Mexico City, November 19th, 2015. Experts representing international human rights bodies, academics, survivors of sexual torture, and their relatives called on the Mexican government to prevent, punish and eradicate sexual torture against women and to apply a strong and renewed gender perspective to its actions.
The international forum “Towards the eradication of sexual torture against women in Mexico. National and international proposals and perspectives” held yesterday at the Memory and Tolerance Museum in Mexico City, was opened by Claudia Medina, survivor of sexual torture committed by the Navy, and by Austreberta Casales, mother of Verónica Razo, who is unjustly detained in a maximum security prison and also survivor of sexual torture at the hands of the federal police. Both women called for an end to impunity for these crimes and for priority actions for the survivors who are incarcerated. “It’s an epidemic practiced by the authorities and if there is no punishment, it only increases,” alerted Medina. “I’m afraid of retaliation but I want to speak out against this, because if am alone, nobody hears me”, declared Casales.
The event included the participation of Tracy Robinson, special rapporteur on the rights of women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); Rashida Manjoo, who from 2009-2015 was special rapporteur on Violence against Women of the United Nations (UN); and Roxana Arroyo, of the Advanced International Studies Institute of Ecuador. Other participants included the president of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH in Spanish), Luis González Pérez; Angélica de la Peña, president of the Senate Human Rights Commission; Nadia Sierra, advisor in the Supreme Court; as well as Katia Vera Morales, of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (CONAVIM).
Tracy Robinson, alluding to the on-site visit that the IACHR made to Mexico this year, said that one of the main concerns of the Inter-American Commission is the high use of sexual torture by diverse state security forces, especially against detained women. She described how gender stereotypes are reflected in this type of torture and emphasized that two of the main challenges are to sanction those responsible and to implement measures of non-repetition. She insisted that whether committed by state or non-state actors, the State has the responsibility to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators, and ensure reparations for victims. “We are in a unique time to progress in this area,” she said.
Rashida Manjoo insisted on the need to address sexual torture in an integral way, and emphasized that the work of the victims and organizations is crucial to push the understanding of this type of violence. She noted that in her six years as UN rapporteur she found a lack of capacity but also a lack of will by States to eradicate sexual violence, and highlighted the need to tackle the structural causes of human rights violations against women.
Various speakers pointed out that the justice system is impregnated by gender stereotypes and even the international legal framework was late to understand that women’s rights are human rights. Rashida Manjoo regretted that such violence is invisible and considered that, as a minimum, States must take care to properly apply the Istanbul Protocol, comply with the resolutions of the IACHR, introduce a gender perspective, and typify specific forms of violence against women, among other actions.
In his turn, the CNDH president acknowledged that impunity is a serious situation in Mexico that creates conditions for the perpetrators to continue to commit grave human rights violations. Angelica de la Peña highlighted the progress and pending legislation regarding torture; Nadia Sierra considered that efforts made to combat sexual torture are isolated and incomplete, and added that justice institutions working alone will not be able to remove obstacles to access to justice for women.
The forum was organized by the civil society organizations that form the campaign Breaking the Silence: All Together Against Sexual Torture, including the Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh), Just Associates (JASS), Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human rights (CMDPDH).