- The judgments issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) recognize publicly the word of the indigenous me’phaa women who sought justice for over 8 years.
- The Mexican State shall promptly and fully repair the damage and investigate and punish those responsible by civil justice.
- The judgments call the state to account that the sentences must not lead to further reprisals.
October 1st, 2010 – Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero, México – This afternoon the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) announced two judgements condemning the Mexican government for the rape which the indigenous me’phaa women Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú suffered in 2002. It notes that the state must repair the damage, ensuring the future security of Inés and Valentina, punish those responsible within the civil justice system and adapt domestic law and practice to international treaties to prevent that what happened to Inés and Valentina will not happen again.
Today’s reported judgements are primarily a recognition of the search for justice by the indigenous me’phaa women Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo. The judgments recognized as incontrovertible the fact that Inés and Valentina were raped and tortured by soldiers of the Mexican State in the communities Barranca Bejuco and Barranca Tecuani, located in the municipality of Ayutla de Los Libres, the Costa-Montaña region of Guerrero and that the Mexican state denied justice to them. The state´s position in these litigations had been to deny the violence suffered by the victims and to call into question the credibility of their testimony.
Both judgements state that by not seeking justice in both cases and ensuring the impunity of the responsible, which are currently being investigated by the military courts, the state is directly responsible for violating the right to live freely from violence, to not be tortured, to integrity for the families of the victims, to dignity and privacy, to judicial guarantees and judicial protection. It has also breached the obligation to adapt international treaties to domestic law. According to the American Convention on Human Rights the judgments are final and cannot be challenged by the state.
The judgments indicate that the state must pay damages fully, involving three levels of government and three powers, so that the voice of victims may be heard. Basically the measures ordered by the Court relate to: an effective investigation of the rapes and the prosecution of the responsible soldiers by civil justice; the conducting of disciplinary proceedings for civil servants, who by their negligence hindered the advancement of investigations; the payment of material damages to the victims; the guaranty that similar incidents will not happen again to other women through the provision of adequate medical services for victims of sexual violence; the progress of the standardization of a protocol for care and investigation of rape; and the training of staff.
The Court has also set as measures of satisfaction for the victims the publication of the relevant parts of the judgment in Spanish and Me’phaa language, the public acknowledgment of responsibility by the highest federal and state authorities and the provision of medical and psychological attention to them and their families. Given the particular circumstances of the case, the Court has established that the consent of the victims is necessary for some of these measures.
The Court recognizes as well the important role that Inés and Valentina played in their community and the way this was affected by the crimes. It has therefore ordered the establishment of a community center for women to promote human rights and women’s rights in this area.
The cases of Inés and Valentina are paradigmatic as they concern crucial points of the current human rights situation in Mexico: the abuses caused by the militarization of public life, the lack of access to justice for women and the obstacles and threats they and their defenders have to face and those of the rights of indigenous peoples. In extremely adverse conditions and despite the threats they have suffered, Inés and Valentina continued with legal action for eight years.
Among the measures that were adopted so that no women will experience what Inés and Valentina did, the IACHR repeated the order to reform the military justice system in order to limit its jurisdiction, strengthen the capabilities of instances of comprehensive care of gender crime in Guerrero and strengthen the health services for female victims.
A priority for the victims is that the enforcement of these measures will not generate new risks for them. These fears are based on the judgments order, which apart from assigning the responsibility to the state ordered an investigation that will result in the capture, prosecution and punishment of the responsible soldiers. Against this background, we demand the state to assume the responsibility for the safety of Valentina and Inés and to ensure they can rebuild their lives and live in peace.
The Mexican state is obliged to comply with the judgments fully. In this sense, it’s a concerning fact that in similar cases (the cases Rosendo Radilla and Campo Algodonero) this obligation has been ignored. This is even more important as the reported cases show a historical exclusion in the state of Guerrero, as well as structural problems of violence against women and, above all, the insistence on the prosecution of crimes related to human rights violations by the military jurisdiction.
Therefore, we demand the immediate implementation of concrete actions to show that the resolutions will be met seriously. Only an effective and responsible answer can demonstrate the commitment of the state so that these events will not reoccur, and in particular not continue the long and tortuous quest for justice by Valentina and Inés and mitigate, to the extent possible, the immense pain they were caused by the Mexican government.
Background of the case
On February 16, 2002, Valentina, 17 years old, was accosted by eight soldiers from the 41 Infantry Battalion while she was washing in a stream in Bejuco Barranca. The soldiers asked her about domiciles of “masked men”. When she said she did not know any they held her at gunpoint. One soldier beat Valentina, another pulled her hair while the questioning continued. Finally, in front of the other soldiers, two of them raped her.
Twenty-nine days later, on March 22, 2002, Inés Fernández Ortega, 25 years old, was also attacked when she was in her kitchen while her four sons and daughters played in the next room. Eleven soldiers came to her house located in Barranca Tecuani. Three of them entered the kitchen while pointing guns at Inés and interrogated her about her husband, a member of Me’phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM). After forcing her to lie down a soldier raped her.
With the support of OPIM Valentina and Inés broke the silence and filed charges. They walked more than eight hours to report the incident to the attorney general’s jurisdiction. But far from finding justice their cases were turned over to military law. Although both had applications requesting that the military authorities decline jurisdiction of the case, this was denied. In Addition in the case of Inés the prosecutor carelessly lost key evidence.
Inés and Valentina decided to call on the Inter-American Human Rights System. After 4 years of analysis of their cases, on October 12, 2007, they were heard in open court. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) issued a report that was never observed by the Mexican government. Therefore, the cases were turned over to the IACHR. During this time Inés, Valentina, their families, communities and lawyers were threatened repeatedly to abandon their demands. In particular the OPIM was attacked for that purpose and two of its leaders, Obtilia Eugenio Manuel and Cuahutemoc Ramírez Rodríguez, had to leave the state; five other members were unjustly imprisoned; and Lorenzo Fernández Ortega, Inés’ brother and member of the organization, was killed.
The IACHR recognized this danger and issued interim measures for Inés Fernández and a total of 107 human rights defenders in Guerrero on April 9, 2009. The IACHR also issued provisional measures to Valentina and her daughter in February 2010. Despite being at risk of death, on April 15, 2010, Inés Fernández Ortega testified against the Mexican state. On May 28 Valentina Rosendo did so.
Today’s reported judgments recognize the State as accountable for the violations committed against them. These are the fourth and fifth sentences against the Mexican state by the IACHR. The previous remain unfulfilled. Therefore, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Me’phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM) and the Center for Human Rights Tlachinollan demand the judgments to be fulfilled in all respects.