Mexican Military Raping Indigenous Women with Impunity

A new Amnesty International report alleges that soldiers in Mexico are getting away with raping indigenous women.

On November 23 in Mexico City, the international human rights organization released Mexico: Indigenous Women and Military Injustice, a report condemning military impunity in cases of violence—including rape, execution, torture, kidnapping, and disappearance—against indigenous women. The report, which is based on testimonies gathered from survivors, witnesses, local non-governmental organizations, and lawyers, details nine unpunished rape cases during the past 10 years. It calls for these crimes to be tried in civilian courts.

The report also scrutinizes major deficiencies and rampant prejudice in the Mexican military justice system, particularly in the state of Guerrero. Best known for the resort city of Acapulco and sizable harvests of heroin poppies, Guerrero houses 3,000 Mexican soldiers. While the militaryÂ’s official role in the area is to combat drug trafficking, Amnesty says that military "operations are also linked to gathering intelligence on indigenous communities and identifying what they perceive to be subversive elements."

With the military presence, crimes against indigenous women in Guerrero are widespread. In March 2002, Ines Fernandez Ortega, a 27-year-old Tlapaneca Indian, was drying meat with her four children when three soldiers entered her home, accused her of stealing the meat, and raped her. Fernandez Ortega and her husband first reported the crime at the local public ministry, but the military claimed authority over the case. According to the Amnesty report, although the military prosecutor failed to specify a court date, in February 2003 he closed the case because Fernandez Ortega had missed her hearing.

Women who report rapes are often rejected by their husbands and communities. Others remain silent "since the consequences of reporting bear heavily on the women and their families," Amnesty asserts.

In Guerrero, Amnesty delegates met with the state human rights commission, CODDEHUM, and attempted unsuccessfully to organize meetings with the Military Attorney General and the military commanders for the state.

"The unyielding wall of military jurisdiction has put these cases beyond the reach of justice," said Amnesty International USA Director William Schulz in a press release. "The absence of effective oversight to challenge these practices contributes to a system that routinely denies the fundamental rights of victims in order, apparently, to protect the reputation of the military."

Under international human rights law, the Mexican government is responsible for rapes it fails to prevent and punish. The United Nations and the Organization of American States have called on Mexico to end military jurisdiction over cases of violence against civilians. Amnesty maintains such cases are torture under international law and merit special investigation.

"The Mexican government has stated its commitment to investigate all human rights violations whomever the perpetrators," says Sheila Dauer, director of Amnesty USA's Women's Human Rights Program, in the press release. "Yet despite these commitments, the government has taken no steps to legally restrict military jurisdiction in these and similar cases, and independent investigations have not occurred."

In 2001, President Vicente Fox proposed trying army personnel in civilian courts, but legislators rejected this judicial reform. Victims like Fernandez Ortega still wait for justice.