Indigenous Women Win First Step in Fight Over Military Rape Case in Mexico, Says Amnesty International

Press Release
August 17, 2011

Indigenous Women Win First Step in Fight Over Military Rape Case in Mexico, Says Amnesty International

(Washington, D.C.) -- The decision to prosecute soldiers charged with the rape of two Indigenous women in a civilian court is a significant step for those seeking justice for human rights violations committed by the military in Mexico, Amnesty International said today.

For more than nine years, two Indigenous women in Mexico have taken on the military and the authorities to demand justice after they were raped by soldiers in the southern state of Guerrero in 2002.

Despite a lengthy investigation and Inter-American Court rulings in favor of Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú last August, their attackers have remained at large, seemingly shielded by Mexico's military justice system. Meanwhile the women and their families have faced threats as the legal battle continued.

The investigations into their cases have now been moved to civilian courts, after Mexico's Military Prosecutor's office ruled on August 12 it lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute cases where members of the armed forces are accused of committing human rights violations.

"It sets an important precedent for these cases to be moved to Mexico's civilian justice system, and the Attorney General's Office must swiftly and effectively prosecute those responsible for the rape and torture of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo," said Javier Zuñiga, special advisor at Amnesty International. "Mexico's military justice system must never again be allowed to shield the guilty when the armed forces are accused of committing human rights violations against civilians."

The decision to transfer Fernández' and Rosendo's cases into civilian courts comes after a recent Supreme Court ruling which determined that human rights violations by Mexico's armed forces against civilians should not be tried in military courts.

This follows an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling last year, ordering Mexico to investigate and prosecute human rights violations by the military in the civilian justice system. The judgment urged the Mexican government to bring those responsible to account, provide adequate reparation and take steps to ensure that these violations will not be repeated in the future.

"For us, this is a significant advance, as civil society has constantly fought for these cases to be transferred into the civilian justice system," Vidulfo Rosales, a human rights lawyer at Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center in Guerrero, which is representing the two women. "But many limitations remain -- we're worried that there's a margin for impunity, for those responsible to be exonerated."

Despite this decision, a number of other recent cases of violations by the Mexican military remain under military jurisdiction, including the enforced disappearance in June of at least six men by the Navy in Nuevo Laredo, on the U.S. border.

"The transfer from military jurisdiction to civilian jurisdiction is an important step forward by the Mexican government toward compliance with one of the four human rights requirements of the U.S.-funded Merida Initiative security assistance package for Mexico," said Kathryn Striffolino, international advocacy associate director for Latin America at Amnesty International USA.

"The United States, however, still should not release any conditioned assistance for Mexico until all requirements have been fully met," added Striffolino. "This includes the transfer from military to civilian courts of all current cases of human rights violations committed by Mexican soldiers, and that any new cases of alleged violations are investigated and prosecuted in civilian courts. The United States government has a responsibility to ensure that U.S. taxpayers' money is not funding human rights violations. If any conditioned funds are released prior to the Mexican authorities fully complying with all four Merida Initiative human rights requirements, it will send a dangerous message that human rights are not a priority for the U.S. government and that it is acceptable for the Mexican military to run amok."

Widespread human rights violations have been reported across Mexico as the armed forces have increased their involvement in policing operations to tackle drug cartels and armed groups. These include arbitrary arrest, torture and enforced disappearances.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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