I was in Delhi on December 17 when tens of thousands marched in solidarity to support a young victim of rape.
On the evening of December 16, this young woman and her friend boarded a bus to return home after watching a movie. Her friend was attacked, while she was assaulted and raped by five men on the bus. Both were then left to die on the side of a busy street. Her injuries were so severe, that she succumbed to them a few weeks later.
Angered by her plight, thousands took to the streets to demand justice and accountability from a system that they think routinely ignores issues around women’s safety. Subsequently, the Indian government showed uncharacteristic speed in apprehending and trying the suspects. And now substantial efforts are under way to overhaul the country’s legal, social, and cultural response to violence against women.
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This post is part of our Write for Rights series.
One woman was on her way to buy a birthday gift for her son, another was a volunteer who worked with children and was worried about reports of a youth being killed, another was a student activist, and another was a health worker who wanted to show solidarity and provide health support. The women had many different reasons for coming to San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, on May 3rd and 4th, 2006, but none of them had any idea of the horror they were about to experience. During a police operation in response to protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, more than 45 women were arrested without explanation. Dozens of them were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by the police officers who arrested them.
These brave survivors are struggling through what is now a nearly 5-year legal battle to hold their abusers accountable for their actions. Several of the women who suffered abuse including sexual violence filed complaints with the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra Mujeres y Trata de Personas, FEVIMTRA), part of the Office of the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República). The women have also advocated for their right to justice by filing a complaint in 2008 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). After a 3-year investigation, FEVIMTRA identified 34 men as responsible for the violence committed against the Women of Atenco, but concluded that these individuals should be prosecuted at the state level. However, almost no progress has been made in nearly a year. Now is the time to push for real justice and remind the federal government of Mexico that it has the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, and not to let this impunity continue.
It’s been four years, seven months, and three days without justice for the Women of Atenco, and Amnesty International USA continues to campaign on their behalf. The Women of Atenco are featured in this year’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, and you can help them in their fight for justice by signing up for the Write-a-thon today to write for their rights and those of 11 other cases from around the world!
Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.
Help us reach our goal of 50 Congress Members’ signatures on a Congressional sign-on letter for the women of Atenco by this Friday! Representatives Keith Ellison and Tammy Baldwin have sponsored a letter that will be sent to the Mexican authorities to demand that justice is upheld for the women of San Salvador Atenco, Mexico. We currently have around 42 Representatives’ signatures, so please encourage yours to sign on to the letter so that we can have a greater impact on the Mexican authorities!
The women of Atenco were sexually assaulted and tortured by police officers over four years ago following protests in the local town square, but no one has been held accountable for this injustice. Despite a report issued by the federal Attorney General’s office which recommended the prosecution of 34 state police officers, and a statement released by the Supreme Court that affirmed that human rights abuses did occur in Atenco, the authorities have not prosecuted anyone for the crimes against these women.
We believe that right now is a perfect opportunity for us to pressure Mexican officials to prosecute those guilty of the crimes. Two weeks ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that 12 activists from the Atenco protests in May 2006 be released because they had never been granted a fair trial. These activists had been arrested for allegedly kidnapping police officers during the protests, but the charges against them and their sentences were unjust. While Amnesty International welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision, we must continue to pressure the authorities to hold the police officers and judicial officials responsible for the crimes during and after the protests to account. Simply freeing wrongfully-imprisoned activists is not enough—those responsible for crimes of torture, sexual assault, and misuse of the judicial system must be prosecuted! Let’s take advantage of this timing to remind the Mexican authorities that they have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of their citizens.
Please take action today by asking your representative to sign the Congressional letter! Call the Congressional switchboard at 202 224-3121 and ask for your representative, or take action online! The letter will be closed on Friday, so please take action now!
After over four years of detention based on unjust convictions, twelve Mexican activists were ordered released last week following a ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court that admitted that the activists had never been granted a fair trial. They had been arrested for allegedly kidnapping police officers during protests in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006 during which police officers violently abused both men and women for their activism. While it is wonderful that Mexico’s judiciary has freed these twelve activists, much more still needs to be done for justice to be served in the events surrounding the Atenco protests.
“This welcome move by the Supreme Court shows that state prosecutors and judges in Mexico State relied on the denial of due process as well as illegal and fabricated evidence to secure the conviction and imprisonment of the accused,” said Rupert Knox, Amnesty International’s Mexico researcher.
