Obama must stand up for women in Mexico
April 30th, 2013
09:17 AM ET

Obama must stand up for women in Mexico

By Esmeralda Lopez and Samir Goswami, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Esmeralda Lopez, JD, serves as Amnesty International USA’s Mexico Country Specialist. Samir Goswami is Director of Amnesty International USA’s Individuals and Communities at Risk Program. The views expressed are their own.

If 26 American women filed complaints against authorities for committing horrific sexual assaults, and those police officers remained free and employed seven years later, you would rightly expect that the local political ramifications would be dire, and the official government response would be strong.

But in San Salvador Atenco in the State of Mexico, there is only sickening indignation and impunity.

On May 4, 2006, Bárbara Italia Méndez was one of 47 women arrested during two days of protests in San Salvador Atenco. Like 26 others who filed complaints, she was allegedly subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence at the hands of the police. Allegedly beaten and detained without explanation, she was then reportedly forced to remove her clothing and lie on top of other detainees while members of the state police beat, threatened, sexually assaulted and raped her as other officers looked on and cheered.

She is still waiting for justice.

This week, almost seven years to the day after the alleged horrific crimes were committed against Bárbara and so many others, President Barack Obama will visit Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on a “goodwill journey.” We hope he will have the courage to tell Peña Nieto, who was the State of Mexico’s governor in May 2006, that he should promote the rule of law and justice in his country, especially with regard to widespread violence against women.

More from GPS: Mexico's invisible women

Bárbara and the other women assaulted in San Salvador Atenco advocated for themselves when the local authorities would not respond. In the beginning, the State Public Prosecutor’s Office repeatedly dismissed their complaints and, after years of seeking justice in Mexico, they took their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Today, the in-country investigation remains stalled, and the Mexican authorities have not responded convincingly to the case.

At the time of the protests and alleged assaults, Peña Nieto was criticized for his handling of the situation, and a Mexico National Commission on Human Rights investigation blamed him and then-Secretary of Public Safety Eduardo Medina Mora for the human rights violations and the impunity granted to its perpetrators. Six years later, Peña Nieto is president of Mexico and Mora is the Mexican ambassador to the United States. There can be no clearer example of impunity.

Verbally and publicly, Peña Nieto has assumed responsibility for what took place in San Salvador Atenco on May 3 and 4, 2006, and declared his commitment to promoting human rights. Yet, he has taken no action. And, even as the president fails to act, statistics underscore how violence against women in Mexico continues unabated. A U.N. report has estimated that Mexico suffers 120,000 rapes a year. Yet despite this stomach-turning statistic, when it comes to combating violence against women and upholding sexual and reproductive rights, Mexico’s leaders appear indifferent.

The time is ripe for the United States to speak up. In addition to the uncanny timing of President Obama’s visit, the United States Agency for International Development is preparing to launch its Mexico Promoting Justice Project. With $100 million designated to promote rule of law that will support police, court and justice system reforms, how can the U.S. remain silent?

Human rights activists worldwide have joined Bárbara Italia Méndez and the other brave women of Atenco in their call for justice. Now, President Obama, along with other leaders, must pressure Mexican officials to address the impunity granted to those who commit acts of gender-based violence, and ensure that women’s human rights are respected. He must seize this moment and urge President Peña Nieto to finally right this historic wrong.

It is time for Mexican authorities to take action on the issue of human rights in their country. It is time for President Peña Nieto to step up and back up his verbal commitment to the rule of law with action. It is time for Bárbara Italia Méndez, and so many others, to have justice.

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Topics: Mexico

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soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Hahahahahahah

    No........MEXICANS must stand up for women in Mexico!!!! Hahahahahahaha

    April 30, 2013 at 11:00 am | Reply
  2. wjm

    I agree that action has to be taken and the criminals brought before justice, but Mexico is a sovereign nation and as such the people of the country have to use the democratic process to elect leaders who represent law and order. If the Mexican government were to supply foreign governments with a list of names of these criminals they can be picked up and held until their extradited back to Mexico to face justice. It may be nice to hear words that say a nation must protect it own people from crime, but if the country chooses to do nothing, what recourse would you recommend? As nothing will stop the illegal trade of drugs, and the people who run the industry have no wish to see real and effective change in government, as it would put them out of business. Areas of legal trade are decreasing as the jobs that originally moved from the United States and Canada to Mexico are now being done in even cheaper economies. This is where you might find a point of leverage, but I wouldn't bet on it. American business men and women are as ruthless as any cartel when it comes to ensuring a profit for their shareholders. So I wouldn't hold my breathe, the people in Mexico are the ones best suited to deal with this issue as they have the power to change their elected officials.

    April 30, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  3. Joseph McCarthy

    If the plight of women in Mexico are that bad, then Mexico is in dire need of a Communist revolution. The Communists would never stand for this kind of abuse, neither toward women nor children! Moreover, it is not Barack Obama's place to interfere in Mexico's internal affairs but he likes to just to please his henchmen in Washington!

    April 30, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  4. 100 % ETHIO

    The United Nation has the best policy, for...case.

    April 30, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  5. Bernardo

    The best thing that President Obama and the rest of the U.S. government can do for Mexico is to legalize marijuana.

    Taking away the cartels' money and power from the sale of a product millions of Americans gladly want to purchase is the best chance to end the current narco-insurgency overwhelming Mexico.

    April 30, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    this site is jammed.

    May 1, 2013 at 11:13 am | Reply

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