Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Girls Sold into Marriage In Exchange for Money, Animals and Food

NOTE: This story is translated and abridged from an article written by Patricia Chandomí and originally published by CIMAC Noticias. It is published here with the generous permission of the autor.*

I was eleven when I heard that they had come to claim me. I heard them drinking to celebrate the agreement. The day the deal was sealed, there were some pigs and some food ready … I fled. I was very scared. And then, I felt very guilty for everything that happened after I escaped from my village.

This story was told by Odilia López Álvarez, a indigenous women of Chol origins, now an activist in the Womens’ Rights Centre in Chiapas (Centro de Derecho de la Mujer), Mexico. Her’s is a story that has been told many times. In Chiapas it is still possible for men to obtain an eleven-year old “wife”, to provide them with domestic and sexual services.

It is unlikely this story will be the last one, despite the Federal Senate’s recent initiative to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 in twenty-five state congresses and thus guarantee girls’ and teenage girls’ rights. The proposal was adopted in Chiapas and the state civil code was amended to only allow adults to marry.

Even so, it is questionable how much of an impact this will have within the indigenous communities of Chiapas, since marriages between minors are not usually celebrated according to state law, but only orally in the presence of “witnesses to the union”. These wedding are valid only in accordance with the local community’s “customs and practices” and are not registered. As a result it is difficult to know how many women and girls are forced to marry this way.

In terms of registered marriages,  Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) states that 17.3% of girls in Mexico are married before they are 18.  This figure stands at 3.9% for boys. The UN estimates that 5.1% of children in Mexico are married before the age of 15.

CHILD MARRIAGE IN CHIAPAS

20130226-172036.jpgWithin Mexico, Chiapas is the state with the second highest rate of child marriage. A report from the consulting firm Consultores en Administración y Políticas Públicas  showed that there were 5, 234 underage marriages in Mexico in 2015. The states with the highest numbers were  Guerrero (795), Chiapas (747), Mexico State (541), Coahuila (463) y Michoacán (454).

UNICEF states that girls from poorer households are more likely to be married as children.Los Altos is Chiapas’s poorest region. It contains 17 municipal governments: Aldama, Amatenango del Valle, Chalchihuitán, San Juan Chamula, Chenalhó, Huixtán, San Andrés Larráinzzar, Mitontic, Oxchuc, Pantelhó, San Cristóbal de las Casas, San Juan Cancuc, Santiago El Pinar, Tenejapa, Teopisca and Zinancantán. All have a high concentration of indigenous population. The INEGI states that Chiapas is home to a million girls, of whom, one third is indigenous.

Karen Dianne Padilla, an activist against child marriages says:

In some homes, girls are seen as a burden. Another mouth to feed, [someone else] to dress, buy shoes for. In other cases, they are seen as property. If they possess certain characteristics, [families] know that they can make some kind of profit from the payment the bridegroom will make.

María Eugenia Pérez Fernández, a member of the Committee for the Attention of Women and Girls in the State Congress said:

The sale of underage girls continues in Chiapas especially in the area of Los Altos, where they are even exchanged for material goods.

Mexico’s constitution recognises the right of indigenous communities to govern their affairs according to their own “custom and practices”. However, they are obliged to respect human rights. Child marriage is clearly not compatible with a respect for human rights.  David Vázquez Hernández, a lawyer specialising in gender, points out that Mexico since 2003 has also adopted the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination.

[This law] defines as discriminatory: the impediment to choosing a spouse or partner; using any type of custom and practices to infringe human dignity and rights; and, any practice that obstaculises the minimum necessary conditions for the health growth and development of children.

Karen Padilla notes:

There is tension between custom and uses and respect for human rights. Since the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (National Zapatista Liberation Army or EZLN) appeared in 1994, various non government agencies arrived in Chiapas to fight in favour of [indigenous] peoples’ right to autonomy in government. There was a lot of international solidarity for this. However, this autonomy has made the abuse of women and girls’ rights invisible.

According to the INEGI, there were a total of 12, 400 mothers under the ages of 15 in Chiapas in 2010, which make it the third state in Mexico with most teenage pregnancy. In 2016, Chiapas is now in first place. Of these, 510 are girls between 12 and 14.

FORCED MARRIAGES IN SAN JUAN CHAMULA

Talking to women in Los Altos is difficult. First you must get past the male authorities and conversations with women are always through men. This report is made with reports of women who have left their communities, those who have been widowed, separated, abandoned or have fled.

