According to statistics collected by NGOs, the number of women who have filed complaints about human rights violations perpetrated by federal security forces in the state of Chihuahua have grown exponentially in the last three years. This phenomenon was the focus of a memo sent to the US Congress today by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) the Center for Women’s Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres, CEDEHM) and Gustavo de la Rosa, of the Ciudad Juarez office of the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission.
In 2007, according to their own statistics, the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission received only three complaints against members of the Mexican military for human rights violations, none of which were filed by women. In 2008, however, the number of these complaints grew to 162; 88 filed by women and 74 by men. In just the first ten months of 2009, the Commission received 149 complaints against the military; 78 filed by women and 71 by men.
In April 2008, in response to drug-related violence in the state, the Mexican government launched Joint Operation Chihuahua, deploying some 8,000 police and soldiers to reinforce security. “It was obvious that the government did not foresee how the massive presence of security forces would affect the already vulnerable female population of the state,” said Luz Estella Castro, the director of CEDEHM. “Now the job at hand is figuring out a way to protect this population that is particularly exposed to abuses,” Castro added.
As is reflected in the memo sent to the US Congress, the complaints presented by women in Chihuahua include various types of abuse: physical and sexual violence, disappearances and assassinations. But the complaints also shed light on the search many of these women are undertaking to locate their loved ones after they have been detained.
“Women are often the main witnesses in cases where soldiers come into their homes and take away their sons or husbands without an arrest warrant, and the responsibility falls upon these women to search for these detained family members,” said Gustavo de la Rosa, a staff member in the Ciudad Juarez office of the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission who has documented numerous cases of women who have denounced abuses perpetrated against their family members or who have begun a search for a family member who has disappeared or been detained. “As a result of their outcry against these abuses, many women have put their safety in jeopardy,” said de la Rosa.
In certain cases, the perpetrator of these abuses is clear, such as the sexual harassment some women have experienced at military or federal police checkpoints during inspections (many of which are mentioned in the memo). In more difficult cases, such as the 12 cases of rape that CEDEHM has knowledge of, this is more difficult given that the rapes were perpetrated by armed men and it is unclear whether the perpetrator is a military or police official or a member of an organized crime group.
The memo concludes with several recommendations for the US Congress, which has approved significant funding since 2008 for Mexican security forces through the Mérida Initiative. “It is essential that US policy makers ensures that our security assistance doesn’t enable abuses like those we have described in the memo,” says Maureen Meyer, WOLA Associate for Mexico and Central America. According to the requirements established by the Congress in the Mérida Initiative, 15 percent of the aid can be withheld until the State Department issues a report to the Congress on the Mexican government’s progress on four human rights requirements stipulated in the legislation. “The State Department should not issue the next report to Congress until it can demonstrate that the Mexican government is making progress on the requirements, particularly that it is investigating and prosecuting cases of human rights violations committed by the military and federal police.”
To read the memo sent today, click here.
Maureen Meyer, WOLA
202.797.2171; [email protected]
Luz Estela Castro, CEDEHM
+52 (1) 614-1420352
Gustavo de la Rosa, [email protected]