For more than nine years, two Indigenous women in Mexico have taken on the military and the authorities to demand justice after they were raped by soldiers in the southern state of Guerrero in 2002.
Despite a lengthy investigation and Inter-American Court rulings in favour of Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú last August, their attackers have remained at large, seemingly shielded by Mexico’s military justice system. Meanwhile the women and their families have faced threats as the legal battle continued.
But on 12 August, Fernández and Rosendo were given some hope that the soldiers who raped them might finally be brought to justice.
The investigations into their cases have now been moved to civilian courts, after Mexico’s Military Prosecutor’s office recognized it lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute cases where members of the armed forces are accused of committing human rights violations.
“For us, this is a significant advance, as civil society has constantly fought for these cases to be transferred into the civilian justice system,” Vidulfo Rosales, a human rights lawyer at Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Centre in Guerrero, which is representing the two women.
“But many limitations remain – we’re worried that there’s a margin for impunity, for those responsible to be exonerated. The Attorney General’s Office has an obligation to begin a criminal investigation immediately, to penalize the soldiers Inés and Valentina have already indicated are responsible.”
The decision to transfer Fernández’ and Rosendo’s cases into civilian courts comes after a recent Supreme Court ruling which determined that human rights violations by Mexico’s armed forces against civilians should not be tried in military courts.
This follows an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling last year, ordering Mexico to investigate and prosecute human rights violations by the military in the civilian justice system. The judgment urged the Mexican government to bring those responsible to account, provide adequate reparation and take steps to ensure that these violations will not be repeated in the future.
Despite this decision, a number of other recent cases of violations by the Mexican military remain under military jurisdiction, including the enforced disappearance in June of at least six men by the Navy in Nuevo Laredo, on the US border.
Widespread human rights violations have been reported across Mexico as the armed forces have increased their involvement in policing operations to tackle drug cartels and armed groups. These include arbitrary arrest, torture and enforced disappearances.
“It sets an important precedent for these cases to be moved to Mexico’s civilian justice system, and the Attorney General’s Office must swiftly and effectively prosecute those responsible for the rape and torture of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.
“Mexico’s military justice system must never again be allowed to shield the guilty when the armed forces are accused of committing human rights violations against civilians.”