Norma Jiménez was sexually tortured by police after being detained during a protest in Atenco, Mexico, in May 2006. Now, eight years later, she tells VICE News: "Sexual torture is a government strategy to demobilize social movements and invoke fear. This we saw with our own bodies."
Jiménez, with 10 of her fellow detainees, has helped launch the campaign Breaking the Silence: Together Against Sexual Torture. This aims to draw attention to and ultimately end this type of gender violence carried out by Mexican government authorities. Breaking the Silence has the support of Amnesty International, UN OHCHR, and various Mexican human rights organizations.
"When we hear about these other cases, it seems like we were all in the same situation, being detained by the same people," Jiménez said at a press conference held at the Prodh Center in Mexico City on May 5. The campaign is composed of various women tortured by the military, navy, and police.
Javier Hernández, an OHCHR representative, said at the event that sexual torture "is not an error." He continued: "No authority figure makes a mistake when they rape a woman. They don't rape just as a casual occurrence, or a slip–up. It is a very complex action."
Norma Jiménez was incarcerated and abused in 2006 when current President Enrique Peña Nieto, then Governor of the State of Mexico, ordered a police operation against the protest group People's Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT). On the evening of May 3, 2,500 police officers — including federal, state and municipal agents — raided the towns of San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco. The police brutally beat many of the protestors and two students, Alexis Benhumea and Javier Cortés, were killed. While 210 people were detained, 26 women said they were sexually tortured by police officers.
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In 2002, the FPDT successfully halted the government's plans to build an international airport on top of their ejidos — communal farmlands created in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. Following their victory, the people of Atenco became an example of successful resistance for all campesino and indigenous communities struggling against mega projects that threaten their livelihood. In 2013 the government renewed their plans to build the airport on the communal ejidos in Atenco and the FPDT has revived their fight in defense of their land.
In 2008, 11 of the women who were sexually tortured during the Atenco operation took their case to the Inter–American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after exhausting all judicial possibilities available in their own country. The Mexican Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation had declared that"hundreds of people suffered abuses" but blamed the issue on a few bad apples, instead of recognizing it as systemic torture.
Bárbara Italia Méndez, who said she was assaulted and repeatedly raped by police, disagreed with the official recommendations. "We are positive that sexual torture was not just what the government insists — collateral damage that was a result of a few out of control police — it is a war strategy, a strategy of control directed towards individuals and organizations who struggle," Méndez said at this week's press conference.
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Méndez traveled to Washington DC to testify in front of the IACHR in March 2013. One year later the women are still waiting for a decision. The IACHR previously heard the cases of Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega, two other participants in the Breaking the Silence campaign.
Cantú and Ortega, indigenous women from Guerrero, who were raped by military personnel in 2002. The IACHR ruled in the women's favor in 2010, declaring that that the Mexican government should pay reparations to the women, end impunity within the Mexican military, and improve transparency in the military justice system.
Under the Mexican government's War on Drugs, increasing numbers of communities have found themselves under army and navy control. In the heavily militarized state of Veracruz, Claudia Medina was detained by navy officers and accused of being the leader of a drug cartel — an accusation that the mother of three children firmly denies. Medina says she endured 36 hours of physical, sexual, and psychological torture.
This included threats against her family, electric shocks, asphyxia, and sexual humiliation. This torture led to her to sign a declaration statement, without being shown its contents, and Medina is still facing a fight to clear her name.
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Hernández, of OHCHR, commented that Latin America is the second most violent continent in the world, following Africa. He said that something has to be done about government–tolerated male chauvinism and the abuse that results from the authorization of these violations by official non-intervention. "Women have brought this debate to the international spotlight to show that it is not an anomaly, it is an epidemic," added Hernández.
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