Calderón and Obama: A Lot More to Discuss Than Drugs

US President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the Rose Garden last May. (TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Today President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón will meet at the White House.

While there are many issues to discuss, including the latest round of WikiLeaks documents regarding Mexico, violence on the border, and the ICE agents just murdered, we hope human rights makes it to the top of the agenda because they are integral to all issues of concern to both countries.

Amnesty USA Executive Director Larry Cox wrote an open letter yesterday to President Obama highlighting Amnesty International’s concerns and recommendations for Mexico, including concerns about the ongoing impunity given to perpetrators of violence against women and President Calderón’s proposal to the Mexican Congress to reform the military code of justice.

Amnesty International is urging the US to work with Mexico to ensure that:

  • Effective measures are implemented to prevent and punish violence against women;
  • Comprehensive measures are passed to fully protect human rights defenders and irregular migrants; and
  • Legislation is passed in Mexico that would require military personnel implicated in human rights violations to be held accountable by civilian courts.

President Calderon’s recent attempt to reform the military code of justice are not sufficient.  These reforms are inconsistent with international human rights standards, are not in line with recent binding judgments made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and are not consistent with the Merida Initiative requirements. We don’t want to speculate about why the Calderón administration seems to be making such a half-hearted effort at improving human rights, but it’s clear that more needs to be done.

Members of the US Congress are also interested in placing human rights in Mexico at the top of the Obama administration’s agenda, as is evident by a Dear Colleague sent yesterday by Congresswoman Lee, Congressman Grijalva and 22 other Members to Secretary of State Clinton.

We certainly hope that President Obama and President Calderon decide to put human rights issues at the top of their priority list and we look forward to working with both administrations to ensure that human rights are enjoyed by all on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

Four Years, Seven Months, and Three Days

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

women of atencoOne 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.

Write for Rights

By Michael O’Reilly, Senior Campaign Director Individuals at Risk

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

When was the last time you wrote a letter?  Not emailed…but really wrote a letter.

What if I told you that writing a letter could help save a life?  We’ve got nearly 50 years of history that proves this fact.
It was a letter of passion written in 1961 by Amnesty’s founder, Peter Benenson, that ignited a movement that’s now more than 2.8 million strong.

Birtukan Mideksa © AI

It was a letter of solidarity sent by many, but for the cause of one, that just weeks ago helped lead to the release of Ethiopian prisoner of conscience and 2009 Write-a-thon case Birtukan Mideksa from life imprisonment.

It is a letter of thanks signed by a person who has experienced unthinkable human rights abuses that both warms our hearts and fuels our fire.

So it should be no surprise that it’s a letter of hope that I’m asking you to pledge to write now.

Join Write for Rights – the world’s largest letter writing event.

In the days surrounding Human Rights Day – December 10 – people from more than 50 countries will unite to write letters on behalf of those in danger of severe human rights abuses.

Our global network of activists, acting independently and in groups of various sizes, will then go to work sending truckloads-worth of letters and postcards to repressive governments and other officials responsible for neglecting human rights.

In the U.S., we will shine our light on 12 specific cases from around the world who are in need your support and solidarity, including:

·    Aung San Suu Kyi – democracy icon imprisoned in Myanmar for most of the past 21 years after winning elections by a landslide
·    Majid Tavakkoli – a student leader imprisoned in Iran for speaking at a peaceful demonstration marking Student Day.
·    Women of Atenco – beaten and raped by police and left without justice in Mexico.

Your words have power.  They can bring freedom.  They can deliver justice.  But most importantly, they can offer hope and let human rights defenders around the world know that they are not alone.

Thank you for standing up to Write for Rights!

Last Day to Get Your Representative to Help the Women of Atenco!

Women of Atenco

© Private

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!

Atenco: Getting Closer…But We Still Need Justice!

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.

Policemen Force Entry into Women's Shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

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.


Not-so-happy Cinco de Mayo

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!

Write-a-thon Series: The Women of Atenco

This posting is part of our Write-a-Thon Cases Series. For more information visit

© Private

© Private

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.


The Women of Atenco have waited three years for justice…

The women of Atenco calling for justice on the 2nd anniversary of the abuses, one year ago.

The women of Atenco calling for justice on the 2nd anniversary of the abuses, one year ago.

…and they’re still waiting. Yesterday and today mark the third anniversary of the police operations in San Salvador Atenco that resulted in the arbitrary arrests of more than 45 women. At least 25 of those women filed complaints of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the police who arrested them. However, none of those responsible for the events at Atenco have been brought to justice. The women of Atenco continue to wait for justice.

This past week, the swine flu outbreak has caused terrible problems for Mexico.  Unfortunately, on the third anniversary of those events at Atenco, several campaign actions that were planned now have to be postponed.  Rallies had to be cancelled, speakers cannot fly into Mexico, and offices are closed throughout the country.  As such, several of our actions and campaign ideas have had to be set aside for the time being as Mexicans struggle to get through this sudden outbreak.

As you can imagine, the women of Atenco are feeling pretty discouraged that they will not be able to draw attention to their case this week as they had hoped. They continue to wait for impunity to end and for justice to be served.  Support them through our Mariposas Initiative or by signing our online petition to tell President Calderon that they are not alone – the world is waiting for justice for these women.  Even though swine flu is his main concern right now, he needs to remember the Women of Atenco and he needs to see how many people are watching and waiting.

The Difference Between Justice and Impunity is Action

Amnesty International and other activists rally outside the Mexican Consulate in Chicago on March 6, 2006.

Amnesty International and other activists rally outside the Mexican Consulate in Chicago on March 6, 2006.

I just got back from an amazing week in Chicago, and I was trying to decide whether I should use the above as the title for this post, or if I should call it “Solidarity Means Hope,” because those were really the two main themes of the past week.

I was there to take part in a series of events in support of the Women of Atenco, including a forum at DePaul University, a rally outside the Mexican consulate, and a meeting with the Consul General. The events, planned by Amnesty International in conjunction with a wonderful coalition of Chicago-area organizations, were a great success. The forum was well-attended by both general public and the media, the rally had over 200 people filling up the whole street outside the consulate and attracting the attention of everyone inside and outside the building, and the meeting with the Consul was a great opportunity to communicate powerfully and directly the intense need for real justice in this case.

With me and my colleagues throughout all of these events was Claudia Hernandez, one of the survivors of the sexual and physical assaults that occurred during the police crackdown on protests in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, in May 2006. Claudia is an amazing woman, and everyone who met her this past week was blown away by her insight, energy, hope and strength. It was an intense week for her, being asked so many times to relive the trauma she suffered in Atenco, but she told me over and over again that what got her through it, and the message she is taking back to her sisters in the struggle for justice, is the knowledge that they are not alone. She saw with her own eyes that people here not only know about the women of Atenco, but are also 100% committed to ensuring that justice is done.

That commitment was clear in the numbers of people who turned out for the events, the numbers of letters and petitions they signed, and the thoughtful and passionate questions they asked about the best ways to continue to support the women in their fight for justice. Take it from me: the people of Chicago don’t just talk about human rights, they put words into action!