Marco Shilon, ex Secretary for Indigenous People and professor in the Law Faculty of the University Autonomous of Chiapas, explains that for the indigenous Totsil people of San Juan Chamula, individuals do not exist. In this cosmovision, accepting a husband is not a matter for the girl, but her family.

The bride doesn’t know the bridegroom. It is the suitor who chooses the bride and goes to ask her father and her mother for her hand in marriage. He takes presents: boxes of bread, bananas, soft drinks and posh (a local alcoholic beverage).

When the suitor is with the family, the father asks his daughter if she wants to marry him. The girl can spy on the man to see him. If she likes him she says yes. If she doesn’t like him, the suitor can insist up to ten times.

Manuel de la Cruz Santiz, local indigenous magistrate in San Juan Chamula, points out that in most indigenous communities, wives have the right to separation if the husband is very violent or when they no longer want to live together. If the man is responsible for the separation, he is required to pay one sum of  3, 000 pesos for each child and allow his wife a quarter of their home.

But, according to the traditions of San Juan Chamula, the bridegroom can return the bride if she is not a virgin, if she doesn’t know how to cook, or doesn’t like cleaning, or if they cry because they are missing their home. If this happens, the parents must return the gifts they have received, plus a payment of interest. Otherwise they will be fined and turned over to the local indigenous authorities.

Luz Santiz, from San Juan Chamula, recognises that girls are sold into marriage.

There are sales, but it isn’t in the interests of the parents to say so, because they benefit. […] My mother asked for 10, 000 pesos to pay for the wedding party, as they say. This is a way of asking for 10, 000 pesos for her daughter as my mother did not hold a party. She paid her debts with the money.

Luz remembers that her mother denied that the bridegroom had given her money. But she says she saw him giving her the money.

Darío [her husband] saw me as I was selling in the Santo Domingo handicraft market. I was 14. He gave me a piece of a telephone card with his mobile number on it and asked me to call him. I knew I had to use the card to phone him or he would think I had spent it on other things. So I called him, and he asked me out. I said yes, and we went to eat ice-cream. He bought me some shoes and we had our photograph taken.

Luz says she has no romantic interest in him.

My mistake was having my photograph taken with him because he used that to blackmail me into marrying him. He said, “I am going to show this to your parents in San Juan to show them that you have already gone out with me.” I decided it would be better to marry him. So, I went to live in his parents’ house. He mistreated me a lot. He raped me, all our sexual relations were rapes.

VIOLENCE

Margarita López is from Tojchuctik, in the municipality of Mitontic, one of the ten poorest municipalities in Mexico. She relates that she was sold to Juan Velasco López when she was 10, in exchange for 10 garrafones (very large bottles) of posh. 

Juan did not just marry Margarita, but also took a second partner. According to Margarita, both women were forced to have sexual relations with him. Juan also repeatedly raped his oldest daughter and caused her to have two children.

Cecilia, Margarita’s oldest daughter, killed her father when he tried to rape another daughter. Margarita was blamed and imprisoned for seven years. Today she looks after her children and her mother’s children in her village.

According to the organization, Melel Xojobal, violence against girls and teenage girls is widespread in Chiapas. In 2008, 42% of women from Los Altos reported that they had been beaten or been humiliated as children. 7% reported sexual abuse. 41% of women said they had been victims of violence at the hands of their partners. 10% reported they had been sexually assaulted.

Luz says:

In our culture, we don’t talk about sex. Many of us get to our wedding nights not knowing what to expect. We’re only girls of 12, 13 or 14. Now my thoughts are different. I know my first sexual relation was rape. I didn’t want it. It hurt, I was scared and he forced himself onto me and carried on forcing me. Sex is not a moment we enjoy very much.

 

“THE LAW IS NOT ENOUGH”

In an interview last March, the local deputy María Eugenia Pérez, maintained that the State Congress had enacted a number of laws to protect women and girls’ rights in Chiapas. She argues that what is required is a culture which promotes the denunciation of abuses.

In response, David Vázquez argues that:

Raising the minimum age required to marry is not enough to eradicate forced marriage. We also need to promote public policies that raise awareness and transform the place that women and girls occupy within indigenous communities. But that is not enough, either. We need to commitment from all areas of government, a commitment to reducing poverty  and bettering economic and education prospects for the indigenous communities in Chiapas.

