Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Institutionalized Misogyny: Two Women Tortured and Publicly Shamed by Public Prosecutor in Ciudad Juárez

Two women from  Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua, were arrested and charged with provoking the abortion of one of the women’s fetus of five months gestation earlier this month. Both women do not have the resources to pay their own legal defense (they earn 700 pesos -3 pounds fifty in UK money, 42 dollars in US money a week as factory hands)  and were assigned public defense barristers. In every stage of their trial their human rights have been violated and their dignity trampled on. Both women allege that they were tortured by police authorities in Juárez: local media reports that one attended her trial in a wheelchair due to the physical and sexual violence she has suffered. Yet, at their trial their lawyers presented no arguments to defend them from the charges. As a result they were found guilty on the basis of the confessions they had made to the prosecutors and have been provisionally released. Sadly, the manner in which they have been treated is unsurprising in the context of Mexico’s inefficient and corrupt justice system. Evidence and confessions are routinely obtained via torture as the UN High Commissioner who recently visited Mexico was moved to note. As I have had cause to mention on this blog, Mexican state authorities tend to pursue charges of abortion with a commitment rarely seen in crimes against women. However, in the case of the two women from Juárez, the public prosecutor has also violated their human rights by exposing the women to public shaming and ridicule. After they were charged they were presented to the press, where details about their lives were revealed. It appears that one woman supplemented her income via the reading of tarot cards and the like. As a result, the local -extremely conservative- press has dedicated itself to publishing sensationalist stories about the “witch who told [her friend] to have an abortion” and “abortion induced via witchcraft“. Juárez remains one of the areas in Mexico in which women are regularly murdered and “disappeared” and where the indifference of the same police authorities who have pursued this case with such zeal have meant that very few of these murders and disappearances have actually been resolved or even adequately investigated. If the humiliation and torture of the women was not proof enough of Ciudad Juárez’s police and prosecutors’ institutionalized misogyny, the comparison in the treatment given to these cases only serves to underline the women-hating practices that inform everyday law enforcement in this part of Mexico. Source: Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE), Puestas en la picota“, El Universal Blogs, 10 June 2015.

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

Soldiers Accused of Raping Two Indigenous Women Finally Arrested After Twelve Years

For context read this blog post post from October 2010.

The soldiers accused of raping Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega in Guerrero, Mexico, have finally been arrested and charged, three years after the Inter American Court of Human Rights ordered that the Mexican State prosecute the military soldiers responsible for the rape and torture of these two indigenous women and twelve years after the crimes were committed. It remains to be seen if they will be condemned or even tried, as the Mexican military is openly hostile to the prosecution of military men in civilian courts and until now, the Supreme Court has supported this military fuero ( see here for details).

For more information (in Spanish) see this report.

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

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, , , , , , , ,

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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