Globe, Human Rights, Latin America, Politiks

The appalling case of Inés Fernández and Valentina

In 2002, they were raped by Mexican soldiers; eight years later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights accepted their appeal and denounced the Mexican State as guilty.

Jesús Rodríguez Montes

October 1st marked the second anniversary of the sentence passed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in which it found the Mexican government guilty of violating the human rights of two indigenous women, me’phaa Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega.

It was a world famous case as for the first time the Mexican Government was sentenced prior to facing a trial by an international organisation, to remedy the pain suffered by the women, who in 2002 were victims of sexual abuse from army soldiers.

The precise facts are that for the first time, the Mexican Government was found guilty of the rape of the indigenous women, and was obligated to compensate the victims; as at the time, the soldiers who committed the abuse were a part of the armed forces, who serve the government; and also because of the negligence shown by local justice authorities, who helped to protect the offenders when they were reported by Valentina and Inés.

That is to say, it had to be an international organization that punished the violations of human rights committed against the two women, due to the fact that the Mexican justice system forced impunity.

Thanks to the appeal made by Valentina and Inés in front of the Inter-American Court, the verdict states that the government will have to execute various legal reforms, not only to set boundaries for what the army can and can’t do, but to also deal with rape cases when they are committed by members of official authorities.

In an interview, the lawyer from the civil organization- Tlachinollan Mountain Centre for Human Rights- (who represented both women in the trial), Vidulfo Rosales Sierra, explained that in line with the way the rapes took place, the Court’s sentence has two purposes: to grant “remedial measures” for the damage caused, and to put in place “measures so that it doesn’t happen again”; both of which guarantee that behavior, like raids into indigenous towns, are not carried out by soldiers without their permission.

In addition, he added that the guilty soldiers should be prosecuted and punished by the civil courts, where the expected punishment is prison. Also a thought provoking, unusual fact is that once the Court has issued a ruling in favour of the indigenous women, the Mexican Government must “make a public apology for the grievances, and economically compensate the victims to repair the suffering that up until now they have had to endure.”

On March 6, 2012, during a warm morning, in the main hall of ‘Ayutla de los lobres’, in name of the state and federal army, governor Guerrero Ángel Aguirre Rivero and the secretary of Government, Alejandro Poiré publically apologized to Inés Fernandez.

The statement, far from providing a sincere feeling of justice instead, instead made the case stand out due to its etiquette, according to newspaper reports the following day.The formal statement went beyond a sincere feeling of justice, that’s to say, the protocol, and is what distinguished the event, according to newspaper reports the following day.

And they highlighted the phrase said by Inés Fernández after the official speech from the public sector workers, who dressed themselves in loose shirts for the occasion: “Listen to me, to all men, women and children: the government, although they say that they are on your side, they are not- they don’t care about you.”

And it seems that this is what has happened, according to a bulletin from the Tlachinollan Center on October 1st; it states that two years since the sentence was passed, the Mexican government has not adequately complied with the Inter-American Court’s verdict.

Military barbarism

Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú are two indigenous women from poor communities in the State of Guerrero, in the South of Mexico. Valentina, me’phaa Barranca Bejuco, was a young woman aged 17 when soldiers raped her on February 16th 2002.

Inés, from Barranca Tecuani, was also a victim of sexual abuse that same year. At the time, she was 24 years old and already a mother to a son and two daughters. On the morning that the soldiers broke into her hut, she was with her children; no one else was in the hut.

In “What’s Inside: The Militarization of Guerrero”, a documentary by Carlos Efraín Pérez Rojas (produced by Promedios AC. and Tlachinollan ac., 2006), the women explain their ordeal; lots of courage was needed as before their appeal, the army was not known for democratically tackling abuse of civilians by soldiers.

This is part of the testimony that the women provided to the documentary’s creator Pérez Rojas:

Valentina: “I was washing when the guachos arrived, (the name given to soldiers in several indigenous towns of Guerrero). I had just finished washing when four of them came inside, and behind them another four. They asked me what I was doing; despite being scared, I told them that: ‘I was washing’. I told them that: ‘I’m not from Barranca de Guadalupe. I married a guy from there’. Hooded guerrillas then asked me a question; one took out a photograph and asked me if I knew the gentleman in it, I told him that I don’t.

I then saw him take out a list of names; they were all names of people from Barranca Bejuco. I was washing when I was surrounded. They beat me with guns; I told them that I don’t know these people. They grabbed and beat me until I fell and hit a stone. They beat me, I came to a standstill, they pulled my hair and that was when they then raped me.”

Inés: “We knew when the soldiers had come in.” I was with the children drinking fruit juice (agua fresca in mexico is a drink made from fruit and water, I’m not sure if the closest equivalent is juice?) as they had asked me to prepare some fruit juice (?). After I had prepared it,, I served it to them. The dogs began to bark outside. I heard someone say: ‘good, good,’ that was when I realized that it was the soldiers. Three came up to me- they were the ones who had entered, whilst the others were outside. There were eleven of them, eight of them were removing the meat we had hung outside and were putting it into their backpacks. They asked me: ‘where is your husband? Why don’t you tell us where he stole the meat from?’ They told me that the meat was stolen. They asked me if I would tell them when my husband is coming home, or not, and then they pointed their guns at me. All three of them beat me whilst I was sat in a chair. One of them was tall, and white, the other two were black. One of them then forcefully grabbed me and knocked me over. “At that point, my children ran out and went to their grandmother’s house.”

(Translated by Emma O’Toole)

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