Karen Dianne Padilla is more forceful:

The law is not enough. How can the authorities expect that a monolingual indigenous girl, poor and threatened, could take a bus to the municipal capital and report her forced marriage? Ha. And who is going to feed them? Where are they going to live?

We need a government programme, civil organizations that can receive reports in the villages themselves. Organizations that guarantee anonymity and offer protection and better life opportunities to these girls.

We need to urgently draw up mechanisms for reporting [forced marriage] and [offering] protection to these girls. There is no monitoring, no statistics that allow us to know the seriousness of this problem.

Meanwhile, Luz and Odilia carry on quietly rescuing and helping girls who flee forced marriages; a reality that the law has not changed.

*This report was written as part of the Mike O’Connor Fellowship at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Iniciativa para el periodismo  de Investigación de las Américas, which ICFJ runs in partnership with Connectas.

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

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.

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

State-Sanctioned Violence Against Women

Jovita Martínez García, from the village Pensamiento Liberal Mexicano in Oaxaca, Mexico is 20. She is currently in prison charged with negligent homicide in case of the death of her newborn baby last year.

Her case illustrates how the state aids and abets violence against woman. Jovita’s partner, Salvador Julián López, was abusive and violent prior to the birth. He took the child from her arms and murdered her as mother and baby were leaving hospital. Jovita is charged with not doing anything to prevent this. No allowance is being made for the fact that she was postpartum from a Caesarian section and thus unable to walk properly let alone fend off a man who had a history of violence towards her.

Jovita has been in prison since June 2013. There is a petition calling for her immediate release on Avaaz. I urge all you to sign.

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

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

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

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

20130226-172036.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Karla: Why I support 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Karla Pontigo Lucciotto was 22 when she died. According to her mother’s testimony, she was studying for two professional qualifications: one in computer skills and one in nutrition. She also held down two jobs to help support herself: on weekdays she worked as an assistant in a spa, and at weekends as a hostess in a night-club. Her mother was unhappy about the second job, but thought Karla was hard-working enough to cope with both her employments and her studies [1].

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Karla probably was. What she couldn’t cope with was the harassment to which she was subjected by the owner of the night-club, Jorge Vasilakos. Among other things, she complained to her mother that Vasilakos refused to pay her at weekends, but insisted on visiting her at the spa on the pretext of paying her there. He would also book a massage at the same time, demanding that Karla be the one to administer it [2].

On the night of 28 October 2012, Karla’s brother came to pick her up as usual from the night-club. When she didn’t come out, he became worried and tried to call her on her mobile phone. There was no answer. He tried to go into the club to look for her. The bouncers wouldn’t let him in at first. When they finally did, they warned him that Karla had suffered “an accident”. Her brother found her lying in an office in a pool of blood.

When Karla was finally taken to hospital, doctors discovered that she had suffered severe trauma to the groin area, as well as bruising on her body and face. Surgeons tried to save her by amputating her leg, but it turned out that she had suffered such terrible internal injuries that this action was not enough [3].

According to the night-club, Karla had been injured after falling on a glass door. Police and investigators passively accepted this and failed to carry out routine forensic examinations of her clothes. They argued that the autopsy showed no sign of sexual assault, but didn’t explain how an “accident” could have caused such terrible internal and external injuries. When her family and friends began to make their inconformity with this verdict known via social networks and protests, the local authorities in San Luis Potosí claimed that Karla’s body had shown evidence of high alcohol and drug consumption (something her family considers unlikely) [4]] Meanwhile, the owner of the night-club –who Karla’s family and friends accused of murdering her– was left at liberty, first to contest via the courts the legality of the investigation into his club’s safety record [5] and then to leave San Luis entirely [6]

Karla’s case illustrates how violence against women is tolerated and permitted by Mexico’s police and judicial authorities. The police were not prepared to investigate the case until pressure from her family and friends obliged them to. When criticised, they tried to blame the victim for her injuries by issuing statements about her alcohol and drug consumption. Now fresh investigations have concluded that Karla’s death could not have been an accident [7], they have yet to submit the clothes she was wearing on the night of her death to forensic examinations of the night-club and have allowed the chief suspect to leave their jurisdiction.

I have repeatedly written about this problem [8]. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like Karla’s. Another famous case was that of Rubí Marisol Frayre Escobedo who was murdered by her partner in Ciudad Juárez in 2008. Rubí’s mother –Marisela Escobedo Ortiz- campaigned ceaselessly for her daughter’s murderer to be captured and charged. Her reward? She was herself murdered in December 2010 while protesting Rubí’s case on the steps of Chihuahua State’s Government Offices. No one has been charged with this crime [9].

