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.

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

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, , , , , , , ,

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S GLOBAL WRITE-A-THON HIGHLIGHTS CASE OF ABUSED WOMEN FROM SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, MEXICO

Protests by the People's Front for the Defence of their Land

UPDATE: Today, 4 May 2011, marks the fifth anniversay of the assault described below on women arrested in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State, Mexico. You can link to the Amnesty blog and petition page here.

TRIGGER WARNING. CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.

Each year Amnesty International organises a letter-writing event, the Write-a-thon, to coincide with International Human Rights Day (10 December). In the week of 4-12 December participants from over 50 countries will send letters to twelve governments with the aim of putting pressure on them to free political prisoners, protect and help human rights activists or, to seek justice for those whose human rights have been abused. Of the twelve cases featured by Amnesty this year, one is from Mexico. It concerns forty-seven women who were arrested in 2006 in a police operation in San Salvador Atenco, in the state of Mexico. According to the case sheet available on Amnesty International’s webpage, dozens of the arrested were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse by the police officers arresting them. Once they were in the Saniaguito prison in Toluca, they were examined by doctors who then failed to properly document their injuries or gather evidence of the sexual abuse they had suffered. 26 women claim to have been sexually abused; 14 of whom latter pressed charges via the entonces Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra las Mujeres (Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Relating to Acts of Violence Against Women, or FEVIM) [1].

Here are testimonies from three of the women arrested that day taken from a report drawn up by the Centro de Derechos Humanos Pro Miguel Agustín Juárez and the Organización Mundial contra la Tortura in 2006[2]:

“[When the policemen entered the house] They ordered us kneel down in front of a wall with our hands on the back of our necks and our blouses covering our faces and started beating us on the head with their truncheons. They started touching my breasts and bottom, and suddenly I felt a hand touching my genitals and inserting their fingers inside me. Then they ordered us to stand up […], they carried on hitting us and told us to leave the house and then kept us on the pavement, I remember that more than five or six policemen were brutally beating a compañero [male member of the group] and others were feeling a compañera‘s [female member of the group] breasts, and then there was me […] One policeman, I think he was the Commander asked me where I was from, and when I replied he shouted to another “Look this bitch is from Tepito [3]”, he pulled my hair and started to hit me until I started bleeding […] [Then they put us in the back of a van where] one said, “we have to give this bitch calzón chino [4]”. He then began pulling my knickers and realized that I was menstruating because I was wearing a sanitary towel. He shouted to the other policemen “look this bitch is bleeding, let’s make her even more dirty” and then I felt him violently insert his fingers in my vagina repeatedly for a long time, I was not thinking straight by then, but I remember wondering “My God what are they going to do to me?”

“Alejandra” a 22-year-old student.

“As they put us in the van they were hitting us, I was hit in the left eye with a truncheon. Three people forced me to sit in the back seats, they only put women, and I was one of them. One of them [the policemen] asked me my address, age and took a photograph. Then they started to grab my breasts […], putting their hands in my mouth and making me suck them. Then one made me give him oral sex. He finished and the second came, and he wanted the same oral sex. He finished and left. Then the third one arrived and he said that if I wanted him to help me I would have to be his puta [prostitute] for a year and go to live where he wanted […] he also put his hand in my vagina […] I gave him oral sex because he had me by my hair and was threatening to beat me up if I didn’t. He stole my mobile phone and 300 pesos [about 15 UKP], he took off my jumper that I had spat out his sperm on. Then the fourth arrived and started to masturbate when another said to him “not now mate we’re here”. They cleaned me up and gave me a cigarette, but I don’t smoke. Then they took me to the prison.”

“Sandra”, a 18-year-old worker.

“When they put me on the bus […] I was piled on top of other people who were lying on the floor. They dragged me to the back seat and undid my underwear. They pulled down my trousers round my ankles and pulled my blouse over my face. They smacked my buttocks with great force while threatening me with rape and death. The policeman who was beating me demanded that I said “cowboy” and he hit me five or six times until he heard what he wanted to hear. Then he penetrated my vagina with his fingers while second person (policeman) hit me in the stomach and put his tongue into my mouth. He also penetrated me while he called to other people, saying “come and hump this bitch”. Each of the three pinched my nipples and pressed my breasts very hard. Later they penetrated me with some kind of object that I could not clearly identify but it gave the impression of being metal. They forced me to travel naked with my head pressed against the seat and my buttocks in the air the whole time. They hit me on the buttocks, the legs and the ribs.”

“Ana”, a 27-year-old student.

As a result of pressure from Human Rights Organizations, a federal report later named 34 policemen suspected of being responsible for the attacks, but since then nothing has been done to bring them to justice. In fact, the FEVIM passed responsibility for prosecuting the policemen to the Procurador General del Estado de México (State of Mexico’s Prosecutor’s Office or PGEM) in July 2009. As I have had cause to mention a number of times on this blog, Mexico State has a terrible record in the Republic for prosecuting crimes of violence against women. So much so, that as I reported last week, the Federal State has issued a reprimand to the governor, Enrique Peña Nieto (a contender for 2012’s presidential elections), ordering him to better his state’s record. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this case should be so ignored.

It is even more unlikely that Peña Nieto will favour bringing the police aggressors to justice, given the wider context of the Atenco women. Their arrests were part of a police operation against the organizers of the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra (Peoples’ Front For the Defence of their Land, or FPDT), a local group in San Salvador Atenco which opposed the forcible expropriation of the village’s land by the government of ex President Vicente Fox for the relocation of Mexico City’s airport in 2006. Twelve members of this group, including its leader, Ignacio del Valle, who were also captured at the same time as the women mentioned, have only recently been released (in July 2010) after four years in prison [5]. For her part, América del Valle, sister to Ignacio and also a leader of the movement, had taken refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy to avoid being detained by the Federal authorities. Enrique Peña Nieto was the governor of the State of Mexico during all this period (his term runs from 2005 to 2011). Prosecuting the policemen makes his government look bad and might affect his presidential ambitions.

The Amnesty International Write-a-thon could therefore work to make it much more politically expedient for Peña Nieto to bring the abusers to justice rather than sweeping the affair under the carpet. Write your letter; don’t let this abuse go unpunished.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10072101-Esperan-justicia-la.43384.0.html

[2] The testimonies come from the report, Violencia de Estado contra mujeres en México, El caso San Salvador Atenco. Informe alternativo al CAT. 37º período de sesiones, México, ProDH, CAT, CLADEM, 2006, pp. 13-14. Available online http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/ngos/omct_sp.pdf

[3] One of the roughest neighbourhoods of Mexico City with a very high crime rate.

[4] Which consists of pulling the victim’s underwear as hard as you can so that it wedges itself into their genitalia. In English it is often called a “wedgie”.

[5] http://www.milenio.com/node/477326

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

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