altamirano Díaz (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., Oaxaca), Leticia Burgos (Red Feminista Sonorense, Sonora, Ciudad Obregón), Sandra Peniche (Servicios Humanitarios en Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, Yucatán, Mérida), Espinoza Núñez (Zacatecas), Nora Isabel Bucio Nava (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., Morelos, Cuernavaca), María del María del Montserrat Díaz (Colectivo Feminista de Xalapa A.C., Veracruz, Xalapa), Ofelia Cesareo Sánchez (Coordinadora Guerrense de Mujeres Indígenas y Afromexicana, Guerrero, Chilpancingo), Silvia Castillo Salgado (Instituto Guerrerense de Derechos Humanos A.C., Guerrero, Chilpancingo), Obtilia Eugenio Manuel (OPIM, Guerrero), Andrea Eugenio Manuel (OPIM, Guerrero), Soledad Eugenio (OPIM, Guerrero), Cristina Hardaga Fernández (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, Guerrero, Tlapa), Carolina Cantú (Coordinadora Guerrense de Mujeres Indígenas y Afromexicanas, Guerrero, Tlacopa), Georgina Vargas Vera (Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Díez A.C. Guanajuato, León), Verónica Cruz (Las Libres A.C. Guanajuato, León), María Trinidad Ramírez (Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra, Estado de México, San Salvador Atenco), Martha (D.F.), Yunuhen Rangel (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., DF), Lucía Lagunes Huerta (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer , DF), Cirenia Celestino Ortega (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer , DF), Alejandra Ancheita Pagaza (Proyecto Derechos Económicos Sociales y Culturales, DF), Elga Aguilar (Comité Cerezo México, DF), Eréndira Tania Ramírez Hernández (HIJOS, DF), Josefina Chávez (Cuadernos Feministas, PRT, DF), Andrea de la Barrera Montpellier Medina Rosas (Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez A.C., D.F.), Orfe Castillo (D.F.), Laura García Coudurier (Sociedad AC, D.F.), Carmen Morales (Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer AC, D.F.), Alejandra González (Tlachinollan, D.F.), Irma Estrada Martínez (Tribunal Internacional de Conciencia, DF) [2].”

[1] Monterrey is the capital of the state of Nuevo León.

[2] The Committe for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This is part of the UN Commission for Human Rights. See their webpage,

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/index.htm

[3] The original Spanish text can be found at: http://filesocial.com/na2dj64

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, , , , ,

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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