Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mexico "Unwilling to Comply" With International Court Sentences in Military Rape Cases

Plaintiffs Inés Fernández
Ortega (left) and Valentina
Rosendo Cantú.

Human rights lawyers accuse the Mexican government of noncompliance with recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) rulings in the cases of Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, indigenous women who were raped by soldiers in separate incidents in Guerrero in 2002.  In a press conference last week, the lawyers who represent the women stated: “The Mexican State has not demonstrated with concrete actions that it plans to fully comply with the sentences.” Mexico is a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights and has accepted the IACtHR’s optional jurisdiction, meaning that it is legally obligated to comply with the IACtHR’s rulings.

Both cases, the Court determined that soldiers raped the women, constituting an act of torture. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the Mexican government violated the victims’ right to a fair and impartial trial when it investigated and tried the cases in the military justice system instead of the civilian justice system.  The Court argued that the use of the military justice system led to “a state of absolute impunity.”  Furthermore, in both cases the military revictimized the women by forcing them to recount the details of the attacks over and over again as part of its “investigations.”

The IACtHR’s rulings aim to assure the justice is served in the cases, that the victims receive reparations and rehabilitation, and that the government take steps to ensure that similar abuses are not repeated. Therefore, the IACtHR ordered Mexico to:
  • try the women’s cases in civilian courts and punish the perpetrators;
  • levy administrative sanctions against public servants responsible for irregularities in the investigations;
  • modify Article 57 of the Code of Military Justice to exclude human rights violations from military jurisdiction;
  • create a legal mechanism that allows affected persons to challenge the military’s jurisdiction in their cases;
  • admit its responsibility for abuses committed against the two women in a public event in which the President of Mexico offers an apology in the presence of high-ranking local, state, federal officials; that the event be translated into the women’s native language; and that the women and their families play a central role in planning the event;
  • publish specific paragraphs of the IACtHR sentences in Spanish and Me’paa (the victims’ native language) in the government’s Official Diary of the Federation, and in other media outlets if the victim so desires;
  • offer adequate medical and psychological rehabilitation to the victims and their families;
  • implement a human rights course for all military personnel of all ranks that addresses gender, indigenous rights, and limits the military should respect when interacting with civilians;
  • offer educational scholarships to the victims and their children until they earn undergraduate or technical degrees if they so chose;
  • establish a community center that promotes women’s rights in Fernández Ortega’s town;
  • and pay court costs and damages to the victims and their families for lost wages and emotional suffering.
Now, four months after the IACtHR published and officially notified the Mexican government of the rulings, lawyers argue that the government’s noncompliance is obvious.  Santiago Aguirre, a lawyer for the Guerrero-based human rights organization Tlachinollan, one of the groups that argued the cases in the IACtHR, points out that the government has still not moved Fernández Ortega and Rosendo Cantú’s cases into the civilian judicial system.  Furthermore, President Felipe Calderón’s recent legislative proposal to remove cases of rape, torture, and forced disappearances from the military’s jurisdiction was criticized by human rights organizations as a “cosmetic gesture” that would bring Mexico “no closer to complying with… the binding orders of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”

Tlachinollan’s director, Abel Barrera, reports that just one day before the government was set to inaugurate working groups that would organize Mexico’s compliance with theFernández Ortega and Rosendo Cantú rulings, the Ministry of the Interior unilaterally cancelled and indefinitely postponed the event.  “There we can see the authorities’ distain, neglect, and lack of commitment to compliance,” argues Barrera.

Of all of the actions Mexico must take in order to comply with the rulings, the only one the government has acted upon is financial compensation for the victims, which Congress has included in its 2011 budget.  “While this is included in the sentences,” says Aguirre, “this [money] is really a secondary issue for the victims.”

Mexico has also filed a request for interpretation of the judgments, a legal remedy that exists to clarify any ambiguous portions of IACtHR sentences. According to Aguirre, “There is a very common practice in which states present requests for interpretation, when in reality they are attempts to modify the ruling. They have never worked. The Court’s rulings are definitive and cannot be appealed.”  Aguirre says that Mexico’s request for interpretation questions the Court’s assertion that it was soldiers who raped the two women.  “This is a very clear sign that the state is not willing to comply with the sentence, that the state questions facts that have already been proven during the legal proceedings, and that the state, even though the facts have already been established, continues to question Inés and Valentina’s testimonies.”

Fernández Ortega et al. and Rosendo Cantú et al. v. Mexico are two of four IACtHR rulings against Mexico in just over a year.  In November 2009, the IACtHR ruled that the Mexican military disappeared Rosendo Radilla Pacheco in 1974. In December 2010, the Court ruled that the military arbitrarily detained and tortured two prominent environmental activists in 1999. In all four cases, the IACtHR ordered the Mexican government to reform the Code of Military Justice to assure that all human rights crimes are tried in civilian courts.  The four rulings have led to unprecedented international and domestic pressure on the Mexican government to reform the long-criticized Code of Military Justice and strip the military of the impunity it has enjoyed for over seventy years.


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