The Mexican Presidential elections are going to be held in July 2012 and it will decide which person will govern Mexico for the next six years. The current human rights situation is a fragmented disaster that the Mexican Government has been uninterested in addressing effectively. Human Rights and indigenous organizations, together with journalists are being threatened and killed by what are always unidentified perpetrators. The criminal justice system is a sham and authorities are losing control over its territory. This is creating an anarchic situation where the respect for human rights is sacrificed in what is a meagre attempt to establish security. This is a false dichotomy presented by the government where you either chose human rights or security. The two are inherently linked but I doubt that the major Presidential candidates see it that way, as at least two of them represent the established power structures in the country and treat claims to respect human rights as a threat.
On December 2nd 2011, Mexican activist and founder of the organization ‘Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa’ (May Our Daughters Return Home) was shot five times after leaving work in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Miraculously she survived the attack, which authorities tried to inexcusably blame on an isolated carjacking. This effort by the authorities to disassociate the attack with Mrs Andrade’s activism was evidently proven wrong as the attackers through anonymous phone calls continued to threaten hospital staff if they treated her. The authorities’ attempt to view the attack as an isolated incident stands in stark contrast to the responsibilities to protect citizens which they are under considering the recurrent death threats Mrs Andrade had received prior to the shooting. In light of the assassination attempt and calls for protection echoed by several NGO’s she was moved to Mexico City where her whereabouts was supposedly only known to federal and state officials. The quality of protection offered by these officials was regrettably exposed to the world on February 3rd when an unidentified man attacked Mrs Andrade with a knife at her house in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Fortunately, Mrs Andrade managed what Mexican officials did not, which is to heroically protect herself from the armed man. Several theories now linger in the air. Have Mexican authorities merely slipped in their effort to protect Mrs Andrade or are they, as many will suggest, actively pursuing and persecuting human rights defenders because they somehow threaten their interests? These questions are relevant to various emblematic human rights violations carried out in Mexico.
In 1993 the murder rate of women in the city of Ciudad Juárez increased disproportionately. The murders all have similarly vicious characteristics such as rape, beatings, strangulation and stabbings. Even more disturbing was the fact that much of the violence was directed at parts of the female physique that indicate specific gender-violence. In other words, the violence these women are exposed to is motivated by the fact that they are women/girls. The victims are almost exclusively young and poor, who work at ‘maquiladoras’ (assembly plants that produces exportable materials to the U.S. mostly). It is a chilling consideration that they target women who will not be able to challenge the legal system if they survive. This is how Ciudad Juárez was made famous to the world. Instead of benefitting from what economic growth and more job opportunities brought, Ciudad Juárez turned into a city that grew so quickly it could not offer basic public services to its growing population. Many have migrated from the south to work (some to continue their journey further north) and are therefore even more exposed to the lack of security stemming from crime and the recently exploded drug-war. Women who have had a much larger possibility of getting employed in the border city have instead been raped and killed after leaving their jobs at the numerous maquiladoras. Among the hundreds, perhaps thousands of assassinated girls, was Lilia Alejandra, daughter of Norma Andrade. Her assassination, as most of the others remains in impunity. This is why Norma Andrade founded ‘Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa’, because she, like a terrifyingly large number of inconsolable mothers in this city, searches for justice for an assassinated daughter. Mrs Andrade now needs to leave Mexico due to the lack of protection offered to her by the Mexican federal government. This is what makes Norma Andrade expendable to Mexican authorities. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has sentenced Mexico for its human rights violations which stem from the lack of effective investigation and protection of women in its country. In the case known as ‘El Campo Algodonero’ (the cotton field case) Mexico received its sentence and Mexico had to raise a monument in tribute to these eight women who were assassinated in the cotton fields in 2001, an event which President Calderón did not find sufficiently important to attend.
This unfortunately does not end here. There is a broader issue at hand. Women continue to be murdered in Ciudad Juárez in very high numbers. Mexican authorities in fact seem either very uninterested in human rights if not outright hostile to the concept and those who protect them. This is a statement which stands in contrast to the image Mexican leaders give to the rest of the world by ratifying most human rights treaties and having created one of the most well-funded human rights commissions in the world. I am going to display some examples that will question whether there is any other answer than that which is; Mexican authorities in fact orchestrate many attacks on human rights defenders continuously.