Karla, Rubí and Marisela are doubly victims of violence: first at the hands of their aggressors and then, a second time, at the hands of the police and judicial authorities. Their suffering should not go unrecorded or unremembered. Silence makes us complicit and can only breed impunity. This is why I support UN Women’s campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence [10].

This article is written to support My Elegant Gathering of White Snow’s blog hop as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist on 27 November 2012.

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

Margarita has been released!

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

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

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

The Continued Harassment of Margarita López Gomez

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

******
Update 14 May 2012

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

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

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

Heart-Breaking Report from Chihuahua, Mexico by the NGO Justice for Our Daughters

This post is a report I recently translated for the NGO Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice For Our Daughters). It makes for sad reading. It also should be prefixed with a trigger warning.

INFORMATION ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN THE STATE OF CHIHUAHUA

The following pages outline some statistics about murder, sexual violence and disappearances which show the violent reality in which the women of the state of Chihuahua live. The information is taken from official sources, newspaper investigations and non-governmental organizations.

Murders of Women

Between 1993 to 2011 at least 1, 776 women and children have been violently murdered in the state of Chihuahua [1]. According to the Mexican Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía or INEGI), this region probably has the highest murder rate in the world for women, with 34.73 murders for every 100, 000 women [2].

Since 2008, the state of Chihuahua has the highest murder rate for women in Mexico [3]. There have been multiple recommendations from international organisations that the Mexican State guarantee the victims’ access to justice; that it take steps to punish those responsible; and, that it prevent these murders continuing. Despite this, the number of women murdered in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are unprecedented in the state’s history. In only one year (2011), more women have been murdered that in the whole of the previous decade [4].

While the government suggests that the increase in murders may be linked to the war it is undertaking against the drug traffickers in the region, three aspects of these murders worry local organizations. Firstly, the huge increase in the number of these crimes; secondly, the fact that none of these murders have been properly investigated; and thirdly, the obvious pattern and similarity between the crimes which suggest that they are the results of people trafficking. In February 2012 at least three bodies were recovered from a field in Praxexis Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua.

  • Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15 year old. Reported missing on 19 August 2010.
  • Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17 years old. Reported missing on 16 June 2010.
  • Lizbeth Aviles García, 17 years old. Reported missing 22 April 2009 [5].

In the case of these three missing girls, their mothers filed the required missing persons report, but the authorities failed to undertake their obligation to activate the Alba protocol or use another form of immediate search for the women and girls reported missing. This contravenes the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s order in this respect. From the girls’ files it is clear that the authorities did not undertake the search immediately or thoroughly. Quite the opposite, it is clear that they minimized the facts and limited themselves to writing the missing persons reports. As a result, the girls’ mothers carried out the search. In the field, the authorities have found various other bones but have been unable or unwilling to identify them.

Sexual violence

In the last four years, military presence has increased in the northern border and with it, every day dangers to the population. No measures have been implemented to reduce these risks, mostly in terms of abuse and the violation of women’s human rights. In April 2008, as a response to the increase in violence caused by organized crime in the region, the national government set in motion Operation All Chihuahua (Operative Conjunto Chihuahua). This was a joint operation between the military, federal and state police. However, this did not help to quell the violence. Statistical evidence shows the relation between these types of mixed operations and the increase in murders in some regions of Mexico [6].

As part of these operations, the Federal Government sent 9, 000 federal police and soldiers to the state of Chihuahua. However, the state did not foresee the consequences for women of the military/police occupation. According to official data, between March 2009 and April 2010, there were 1, 017 reports of abuse against the police and soldiers in Ciudad Juarez; that is to say three per day. Nearly half of these (445) were filed by women.

Just like the murder rate, sexual violence has incremented considerably. In 2011 alone, 698 people reported being the victims of sexual violence in the State, 598 were women; the majority of which (399), were younger than 17 years old [7]. Chihuahua is among the states with the highest rate of rape in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 727 reports of sexual violence were made each year. That is to say, two per day [8]. This figure could easily be other as a large number of victims do not report this type of crime for fear of being victimized once more or because of the high rate of impunity,

Disappeared Women

The number of women and girls who have disappeared in the state of Chihuahua has increased considerably. Many of these women are probably victims of people traffickers.