Simply releasing the activists is not enough: Mexican authorities need to take their actions a step further and end impunity in their country by prosecuting the officers responsible for committing crimes against protestors in May 2006 along with those who misused the justice system to secure convictions of the twelve protestors.
One of Amnesty International USA’s Special Focus cases is centered around the female victims of police abuse during the Atenco protests (see the Women of Atenco case page). Federal authorities actually conducted an investigation that resulted in a list of 34 names of police officers who were suspected of being responsible for the sexual assault and torture of the women in the aftermath of the protests, but more than four years after the events, neither these officers, nor any of the senior officials who failed to stop or prevent the abuses, have been held accountable.
Hopefully, the release of the twelve activists is just the beginning of the government’s acceptance of responsibility for the case, and the beginning of the end for the impunity that has pervaded Mexico’s justice system. Amnesty International will continue to pressure the federal government of Mexico to protect the human rights of its citizens, and this necessarily includes that Mexico ends impunity for police officers.
On the afternoon of June 9th, 14 men, including six armed municipal policemen and a state court official, arrived at a shelter that works to protect women and children at grave risk due to extreme violence in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, northern Mexico. They demanded entry into the shelter, claiming they were searching for a girl who had been kidnapped. They carried with them official court documents, none of which referred to the women’s shelter. The men were denied entry because the shelter’s protocol strictly prohibits men on the premises in an effort to ensure the protection and confidentiality of the women who have sought refuge.
The men repeatedly issued violent threats against the staff at the shelter. One police officer pointed his gun at the coordinator and said, “You’re going to regret this, you’ll get yourself into trouble, it’s better if you cooperate or we will push down the doors and break the locks.” Following repeated threats and fearing for their lives, the staff eventually allowed the men to enter the shelter. They ransacked the shelter, overturning furniture and searching under beds. Once they were satisfied the girl was not there, they left.
This violent breach of the rights of the women seeking protection at this shelter is especially dangerous because many of them have fled violent partners, including various municipal policemen. The forced entry of these policemen has jeopardized the women’s safety by revealing their location and exposing them to potential future reprisals.
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While many people in the US will be enjoying margaritas and nachos this evening in honor of the Mexican holiday, for the Women of Atenco, it’s not a joyful day. It’s the day after the anniversary of when they were beaten, raped, and tortured sexually and psychologically by police after being detained in San Salvador Atenco, near Mexico City. This day four years ago, many of the women were in prison, charged with crimes like “blocking public roads” while they nursed their physical wounds and hoped there would be justice for the suffering they had endured the day before. More than four years later, they are still waiting for justice.
Learn more about the Women of Atenco, and take action to fight for justice!
This posting is part of our Write-a-Thon Cases Series. For more information visit www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon/
You’ve read before on this blog about the women of Atenco, who were arrested without explanation during a police operation in response to protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, in Mexico State. Dozens of them were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by the police officers who arrested them.
In the case of one of the women, Bárbara Italia Méndez, police officers pulled her hair, beat her, and forced her into a state police vehicle with her shirt pulled over her head. She was made to lie on top of other detainees, and during the journey to the prison, police officers sexually assaulted her repeatedly.
More than three years later, these brave survivors are still waiting for justice. None of the officials responsible for their abuse have been held accountable. One of the women was able to identify her attacker, and he was tried on the watered-down charge of “libidinous acts” and sentenced to time served plus a small fine. He appealed the ruling, and was acquitted, thus avoiding even that weak punishment.
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The women of Atenco, Mexico, have been waiting more than two years for justice. On May 3-4, 2006, nearly 3,000 federal, state, and municipal police responded to protests by a local peasant organization. They arrested over 200 people – more than 45 of them women – without explanation. En route to the Santiaguito prison, many of the women were beaten and raped by the officers who arrested them. At least 26 women filed complaints, yet they still wait for an adequate response from the Mexican authorities.
On Thursday, March 5, from 4-6pm, Claudia Hernández, a survivor of the events at Atenco, will speak at an open forum at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. The following day, on Friday, March 6, Amnesty International activists will join coalition partners from Chicago area organizations from noon to 1pm, for a rally in front of the Mexican Consulate at 204 S Ashland St, Chicago, Illinois, to demand justice for the women of Atenco. Everyone will wear red in support of International Women’s Day on March 8 and to show our passion for justice.
Even if you can’t join the Chicago rally, you can still learn more about the case and other ways to take action.