Friday, December 16, 2011
Mexico apologizes for rape of 17 year old - after a decade of litigation seeking dignity
In February 2002, Valentina Rosendo Cantú was a 17 year old girl living in a remote section of Guerrero state on Mexico's southwestern Pacific coast. She is a member of an indigenous group known as the me'phaa.
One day a contingent of Mexican soldiers arrived in the area, looking for some local insurrectionists, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR). When Valentina did not respond satisfactorily to their questions, they took turns raping her.
A doctor in Cantú's village refused to treat Valentina after the assault. She walked eight hours to another town, carrying her three month old daughter, in search of medical help. The doctor there refused her, too.
Valentina sought justice within the Mexican legal system, but got nowhere. With the help of advocates and attorneys, in 2003 she lodged an official complaint against Mexico with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. The Commission has a collateral tribunal which eventually took up the case, and more than a year ago it ruled in Valentina's favor. One of the few forms of relief the Inter-American Court of Human Rights could award her was the recommendation that Mexico officially apologize for the criminal acts of its soldiers. Yesterday, it finally did so.
"Valentia, we extend to you and your daughter our most sincere apologies for this grave violation of your rights. The State neither protected you nor procured justice for you," said Alejandro Poiré, Mexico's Secretary of Government, during a public ceremony attended by hundreds. "Recognizing that a part of your suffering is irreparable, we hope that today's acknowledgement will be for you, your little girl and your family a form of minimal justice."
Mexico's first woman attorney general, Marisela Morales Ibáñez, also delivered words of apology on behalf of the government at yesterday's ceremony. The entire proceeding was simultaneously translated into me'phaa, for the members of Valentina's community who attended but who do not understand Spanish.
The court's October 1, 2010 judgment in Valentina's favor not only condemned the rape, but emphasized that Mexico had failed in its international obligation to adequately -- and promptly -- investigate the facts of her case.
With her 10 year old daughter beaming brightly, Valentina spoke in a voice of confidence at the ceremony. "I continue to fight as a woman. I continue facing things with the dignity of an indigenous woman. I'm very proud of myself for being who I am. Women, to fight means to keep moving forward, to break the chain of impunity."
Cases such as Valentina's prompted the Mexican Supreme Judicial Court to rule last July that henceforth, criminal acts committed by Mexican armed forces which involve human rights violations of civilians will be tried in civil rather than military tribunals. And Valentina's legal battle is not over. She and her supporters are still fighting to hold accountable the soldiers who raped her. She says that although she has been threatened over the years for pursuing the justice which she partially received yesterday, she will not stop.
at 11:26 AM