Mexican Victims of Sexual Assault Seek Justice with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Tuesday, June 2, 2009 11:37 AM

Two indigenous Mexican women, Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, are bringing their charges of rape against members of the Mexican military to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR).  Both women, indigenous Tlapanec people from the Mexican state of Guerrero, were raped in 2002 when soldiers came to their homes and became angry after the women, who did not speak Spanish, were unable to answer their questions.  Fernández and Rosendo reported their assaults to local authorities, but were met with indifference and unwillingness to collect evidence, and eventually their cases were handed over to the military justice system.  In 2006, the military courts closed the investigation, claiming insufficient evidence to warrant further examination.

The Mexican army has come under increased criticism ever since Mexican President Felipe Calderón initiated a 2006 surge in military presence in Mexico’s more unstable states.  In an attempt to fight drug trafficking and guerilla groups, states such as Guerrero are currently being policed by the Mexican army, but the militarization has given rise to a flood of accusations of human rights abuses, including theft, torture, and rape.  Human rights groups monitoring the situation, such as the Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, are concerned that the current Mexican military justice system is not sufficient to bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice.  Military courts are often unwilling to bring charges against soldiers when only oral testimony exists, and sentences for military members are much more lax than what they would receive in a civilian court.

After exhausting their possible remedies within Mexico, Fernández and Rosendo finally brought their cases to the IACHR, the judicial branch of the Organization of American States.  The IACHR is headquartered in Washington, DC and works in conjunction with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica.  The IACHR was created in 1959 with the mission of both overseeing human rights issues in all of its 35 member states as well as hearing individual cases brought by people whose home countries have failed to protect their fundamental rights.  "What we are hoping is that the Court will do justice by these women and that the rapists will not go unpunished. We also hope for a sentence that will help bring about change in the military justice system," commented Vidulfo Rosales, legal coordinator at the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Centre.

Compiled from: Cevallos, Diego, “Mexico: Indigenous Rape Victims Fight Military Impunity,” Inter Press Service News Agency (29 May 2009); Cevallos, Diego, “Mexico: Military Justice System under Fire,” Inter Press Service News Agency (2 Apr 2009); Godoy, Emilio, “Rights-Mexico: Armed Forces Accused in Civilian Courts,” Inter Press Service News Agency (4 Oct 2007).