The Mexican people have always been brave to come out and manifested themselves in order for authorities to respect their rights and demands. Often the responses from the authorities are massive crackdowns characterized by arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture, sexual abuse and rapes, and extrajudicial killings. This was the case in the anti-globalization demonstrations in Guadalajara in 2004, the teacher’s demonstrations in Oaxaca in 2006 and the public manifestations against the eviction of street merchants in San Salvador Atenco the same year. The case of San Salvador is particularly interesting and important to remember as a very prominent politician held responsibilities which must not be forgotten. The Presidential candidate of the ‘Partido Revolucionario Institucional’ (PRI), Enrique Peña Nieto, who is more known for his good looks than his political programme, governed the ‘Estado de México’, the state where San Salvador Atenco is located. He was therefore responsible for the executive branch in the state, including state police who together with federal police carried out the crack-down. Peña Nieto is the favourite to win the 2012 elections in Mexico. He should instead of being honoured with the Presidency be brought to justice for these human rights violations. There is a slight chance of this happening as several of the 26 women who were tortured, abused sexually and/or raped in San Salvador Atenco have brought the case to the IACtHR. The Presidential candidate has evidently not placed human rights at the top of his agenda seeing that between 2005 and 2011 more than 900 women were assassinated in the state he governed and most of the cases ended in impunity. When this was called to his attention by the Federal Senate and the ‘National System for the Prevention, Attention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence Against Women’, he responded that it was part of a political campaign to damage his presidential aspirations.
Another example of the constant persecution of human rights defenders is that of the indigenous group called Me’phaa that come from the state of Guerrero. In 2002 Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo were raped by soldiers of the Mexican army (who are supposedly only to be tried under the military justice system). This case was taken to the IACtHR, who sentenced Mexico for its human rights violations to give reparations to the victims, reform its military justice system and make a full, thorough and impartial investigation of what happened. So far no one has been brought to justice for these crimes. In 2008, the Mexican government arrested Raul Hernández and four of his colleagues from the OPIM (a group formed to promote the rights of its indigenous group Me’phaa) and falsely accused them of murder. After relentless pressure from various human rights organization and the Me’phaa themselves, all five were released to great reluctance on behalf of the government. This is all part of a bigger picture of systematic marginalization and persecution of excluded and discriminated groups that are barely able to defend themselves. Fortunately they are receiving increased support nationally and internationally.
I cannot omit the mentioning of the drug-war in Mexico. What was already a bloody conflict characterized by particularly brutal violence, has escalated since 2006 when President Felipe Calderón took office (after an election that ‘Partido Revolucionario Democrático’ - PRD - candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador correctly disputed as rigged) and announced his war on the cartels. The problems are many; Calderón has not been able to eliminate a recurrent problem which is his own party’s (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN) members’ association with cartels, nor has the President been able to eradicate extensive corruption in the military or law enforcement and cartels are still able to recruit trained military as they offer better wages. Furthermore, Calderón has not been able or interested in holding public officials accountable for the numerous human rights violations they commit in the collective efforts to bring down the cartels. More 50.000 people have lost their lives in this war since 2006. Instead, Calderon has only managed to disturb the power balance between the cartels and throw gasoline on the fire. This has earned him public accusations that have been taken to the International Criminal Court’s head prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who is considering whether or not to open an investigations against the President, members of his cabinet and cartel leader Joaquin ‘el Chapo’ Guzmán. There is a plausible scenario where Calderón will be sentenced for crimes against humanity in the future.
My predictions for the future respect and maintenance of human rights in Mexico for the next six years are far from positive. Women are still being assassinated around the country in terribly high numbers, while their rapists/assassins still walk the streets freely. The interest of Enrique Peña Nieto seems to be far from genuine. It seems as though Peña Nieto, who is where he is thanks to existing institutionalized power structures created by his party’s 70 yearlong rule of Mexico, will re-impose the light version of an oligarchy his party is known for. Perhaps the first ever Mexican female Presidential Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) could change perspectives and redirect efforts, but considering PAN’s contribution over the last twelve years to human rights, I seriously doubt it. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador does not seem to have a chance in these elections, but represents the only large party who has not been able govern Mexico and should perhaps be given an opportunity. Unfortunately, he seems to have spilled his chances on populist ways to delegitimize Felipe Calderón (although he had a legitimate claim to the Presidency). The prospects for the human rights situations in Mexico are catastrophic as it seems inevitable that Mexicans will elect a President whose political programme is largely unknown and will certainly not include effective measures to address human rights. In 2012, Mexico will invest 2.5 million pesos (approximately 150.000 Euros) to protect human rights defenders, but still Norma Andrade sees no other option but to seek refuge in another country as she is persecuted for exercising her human rights.Reblog