According to official figures obtained by local organisations, in 2011 alone, at least 91 women were reported missing (and remain missing today). Of these, 50 went missing in Ciudad Juarez. The graph shoes the drastic increase in the number of women reported missing in the State of Chihuahua and in Ciudad Juarez between 1993 and 2011. Of these women, 60% are minors. Girls between 13 and 17 make up the majority of cases [9]. Local NGOs believe that the women could be victims of people traffickers, deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods, and sexually assaulted before being murdered.

National Institutions Established to Help Female Victims of Violence

The creation of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nactional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra Mujeres or CONAVIM) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence Against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or FEVIMTRA), set up to help those affected by violence resulting from their gender has not led to better strategies to reduce violence against women or improve access to justice for victims of these crimes. The scant diffusion of these institutions’ objectives and the lack of control mechanisms implemented to evaluate their performance and effectiveness is very worrying. On a local level, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, has successfully lobbied for the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to deal with victims of gendered violence and femicide. However, NGOs are concerned that not enough resources are assigned to this office and their staff are not properly trained.

Penal Justice System

The State of Chihuahua was the first to change over to the accusatory system (oral trial system like that of the US) in 2007. Various NGOs participated in the drawing up of new legislation dealing with gendered violence and the inclusion of a number of articles designed to protect women’s and victims’ rights. This wide-ranging and unprecedented participation meant that Chihuahua has one of the most advanced laws on the subject of women’s human rights in Latin America. However, NGOs are worried by recently proposed laws that would go against this legislation and whose proposers exclude them from their discussion.

[1] Information obtained by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (JPNH) through freedom of information requests and a daily revision of newspaper articles.

[2] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010. As a reference point, the World Health Organization indicates that South Africa has the highest female murder rate with an indicator of 8.8 murders per 100, 000.

[3] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010.

[4] Between 1993 and 2003, between 260 and 370 women were murdered. Inter-American Court for Human Rights. González and others vs. Mexico (“Campo Algodonero” or Cotton Field Case). Sentence of 16 November 2009. C Series no. 205.

[5] The dates quoted were published by the Chief Prosecuting Officer of the State of Chihuahua (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua) in January 2012.

[6] Source: Fernando Escalante, “Homicidios 2008-2009. La muerte tiene permiso,” Nexos, January 2011. (The operations began in 2007).

[7] Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer in response to a freedom of information request filed by JPNH on 8 February 2012 (folio 005352012).

[8] Source: Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.

[9]Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer. This information is provided due to an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

Press Release Justice for our Daughters, February 2012

Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico

8th March 2012

Release 03/12

For its immediate circulation

  • Figures show at least 56 women have been murdered in Chihuahua in 2012
  • Young girls’ disappearances show evidence of worrying similarities.

8th March 2012. Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico. – The organization Justicia para Nuestras Hijas has evidence that at least 56 women and girls have been murdered in Chihuahua State so far this year.

The NGO collates its evidence from the daily review of newspapers in order to build a true picture of the number of murders and disappearances in this state. They point out that this is a preliminarily figure and believe that this is very likely that more femicides have occurred. They still have not been allowed access to official databases and for that reason, they insist that the authorities present a monthly report giving an accurate account of how many murders of women are registered during this time period.

Among the murders logged by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas this month include those of four girls whose bodies were found in a field in Paxedis, near the town of Guerrero in Chihuahua State: Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15, reported missing on 19 August 2010; Deysy Ramírez Muñoz, 16, reported missing on 22 July 2010; Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17, reported missing on 16 June 2010; and Lizbeth Aviles García, 17, reported missing on 22 April 2009.

This discovery shows how the murders of girls have a similar pattern and are generally preceded by their disappearance. The negligence shown by the authorities ten years ago again becomes apparent. It is particularly worrying that in the case of a number of women and girls who have been reported missing in the last few years, especially in 2009, 2010 and 2011, their disappearances show many similarities with those of the four girls murdered in Praxedis: a medium or low socioeconomic origins, aged between 13 and 19 and last seen in the northern part of the state, principally in Ciudad Juárez.

On this 8 March, the organization Justicia para Nuestras Hijas remembers the girls and women who have been murdered in Chihuahua State and whose aggressors remain without punishment. It also remembers the hundreds of those missing who cases have been neglected, despite the fact they could be in grave danger.

For more information, contact: Tel. +52 (614) 413-33-55

comunicacion@justiciaparanuestrashijas.org

www.justiciaparanuestrashijas.blogspot.com//Twt@JPNH01


Filed under: Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

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